Is there anything you want?”… “Do you want toys, books, dolls?”
“Might I Have a Bit of Earth?”
In her eagerness she did not realize how queer the words would sound and that they were not the ones she had meant to say. Mr. Craven looked quite startled.
“Earth!” he repeated. “What do you mean?”
“To plant seeds in—to make things grow—to see them come alive,” Mary faltered.
He gazed at her a moment and then passed his hand quickly over his eyes.
“Do you—care about gardens so much,” he said slowly.
“A bit of earth,” he said to himself, and Mary thought that somehow she must have reminded him of something. When he stopped and spoke to her his dark eyes looked almost soft and kind.
“You can have as much earth as you want,” he said. “You remind me of some one else who loved the earth and things that grow. When you see a bit of earth you want,” with something like a smile, “take it, child, and make it come alive.”
“May I take it from anywhere—if it’s not wanted?”
“Anywhere,” he answered. “There! You must go now, I am tired.” He touched the bell to call Mrs. Medlock. “Good-by. I shall be away all summer.”
If you’ve read the book, Secret Garden, by by Frances Hodgson Burnett, you will recognize the dialog above.
In the story, a neglected orphan girl, an earth-wise country lad, and a sickly rich boy (who thinks he is dying) come together to re-create a beautiful garden in a long forgotten area. In the process, the children grow healthy and strong, as do the gloomy, ill-tempered attitudes of several of the book’s characters.
Bringing life out of a little bit of dying stuff is what the earth does best! Yet, every day people toss the key ingredients for great soil into their plastic trash bin without a second thought. I’m going to reveal the old secret of how anyone with a little bit of earth can turn trash into something wonderful — even enchanting!
As in the story, the process will make you and your garden healthier. And you still use a trash bin. The only difference is, you don’t throw the trash away, you renew it.
There are entire books, chapters of books, articles and pamphlets about composting that will give all sorts of details. But the main thing you need to know is that good compost is made out of two basic kinds of refuse: green/wet, and brown/dry.
Here is how we turn our waste into life-giving compost for our gardens. If we can do it, so can you.
I’ll begin with the green / wet component.
Instead of using our automatic disposal, we collect the items below into a covered plastic bin under our kitchen sink:
- coffee grounds and tea bags
- kitchen scraps (no animal products)
- clean eggshells
The contents of this bin are later dumped into a 32 gallon sized, covered plastic trash bin outside. We started with a single compost bin, and have expanded to a three bin system that makes our soil building compost.
Anything that was once alive will eventually decay and return to the earth from which it came, but you do not want to compost meat, dairy, or poo from dogs or cats. There are many nasty reasons for this. Let’s stop at the word SMELLY.
Besides kitchen scraps, which are wet/green and nitrogen-rich, we add dry/ brown materials that are carbon-rich, like:
- toilet paper rolls and paper towels
- dryer lint
- shredded or torn strips of paper, including newspaper / retired office documents
- dried leaves
These components, along with water and air, are all you need to create good, non-stinky compost. Mother Nature does the rest. The important thing to keep in mind is that you want both wet/green elements and dry/brown elements in your compost bins.
Since we have a lawn, we add grass clippings; we also add whatever weeds the chickens don’t consume, and trimmings from our garden.
All of these items take their turn in the first bin. I call this our active bin.
We use a pitchfork to toss and tumble weekly, adding a little water if it is too dry, adding a little more brown stuff if it gets too wet.
If you only have room for one bin, this is all you need to know. For our first year of composting, this is all we did. The bin fills up fast, though. Don’t stop with one if you don’t have to.
When the active bin is full, we pitch some of it’s contents into bin 2 and continue the process. At this point, we don’t add to bin 1, all we do is stir and watch it develop. In just a few weeks, our compost looks like this:
You can see that there is a lot of dirt in there. You also see straw, that’s because straw is one of the best brown/dry ingredients — ever! It helps keep our bins smelling fresh, adding structure and air pockets to our compost. (Don’t make the mistake of using hay. It is full of seeds. Many of the seeds can survive.)
When bin 2 is full, bin 1 is starting to look like this:
At this point, bin 1 gets renamed bin 3, because it is ready to add to the garden. Likewise, the emptied bin 3 becomes bin 1 and the process continues indefinitely.
Do you see the holes in the top of our bin? We added these for air flow. We also drilled holes in the bottom, and have our bins sitting on dirt for drainage. Although the holes are not necessary (as long as the mix is stirred and has the right moisture content) the air and drainage they provide advances the process. And if a few worms find their way inside, all the better!
We used spray-on glue to secure screening material over the holes to discourage flying bugs and whatever else might like to crawl around in there.
There are a few other useful tools to have on hand:
- a pitchfork to turn the piles, at least weekly
- a small garden fork to remove debris from the pitchfork
- access to water
- and a bucket or wheelbarrow to carry the finished product to the garden. That’s it!
- Oh, did you notice the antique mallet? I use this to bang on top of the lids to snap them shut. (optional tool)
What to we do with our compost?
And eat good things
Get exercise and sunshine.
And start all over again.
I hope this post has encouraged some people to consider making use of this ancient and simple method of bringing health to the soil, the body, and the soul.
As I mentioned above there is no lack of information about composting available to anyone wanting to know all the nitty-gritty particulars. We have also created two vegetable gardens using a method called, making a compost sandwich, which is basically making your compost right in the garden. We learned how to make a compost sandwich from the book, Vertical Vegetable Gardening, by Chris McLaughlin and we highly recommend the book, not only because it is thorough and fun to read, but because it teaches how to utilize the kind of gardening space that is available to people with limited space. I will share more about our compost sandwich gardens in another post.
“There’s naught as nice as th’ smell o’ good clean earth, except th’ smell o’ fresh growin’ things when th’ rain falls on ’em.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden