To gardeners, wealth is in the ground. And rich soil is made richer by adding lushly black compost. The last Saturday in June, we harvested our first batch of compost, much earlier than I expected. The top was wet and slimy — the result of adding clippings of grass from the fence edge. The sliminess results from suffocation, and therefore simply remedied by turning. A suffocating compost pile will give off an ammonia-smell from the anerobic bacteria. But in our case, there was little smell, because below the layer of grass was nicely composted soil. I was a bit worried about the straw added the previous week, as I feel it decomposes slowly, but it may have provided some aeration to the lower mass.
We sifted the compost as we extracted it, using a rectangular frame with a wire mesh about 1/4-inch fine. The plastic tray we used to sift into cracked, so next time we’ll bring a wheelbarrow to sift into. Sifting allows earlier use of ready compost, as different materials decompose at different rates, and were put into the compost pile at different times. The apple cores and banana peels of April were completely decomposed, but the straw of the previous week was quite present. I had been keeping the compost moist by covering it, since hydration speeds decomposition. Compost should be kept about as wet as a damp-to-wet sponge, to give room for air, which soaking wet does not. The downside is that wet compost is harder to sift, but we managed.
We extracted several buckets of the "black gold" which was then used to "top-dress" a number of vegetables. The compost thus put around the plants served two purposes: first, nutrients from the compost will leach into the soil to feed the plants. Second, the compost also serves as a mulch, keeping sunlight from reaching new weeds. We also put some compost into the holes destined for transplanted tomatoes. This is a better location than the soil-top, as the plants have yet another reason to send roots downwards (which makes them more robust during dry spells).
At the bottom of the compost we found many earthworms, a great sign of good decomposing, as well as many scurrying black bettles.
The first Saturday in July I turned the compost again. First, the de-harvested snap pea plants were put into the empty bin, nearly filling it. But the heavier compost-in-progress turned atop that easily flattened the pea plants. With the forecast for hot weather upcoming, it looks like the compost will need to be turned at least weekly (especially with the continual addition of grass clippings).
Both compost bins seem to work well, it’s hard to tell if either is working better, though I might give the black plastic bin an edge (because it may retain heat and water better).