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Adventures in Compost

My son has been begging me to plant seeds and grow our own food for years.  The problem was that we had just bought a house in Colorado and the yard was in horrendous shape.  I’m talking, nothing but dirt and river rock on the back yard.  The dirt was due to no one ever watering the grass, the river rock was a poor attempt at landscaping.  So I spent the first many years picking rocks out of where the lawn should be, and then moving tons (as in weight) of rock out from where I wanted to install a garden.  Then much labor was involved installing a retaining wall made of timbers, and concrete garden wall stones.  I even stress fractured my wrist chiseling away at the hard clay with a pick axe.  Talk about dedication! This post isn’t about the whole process of getting my yard in shape.  It is about my adventures in composting.

We’ve lived here for 5 years now, and I’m happy to report that I’m almost ready to plant a garden.  I even have seeds sprouted.  Before I can do that, I need soil in my garden.


Sprouted Seeds =)

Last fall, my garden area was finally ready to be filled with soil.  You see I’m from Ohio, where generally you can stick a seed in the ground and it will grow.  In Colorado, even if you are planting native plants, you will need to water them profusely to get them established.  This is why my garden is a raised bed, also it’s on a bit of an incline.

Last Fall

Garden Area before soil amending

Actually, in this picture, there are already some leaves in there for composting.  After pricing garden soil at about $500 to fill this area, I decided to make my own.  In comes the compost.  I started by filling the space with as many leaves as I could get my hands on.  All of them from my yard, and two of my neighbors’ yards.  The branches were of course moved out.

Siloh in the compost midwinter

My dog loves the compost like kids love ball pits.

Here it is mostly filled.  Actually at one point it was filled to the brim with leaves.  Here it is already compacting.  It sat like this over the winter, with the occasional turning on warm days.  I also watered it from time to time, because we had a really dry winter.  Come spring I realized that while my pile was composting, it kept shrinking!  I needed more soil.  So I purchased a few bags of organic garden soil and began chipping away at the slope by the fence and mixed it in.

Spring first amendment

Adding Organic Soil

And then I realized that this was still not enough. So my greenhouse farming friend gave me the leftover soil from a recent harvest.

Spring 2nd amendment

Amending compost the second time.

See it’s getting fuller, but now it needs to be mixed up.  I liked to think of this like baking cookies.  Only instead of using a hand mixer to combine the flour, sugar, butter, and chocolate chips… I used a pick axe and a shovel to blend wet leaves, food scraps, and dirt.  The difference being that baking cookies smells like vanilla, compost smells like decomposing wet leaves.  Oh, and cookies take about 15 minutes with minimal effort, this took 4 hours of manual labor!

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As I worked, I kept envisioning my baby kale, turnips, beans, corn, carrots, tomatoes, and lettuce that are anxiously awaiting to spread their roots in the earth.  Then when that wore off, I began envisioning the beer I would treat myself to when I was done.


Compost is wet and messy.

Compost is wet and messy.

And finally, my compost was like cookie dough only instead of chocolate chips it was full of worms.  Glorious, fat worms.  Worms are of course necessary for compost.  So fat worms in early spring show that my compost is working.  It’s full of nutrients, and it’s keeping warm enough for life even under 14″ of snow!

Compost after turning 4/21

In all it’s glory

It’s supposed to snow again tonight, yes in mid April.  Also, obviously my soil isn’t 100% ready for planting.  So keep your fingers crossed for me that by next month in mid May when the danger of frost has finally past, that this pile is glorious black gold (of the fertile earth kind).

See? Like a ball pit made of stinky wet leaves. Dog heaven.

Look for an update on my garden next month.  In the meantime, I may post about my adventure in xeriscaping the front yard.


love & light