Monday, October 31, 2011

Little Victories

One of several buckets of compost
this year!
I like to know that what I’m doing is correct.  If I think I’m doing something wrong, there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll freeze in my tracks and do nothing.  This applies to most areas in my life but it was especially true in my life as an inexperienced gardener.

Not knowing when to prune the azaleas (or if you prune them at all) meant that they didn’t get pruned.  Not knowing when to plant cool season vegetable seeds meant that I bought my carrots from the grocery store.  And not knowing when my compost was done meant I just kept adding to it and made it so that it never was, in fact, finished composting.

But I’ve been learning more about these types of things over the years and gaining confidence as a reuslt.  It’s always a little surprising to me when I actually learn something that is halfway technical - a botanical name, for instance.  But what is more surprising than eventually learning a few impressive sounding names and when to perform specific chores was the realization that as far as hobbies go, gardening is pretty forgiving and it doesn’t matter if I do everything right.  The expert advice may say to plant your Japanese maple in the fall, but if you decide to plant in spring, everything should eventually work out.  I like this about gardening.  It keeps it relaxing to me and makes it more than just a scientific experiment with a strict set of rules that need to be followed.    

I like that I can buy the wrong plant for the wrong space and that my penance for the mistake might be nothing more serious than having to dig up that plant and put it somewhere else or give it away to someone who has the perfect spot for it.  How many other hobbies do you know where you can turn a mistake into a gift? 

Compost ready to be spread.

Although I’m upfront about my lack of a scientific background I have fallen in love with the very scientific act of composting.  I am pretty sure that composting is the only thing in the world that could make me interested in learning about carbon to nitrogen ratios.  It’s amazing how you can fill a bin with shredded leaves and lawn clippings and come back in a couple days to a steaming pile that has shrunk in half. 

Just how hot is your pile, anyway?

And I’ve finally gotten it down “to a science”.  I’ve finally gotten in tune with the way my garden produces debris and I’ve finally made it work for me.  This is my little victory.  I finally timed it so that I could harvest my compost bin in its entirety before the leaves of autumn began to fall. 

Spread out nice and neat - at least until the leaves fell.

That means that I have not only been able to add to my yard buckets and buckets of beautiful worm poop and whatever else makes up compost, but I’ve freed up all the space in my bin for my garden’s busiest composting months just in time. 

And if I do it right, all this should be ready for a new harvest when spring, at the opposite edge of time’s orbit, finally circles back around. 

This is a newly renovated section and that space between the Japanese maples is begging for a few
more plants.  I apologize for the over exposure.  This photo was taken with my phone at midday.


  1. Everything looks so nice and neat with your fresh compost out there.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. I never have taken my compost's temperature, but know digging in the middle is really steaming. At a job site once, the mulch pile caught fire. That was a scary sight.

  3. Congrats on your hot pile! And that phone image isn't so bad. Try making a call with your Nikon.

  4. Excellent...and there's truly nothing better for the garden than homemade compost! I love that compost 'just happens', even in a neglected pile providing it's not too wet or too dry. However, I know that getting your compost done on schedule isn't always easy, unless you actually tend it, feed it, and turn it. Now you have compost-on-demand down to a science, there'll be no be stopping your garden!

  5. Apologizing for overexposure makes me laugh. Sounds like you had your naughty bits out or something.

    "Hey, look at this awesome compost...and my penis!"

  6. Congratulations on the victory, Chad. I hate to admit I don't actually make compost, I just sorta pile up the stuff and eventually it rots down but nothing as pretty as your end result. We don't have as many leaves as most gardeners due to the fact we planted more conifers than anything else, but I do use the leaves we have from a few random trees as mulch by simply stuffing them inbetween the hostas in the fall and stomping them down. (Hmmmm...could be why my garden isn't all that hot and a bag of chips?)

    Make a call on your Nikon and overexposed bits had me rolling, too....and you can grow Japanese maples?? My hat (it is large and flowery) is off to you!

