What happens when a gardener's conversation turns to black gold? Rest assured, he won't point towards a sunset silhouette of a pumpjack's hammerhead, pounding its beak into the earth, searching for crude oil. Chances are, you'll end up in a partially shaded area that looks like you might get put to work and smells deliciously rich, deep, and, well, fertile.
Did you know? A cubic yard of high-quality compost provides over the same value as $562 worth of other products combined! The real value of compost is why compost is called Black Gold!
The Learning Fields is so excited about composting that we refer to our composting area as our Compost Demonstration Garden. We use open-air bins to keep heaps visible, organized, and easily accessible. We rotate the left and right contents into the middle READY collection.
This ROUGH pile of clippings shown below is from the pre-winter trimming of our Heirloom Seed Garden. These cuttings will remain until they're ready to be added to either a right or left bin.
What is compost?
Compost is the result, or what we get when organic material decomposes properly. Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 28 percent of what we throw away and should be composted instead. Compost is often referred to as black gold, which is (scientifically speaking) the result of microbial processes breaking down organic materials.
Think of compost not as a fertilizer, but rather as a black gold biological stimulant or "enabler" which feeds your garden life and enables soil organisms to help plant roots find and better use food and moisture.
What is composting?
Composting is a method for treating organic waste gathered from the garden, yard, kitchen, around the house, or barns so that it is broken down by microorganisms in the presence of oxygen to a point where it can be safely stored, handled, and applied to the environment.
Through proper decomposition, the resulting compost is used to enrich your garden by helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests. This black gold reduces the need for
chemical fertilizers and encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.
But it's winter! Can we still compost?
Absolutely! Composting in the winter is much like composting in the summer, but the process works in slow motion and you'll be wearing a coat! Be sure to keep your bins or compost piles well covered to prevent rain or snow from hitting them directly. Some components, like food scraps, will simply freeze, but when temperatures rise, the process resumes. As spring arrives, you'll be ahead of the game as the black gold in the compost bin will start to cook naturally on its own as temperatures rise!
Tips for winter composting!
Use the compost you already have. Before cold weather sets in, use your finished compost to make room for new additions to the mix over the winter. Cozy up shrubs spread it over the lawn, put it in the garden and houseplants.
Begin rebuilding with a layer of leaves, or with straw, cardboard, or sawdust. Put the active part in the middle, and then cover it with more brown matter, which also includes any plant waste which is dry (leaves!), fibrous and hard. This carbon-rich material insulates the active compost and helps keep the microbes in the compost warm and active!
Balance the carbon with nitrogen! The green matter, which is full of nitrogen, will generally come from your kitchen during the winter. Use this much-needed ingredient. This can become a balancing act. Slightly more (brown) carbon is needed now to balance the (green) nitrogen, but don't get carried away with dumping bag fulls of leaves into your compost bin. Way too much! Store your leaves in bags and add sensibly. Just a little more brown than green!
Monitor the moisture and cold! Keep your bins or compost piles well covered to prevent rain or snow from hitting them directly. If too much moisture builds up, uncover and aerate with a shovel or pitchfork. Putting some of the leaves you bagged up over your compost covering can be sufficient insulation if the winter takes a turn for the worse.
Don't go overboard and overwinter! Every time you add kitchen scraps or twigs, remember that you need to uncover portions of your compost. Don't make it difficult on yourself or your compost. It's alive and needs your attention. Even covered, compost can get too wet by soaking up ground moisture which will slow the composting process. Don't forget about the wildlife! Pesky raccoons, rodents, and domestic pets can and will burrow into the pile in search of anything edible among your latest contributions. They can also just about scare you to death!
What not to compost and why.
At any given time, there are probably a hundred things in and around your home to compost, so I'm going to go the other direction with some serious what NOT to compost items (straight from our EPA):
Black walnut tree leaves or twigs - Releases substances that might be harmful to plants
Coal or charcoal ash - Might contain substances harmful to plants
Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs (shells are ok) - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
Diseased or insect-ridden plants - Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants
Fats, grease, lard, or oils - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
Meat or fish bones and scraps - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
Pet or human wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter, disposible diapers, etc) - Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides - Might kill beneficial composting organisms
Thank you for your time!
Hope you enjoyed this, learned a bit, and got more excited about getting your compost winterized and ready to produce lots of black gold for your yard and garden!
If you haven't visited The Learning Fields at Chaffee Crossing, any season is a good season!
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