Monday, October 22, 2012

Horse Puckey!!

This doesn't have a lot to do with horses, except in a roundabout sort of way.  Last week, I gathered several buckets of fresh horse manure.  The manure is for the compost.  The compost is for the garden.  I am not a gardener.  My wife, Marlyn is a gardener.  Seems I can't turn around in the garden without getting fussed at for stepping on some valuable plant or another.  I have the job of  PILOT.  The job of PILOT is just as important as it sounds.  It goes something like this;
"Where do you want this, Honey?"
"PILOT over here."
"Where do you want that, Darling?"
"PILOT over there."

Fetching and Carrying

Sometimes I pile stones.  Other times I pile landscaping timbers.  Mostly I pile the compost I've made.  We have about half a dozen mature oak trees in our yard.  Each winter, they drop a mountain of leaves onto the ground.  We used to simply push them over the hill to the edge of the street.  Eventually the County would send a vacuum truck around to suck them up.  Then they figured out that running a vacuum truck all over the county for free was costing them a lot of money, so they stopped it.  Some private companies picked up the slack, they wanted about $100 for the job.  Imagine that, a business wanting to get paid for providing a service.  Our neighbors started hauling their leaves away themselves.  We plunked down a couple hundred on one of those compost tumblers.  Then we bought a second, used one for a lot less. 

Maybe you've seen them.  Big, round cylinders with a crank handle on the end.  The advertisements claimed you could make perfect compost in about a week.  Sounds wonderful, compared to the seasons long collecting, piling, turning, and rotating needed to make compost the old fashioned way.  The trick is, it actually works. 

Our compost factory
It works, as long as you follow a strict recipe.  You use a specific ratio of green vegetation to dry vegetation to animal manure.  combine this with daily tumbling, and strict monitoring of the internal temperature of the mix, and you will cook up a batch of rich compost in a week or so.  My objective isn't to make the perfect batch of compost.  My objective is to make last years crop of dead leaves disappear before this years crop starts to fall.  I always have much more dry brown stuff than fresh green stuff.  This also works, but it's a bit slower.  You also need much more fresh manure.  The manure is the secret ingredient that provides the bacteria needed to speed up the decomposition process.   

When it comes to yard work, I like to work with nature, rather than fight against it.  Or, if you prefer Marlyns' explanation, I'm lazy.  But, I do have a method.  With my mix of leaves, grass, and manure, it takes about 2 to 3 weeks to make a batch of compost.  That's still much faster than the old way.  In the Summer, I try to coordinate cutting the grass with the times one of the tumblers will be empty.  That way, I have green vegetation for the mix.  In the Fall, I wait until the yard is well carpeted with fallen leaves.  Then mulch them up and bag them by running over them with the lawn mower.  The shredded leaves decompose faster, with or without the tumbler.  When the weather is cold, the bacteria are inactive, and the compost won't cook.  I store the mulched leaves in wire bins until Spring.  Soft vegetation that hasn't been mulched goes into a pile beside the bins.  We have another pile for sticks and hard stems.  When the wire bins are empty, I'll start using the unmulched leaves.  Occasionally, I'll take a fork and turn the unmulched leaves.  Other than that, the other two piles are simply left to nature.

While I'm trying to speed things along with the tumblers, nature is still working away at her own pace in the storage piles.  Every year or so, there's good rich soil at the bottom of one or another of the piles.  This year, the bins yielded a wheelbarrow load of good potting soil.  Mostly though, I get compost.

Rich potting soil at the bottom of one of the bins.
The largest part of Marlyn's garden is on a slope behind our house.  Over the years, she has terraced it and made it usable.  The previous owners of the house, filled a hole on the very back corner with old wood, pipes, and other metal stuff.  Marlyn filled that in with the compost.  It is now one of the most productive areas of the garden.  With the steady supply of available compost, she has enriched most areas of the garden. 

Within 3 years after we bought them, the tumblers paid for themselves in savings.  At least, we didn't pay someone else $100 to pick up the leaves and carry them away.  We've also saved from not buying mulch or compost to beef up our garden soil.  So, if you're wondering what to do with your fallen leaves this Autumn, Just add horse puckey!

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