  7. Wow - impressive! I compost, but have not turned it into a science. I'm happy if anything comes out! I guess I'm still learning. And yes, I love gardening because you can just ignore things and call it 'natural' or cut everything down and call it a 'hedge'! :)

  8. Love that black gold, man! I find making compost quite forgiving; a little carbon, nitrogen, water, oxygen and a whole lot of neglect.

  9. This is a great post. You are right that gardening is about experimentation, at least partly. Time for me to get composting!

  10. The hottest I've ever gotten my compost pile is 163 -- all thanks to the addition of chicken poop! I think composting is AMAZING! Compost fixes everything. I swear if we could eat it, we could fix a few ailments, too. And I just recently learned about vermicomposting, which is very cool, too. Great job on your composting victory -- keep up the good work! Who knew rotting scraps and leaves could be so wonderful :-)

  11. As a newbie gardener I couldn't agree with you more - an amazing hobby that forgives mistakes! And in a good way! Congrats on getting your compost looking so amazing! Mine is getting there, slowly ...

  12. Cher - thanks. Nice and neat never seems to last very long. I'm glad I snapped a few photos before the illusion faded.

    GWGT - Taking my compost's temperature is one of my life's little joys. Except when it reflects the ambient temperature. At that point, I know I have to start scrounging around for some shredded cardboard and coffee grounds. I have heard of large compost piles catching fire before. Isn't that an amazing occurrence?

    Linniew - You made me laugh. And thanks for the perspective. I shouldn't be too hard on my phone's camera. It does a million other things that are consistently amazing to me.

    Curbstone - That's my favorite thing about composting too. It works right even when I do all the wrong things. And I really have noticed incremental improvements in the health of my garden as I have added compost to my beds. For the most part, my plants have seemed less stressed and more resistant to all those things that drive gardeners crazy.

    Kyna - I've been careful not to "overexpose" those parts of myself just in case I someday wake up and feel like doing something crazy like run for political office.

    Karen - With as much yard as you have to take care of, I think that piling up debris and letting it rot on its own constitutes composting in its own way. That's what I love about it. At the very least, it's feeding the soil upon which it rots and it's saving you from having to find some other method of getting rid of that stuff. And, yes, I can grow some Japanese maples. In my part of the country it's the heat that makes growing them a challenge. There are hundreds of cultivars but only a fraction of them do well in the heat and the sun in Sacramento. The rest of them need to be grown in protected spaces . . . I could go on and on about this, but at the risk of rambling further, I'll just say thanks!

    Holley - Thanks, but don't be too impressed. The earthworms did most of the composting work for me.

    Garden muses - You said it! It's great stuff.

    Visionarygleam - Thanks for the compliment. If you haven't dabbled in composting, you should give it a shot. I think you'd like it.

    Toni - 163 is great. I think I've been in that range before too but not for very long. Vermicomposting is pretty fascinating too. I would like to do that some time but the "ick" factor has caused my wife to put her foot down on that one. I saw a program on TV that featured a handful of restaurants that started vermicomposting their scraps and using the finished product to feed their gardens which they used to grow their own vegetables for the restaurant. How cool is that?

    Christine - Good luck with your compost. It'll happen for you eventually.

  13. Well said. Gardening truly is a circle of life. (Cue the music.) Great job with the composting. I know I should do this, as well --but lack of space beats down my desire.

  14. I worm compost and am planning on buying an outdoor composter next year. Worm compost is great at acting as a natural fungicide and making plants that are mildew prone more resistant. I know this isn't an issue in arid Sacto, but here in VA it's a big deal since we're so humid.

    Tell your wife this comment was written by a high heel loving, make up wearing, fashionable clothes adoring gardener and that worms ARE NOT gross. Worms are cool and they live incredible lives: eat, sleep, poop, have sex. Holy crap! I just realized they must all be male!!

  15. As other readers, I am inpressed! I've never measured my compost temperature.