Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Great Summer For Compost

It's a reach, I know.  But this was the only good thing about Houston summer weather that I could wholeheartedly affirm.

Looks pretty good, right?
It's been a wonderful summer for making compost.  The perfect conditions were present:  lots of hot, sunny weather, followed by lots of rain.  Down here in Fort Bend County, the rain came at the correct intervals and I never had to actually go out and water my compost.  I always feel silly doing that. 

I am a lazy cold composter, so I don't get very scientific about it.  Sometimes, if I'm feeling particularly energetic in the fall, I take the family on evening jaunts to gather leaves.  The Chief Engineer drives the van, my daughter keeps her head low so no one from school will recognize her, and I hop out and grab bags of leaves on the night before garbage day.  I like the clear plastic bags the best: that way I know exactly what I'm getting.  The idea is to alternate the dry brown leaves (carbon) with the lawn clippings (green).  I figure we cut the grass from about late February through October, so I try to get about 40 big bags.  Of course, then I have to stack them all behind the garage (but not against the garage!), which causes its own difficulties.

No leaves this summer.

My compost bin is built from a wonderful bracket set that I got from the Lee Valley catalog.  It can accommodate sides up to four feet long, but I will tell you -- that's too big.  I made some mistakes when I built mine, so you don't have to!  First, don't place it right up against the fence, especially not in a corner.  It's good to be able to get at it from all four sides.  Second, don't plan on making your bin 4 feet by 4 feet.  It's difficult to manage and difficult to fill entirely.  Make it 3 feet by 3 feet.  Third, don't cut your boards to fit exactly.  Make them as long as they can be without knocking into the boards on the adjoining sides.  When the bin is full, the compost presses outward, and boards cut too close will fall out of the slots.

My routine is simple:  I fill a metal bin in the kitchen with food wastes (plant material only).  When it's full, I dig a hole in the compost outside, stirring the big pile as best I can.  I bury the fresh trimmings.  In the summer, by the time the kitchen bin is full, the previous batch is already pretty far advanced.  I try to bury each batch in a different spot in the big pile. When I have leaves, I spread them in a layer just before I add that week's grass clippings. Because I am cold-composting, I don't put weeds in my bin, or any sort of animal products or oils.  We do get some critters in there, most notably the green fruit beetle, whose grub is big enough to have a license plate on it.  The wren family teaches insect retrieval classes out there too, but they are too cagey for me to photograph well.

Green Fruit Beetle.  Photo: Ron Hemberger

I usually stop adding vegetable wastes to the pile when the weather turns cool.  The compost sits quietly throughout our short winter and is ready for me to use each spring.  And no, I don't sift it.  It goes back to the garden as is.

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