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Gardening Lessons Learned the Hard Way:  Composting

I have created compost using a variety of methods over the years, and I have never struggled to create rich “black gold” until we moved into this house.  You can see my composting at our old house here.  At our new house, I made a few assumptions that ended up being disastrous lessons learned. 

1.  A compost pile or compost bin needs a mix of “greens” and “browns”, freshly cut greens, and dried out “browns”.  Previously, I have created a large pile of leaves in the fall that I add in periodically with grass clippings and kitchen waste to find that right balance.  When we moved into this house, my husband thought I was crazy when I asked if we could bring a pile of leaves from the old house to the new house, and refused. 

The majority of the “browns” at our new house were dried pine needles when we moved in.  I made the incorrect assumption that they would work in a similar manner as regular dried leaves.  I put them into my compost tumbler along with grass clippings and kitchen scraps.  Weeks went by and nothing decomposed at all.  I knew that something was not right, and then learned that pine needles take a really long time to decompose, making them better as mulch than compost material.  I emptied the compost tumbler out, and decided to start again.

2.  I started again with an empty compost tumbler.  I still didn’t have any dried leaves, and could not locate the box where I was saving all of our used newspapers (which can be shredded and used as “browns”).  My husband stopped me from transporting the dried leaves, and my backup plan of the box of newspaper could not be located at the moment.

I tried doing an experiment of adding in only “greens” and some compost accelerator (a powdery substance purchased at garden centers).  No luck….nothing happened.

3.  I had by now trimmed back some of the ivy in our new yard, and left the clippings in a pile to dry out.  For my third attempt at making compost at this new house, I added in dried ivy leaves along with the usual grass clippings & kitchen waste.  Things started to finally show signs of breaking down, and then I added in more in the tumbler. 

When the compost tumbler got too full, signs of decomposition halted.  I decided I needed to start a secondary compost bin since I obviously have a lot more green waste at this house than I had at our old house.  I am using a regular trash can with holes drilled in it for my backup compost bin.  Once the compost tumbler had room again, things have finally started to break down properly.  Hopefully I will have homemade compost again soon!

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