Start a Compost Pile to Help Your Garden Grow

Relatively trouble-free compost piles can be tailored to suit your needs and kept in a wide variety of environments.

  • If a traditional backyard compost pile isn't practical where you live, try a worm bin, which is odorless and easy to keep indoors and can work on a small scale.
    Photo by Fotolia/coulanges
  • “Green Wizardry,” by John Michael Greer, is a valuable resource for anyone concerned about decreasing our dependence on an overloaded industrial system and making life a great deal less traumatic and more livable.
    Cover courtesy New Society Publishers

Green Wizardry (New Society Publishers, 2013), by John Michael Greer, proposes a modern mage for uncertain times, one who possesses a vast array of practical skills gleaned from the appropriate tech and organic gardening movements forged in the energy crisis of the 1970s. From the basic concepts of ecology to a plethora of practical techniques such as composting, green manure, low-tech food preservation and storage and more, Greer provides a comprehensive manual for today’s wizard-in-training. The following excerpt from Lesson 9, “Composting and Mulching,” emphasizes the importance a compost pile has on your organic garden.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Green Wizardry.

Ask a hundred people who don’t practice organic gardening what the heart and soul of a successful organic garden is, and you’ll get a hundred different answers. Ask a hundred people who do practice organic gardening the same question, and my guess is that a large majority of them will give you one answer: the compost bin. What some of them will go on to tell you, and most of the others know intuitively, is that the humble and lovable compost bin is the template on which the entire structure of any future sustainable society will have to be modeled.

Step out through my back door with me for a moment, and you’ll see how this works. My current compost bin is a roughly cubic shape four feet on a side, made of recycled lumber and chicken wire, snugged up to the fence that surrounds my backyard garden. Every day, kitchen scraps and garden waste go into it; every spring, a couple of wheelbarrow loads of rich brown dirt come out of it and get worked into the garden beds. There’s lesson number one for a sustainable society: the word “garbage” simply means a resource we aren’t clever enough to use yet.

Take a shovel and turn the compost, and I’ll introduce you to a few million of my closest friends: the living things that make compost happen. What organisms you get in a compost bin will be determined by how hot and fast you like to do your compost, and this depends on the ingredients you use and how you tend the pile.

“Hot” is not a metaphor; a compost bin with the right mix of high-nitrogen and high-carbon materials and just enough moisture can produce so much heat that you’ll need to hose it down daily in the summer to keep it from catching on fire. In that kind of heat, very little thrives except the thermophilic bacteria that drive the decay process, but they do thrive. A friend of mine still glows with pride when he recalls the compost pile he built in his 4-H days. It hit a peak temperature of 190 degrees Fahrenheit and finished turning its carefully arranged layers of garden and kitchen waste into ripe compost in only fourteen days.

5/18/2016 11:11:07 AM

Always loved to make compost, but with a ready supply of horse manure from a friends stable, I began an experiment, all kitchen green waste went into a large plastic compost bin. As a family we get through a huge amount of veg. I just wanted to see how long it would take to fill it to the brim ....17 yrs later never having got to the full stage, also without turning it, I took the top 12" off and started a new pile off. The original, when riddled provided the best friable manure I have ever used, 6 wheelbarrows in total. The worms in the top 12" were even trying to drag the stuff off the fork!!

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