Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Speaking of Astonishment

Last October, I took a free composting class from Seattle Tilth, where I learned a composting method known as Interbay Mulching. For someone like me, it was ideal: No bin required (my previous compost pile was literally that, a pile on the ground); no real cost (or minimal if you buy burlap in bulk, a nonissue here in the Northwest where coffee sacks are plentiful and free); and, best of all, MINIMAL EFFORT: You just set it up, cover with sacks, and let it sit for five or six months. In fact, the less you disturb it, the better.

Now, maybe I'm being a bit facile in my description (you can find a much more thorough "recipe" here) but really, this is the easiest mulching/compost system there is. You pile your yard waste in layers of greens (grass clippings, debris and plant matter left over from the summer garden, coffee grounds, tea, whatever) and browns (I used leaves, which were conveniently lying all over our un-raked yard, but you can also use straw, evergreen needles, rotted burlap, and shredded paper), in a long pile a foot or more high. Cover with burlap, leaving no spaces if you're using coffee sacks, moisten and walk away. The web sites I've consulted caution you to check periodically to make sure everything's staying moist--but again, that's rarely a problem here in the damp Northwest.

Over the last couple of weekends, I've finally started digging my mulch beds under--and, to my slight astonishment (my garden experiments rarely go quite as planned), my piles of yard waste had transformed in mere months to rich, crumbly, sweet-smelling black humus, positively teeming with the creepy crawlies that help keep gardens healthy. Other bloggers have written about the challenges of creatin compost--and I don't want to diminish the work it takes to build an honest-to-God container composting system--but honestly, this is one of the easiest and most rewarding gardening projects I've ever done. Of course, only time will tell if what looks like rich earth actually produces better radishes, lettuce, and tomatoes than the $15-a-bag stuff I used to buy, but at least I'll know I did it myself.

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