RENEGADE GARDENER

The lone voice of horticultural reason

“An easy way to increase air circulation to the bottom of the compost pile is by first laying a foot-high, loose structure of stout brush on the ground, then adding the layers of compost materials on top if it.”

 I wish more garden writers would actually garden, and in particular make compost for a few decades. This layer of sticks theory for starting a compost pile gets tossed along from article to article, with no one ever stopping to think about what a mess it is to have a brush pile buried at the bottom of the ol’ compost heap.

Early on, like an idiot, I first laid a loose structure of brush on the ground, then built my compost pile on top of it, only to find that after the pile had settled and cooled off completely (well before the process was half finished) I couldn’t turn the pile without snagging my pitchfork on — surprise — these long, stiff sticks at the bottom. Then I lost a few bushels of my richest compost by having it sift down into the brush, from which it is inextricable. I finally pulled all the brush out and threw it in the woods, but still had twigs and chunks and scraps of wood throughout the compost that I had to pick out by hand the entire season I used that batch in my garden.

Don’t build a brush pile on the floor of your compost bin. Yes, air circulation in the pile speeds the process along, so if you’re younger than 45, build two bins side-by-side, then once a month toss the entire pile from one bin to the other. Takes about twenty minutes, it’s a great workout, and if you do it early in the morning you feel like a farmer, which is a wonderful, wonderful feeling.

Age 45 and older, buy a compost aerator, a simple metal rod with a T-handle at one end and a sharp point with two collapsible wings at the other. Once a month, plunge the rod into the pile, twist the handle, rip it out, and plunge it in again, working the pile in an eight-inch grid. Takes about ten minutes. Every now and then, after twisting, the wings on the pointy end actually open as they are supposed to, and the pile really loosens up.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener