Shake 'n' Bake:
Quick California Compost
By Lynn Bennett
Mention the word compost and most people get a funny look on their face and tell you "it smells" or "it's too much work." When done properly, a compost pile smells very "earthy" much like rich soil and it only takes a few minutes to add ingredients and turn it. Compost is the best soil amendment and plant food you can add to your rose garden and wouldn't it be better than filling up trash cans and landfills? Any plant grown with compost is much stronger and healthier and therefore can fight off attacks from bugs, diseases and harsh weather conditions. The soil also benefits by becoming richer, more porous and retains a lot more water. My method is called "Quick California Compost" and is designed to give you finished compost in as little as two weeks or two months depending on how often you turn it.
The following is a list of ingredients you can add to your compost pile:
Grass clippings, animal manure, coffee grounds and coffee paper filters, tea bags, eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps, leaves, pine needles, dirt, hay, straw, and earthworms.
DO NOT ADD:
1) Any type of fish, meat or bones (they will smell and they also attract unwanted animals).
2) Bread -- feed that to the birds!
3) Sawdust and wood shavings -- they take one year to break down, so build a separate pile and just let it sit there for a year.
4) ANY parts from a rose bush or any plant that has a disease or is infested with bugs (if your compost pile isn't hot enough, bugs and diseases will live and multiply in it).
Start by selecting an area in your yard about 4 ft x 4 ft, and locate it away from any solid walls or fences. Good air circulation is a must to break down a compost pile. It can either be free standing or totally enclosed in 1-inch chicken wire. Concrete blocks or pieces of wood can also be used for an enclosure as long as there are air spaces on all sides. Alternate ingredients in about 2-inch thick layers, misting each layer lightly as you go. Always keep the compost pile moist but not soggy, and shred all material into the smallest pieces possible. When completed, the pile should be about 4 ft x 4 ft x 4 ft high, and when mine gets that size I will start another one. This way I always have compost ready to use year round. Using a pitchfork, turn the pile once a week and you will have finished compost in about two months. If you want to speed things up, turn it once a day and you'll have finished compost in about two weeks.
If your compost pile is built properly, it will start to heat up in a few days and can reach a temperature of 160 degrees. If not, the following list will help you correct the problem.
The pile doesn't heat up
> The pile may be too small so rebuild it and make it larger.
> It might be too dry so rebuild it and mist each layer.
> The pile has too much dried material and too little nitrogen. Turn it and add some high-nitrogen organic fertilizer like diluted fish emulsion or some leafy green organic matter.
The compost smells bad
> If it smells like ammonia, it has too much green matter. Layer in some straw, hay or leaves.
> If it smells like rotten eggs, it's too wet. Turn it and add some dry ingredients.
Composting is nature's way to recycle and is the foundation for a successful organic rose garden "what comes out of the ground, goes back into the ground" and "feed the soil not the plants."
Thought for the day
"Rose ideas that work are those you put to work."
American Rose Annual, 1993; The Self-Sufficient Gardener, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1980; The Organic Gardener's Complete Guide to Vegetables and Fruits, Rodale Press, Inc. 1982.
© Copyright Lynn Bennett. All rights reserved.
This article is an Award of Merit winner, originally published in "Rose Ecstasy," bulletin of Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, Kitty Belendez, Editor.
Photos © Copyright by Kitty Belendez
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