You are in the kitchen preparing breakfast. You remove used coffee grounds and filter from the coffee pot, peel some oranges and bananas, crack some eggs. What do you do with these unwanted parts? Hopefully, you don’t throw them into the trash to go to a landfill where they will produce strong greenhouse gases when you could be using them to make your own compost. What? That is a time and energy consuming task reserved for those dedicated gardeners with labor intensive compost piles. Maybe not. Let’s talk about a couple of relatively simple ways to turn your unwanted food scraps (as well as garden trimmings) into the compost which will: improve your soil structure, help your soil hold water, suppress some diseases, and make nutrients more readily available to your plants.
The Trench Method takes the least amount of effort. Save your kitchen scraps in a small lidded container. When it is full, take it out to the garden, dig shallow hole(s) in an unplanted area of a garden bed or between some plants and empty in the contents of the container. Cover it with the soil you took out to make the hole and the mulch you might have pushed aside in order to dig the hole. The material will decompose in situ. Use the same method around your fruit trees by digging shallow trenches as needed at the drip line until you have gone all around the tree. Then move on to your next tree.
Compost bins come in varying shapes and designs - stacked, rotating, multi bin. San Diego county offers vouchers for a stacked one. Learn more here.
You can make your own bin using the Wire Cage Method. Build a circular bin with welding or woven wire with a grid that is 3” or smaller. Use fencing wire that is at least 3 feet high and 10 feet long for an ideal diameter of three feet. These dimensions are important. The 3 foot height makes the bin easier to fill and the 3’ width allows air to reach to the center so the bin can breathe. Secure the fencing with zip or twist ties. Place the cylinder directly on leveled and loosened soil in a partially shaded area. Placing it directly on the soil will allow soil life to move up into the bin to provide the needed inoculants to breakdown leaves, twigs and food scraps. Wrap the outside with black plastic. Secure it with clothes pins. Start with several inches of coarse material such as twigs from pruning trees and shrubs. These will help with drainage and air circulation. Add some dry leaves and clippings. Moisten (don’t soak) the pile. The dry (or brown) materials are a rich source of carbon for energy and growth.The moisture is needed for fungi and bacteria that break down them into compost. Add fresh trimmings as well as kitchen scraps.This is your green material which will supply nitrogen rich proteins. Next, a thin layer of soil which will seed the pile with microbes to speed up decomposition, retain moisture and prevent flies from laying eggs in the green layer. Continue to layer the pile (more brown than green) until you have reached the top. Place a piece of plastic on top to decrease evaporation. It can be removed each time you add green and brown material. Over time you will be rewarded with a rich amendment for your garden. To harvest the compost, remove the plastic, undo the twist ties and open the cylinder. The uncomposted parts can be used to start a new pile in the rebuilt cage.
Tip of the month: March is the second best month to fertilize established trees and shrubs as well as perennials. You will reap the results during the spring and summer. (October is considered the best month.)