These little worm workhorses turn compost into rich humus. (Mary Lowther photo)

These little worm workhorses turn compost into rich humus. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Contemplating the compost heap

David made me a three-bin compost system

By Mary Lowther

“Why is an old metal tire rim sitting in your mom’s back yard?” I asked David.

“She’s composting it,” he replied. “She says it’ll break down completely eventually.”

I don’t know where she learned to do this, but it makes sense, because the rusting metal would add iron and whatever other minerals they used to make the steel into the soil, adding a je ne sais quoi to the mix.

Given the enormous loss of minerals we flush down the loo, we should try to replenish the soil with more if we want nutrient dense, tasty crops, though I’m not sure how plant-friendly the minerals from mom’s tire rim would be. Some of these minerals can be incorporated into a fertilizer mix, but rock phosphate takes about a year to become bioavailable to plants, so if we add some to our compost heap along with clay, a nitrogen like seed meal or manure and garden refuse, red worms come out of hiding, turning all of this into rich humus that remains stable for decades.

David made me a three-bin compost system: one bin contains compost that will be ready next spring, one holds leftover vegetable scraps that I’ve tossed in over the past year and the third bin is empty, awaiting this year’s additions. As I build the heap in the empty bin this fall, I’ll incorporate the leftover vegetable scrap pile into the mix. I’ve still got bags of leaves from last fall so I’ll use them in the new heap. I don’t shred the leaves. First of all, I don’t have a shredding lawn mower and secondly, I’ve tried using a weed whacker in a garbage can of leaves and never got anywhere because the leaves flew out of the can as soon as the whacker started whacking. Besides, when I layer the leaves along with other amendments in the compost heap, they break down just fine.

I follow Solomon’s guide: I have a bucket of clay, a bucket of alfalfa seed meal or manure, a bucket of soft rock phosphate, the pile of leftover vegetable scraps plus this season’s detritus, the bags of leaves and a garden hose with a valve I screwed on that will allow me to turn the water on and off at the heap. First I put down two layers of thick stalks like corn stalks, the second layer criss crossing the first. This gets everything off the ground and allows a certain amount of air circulation. Then I fork in a three inch layer of vegetable detritus, cover this with a sprinkling of clay, some alfalfa meal or manure, a cup of soft rock phosphate and a two inch layer of leaves. I spray this down with some water — not too much, just enough to wet the layers lightly. I continue adding these layers until I run out. Finally I close the lid down and leave the whole shebang alone, ready to use it in a year and a half in the spring.

In the spring following this winter, I’ll use the compost that’s been sitting in the bin from last fall. It should be mostly composted and stable and won’t pull nitrogen from the soil when I add it to the beds.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

Columngardening

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cowichan Bay tennis player Grace Haugen takes part in an exhibition at the South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club in 2019, which also included Canadian legends Frank Dancevic and Daniel Nestor. Haugen has committed to further her career at the University of Montana starting next fall. (Citizen file)
Cowichan Bay tennis player prepares for next step in her journey

Grace Haugen commits to University of Montana

Police and fire crews at work at a fire scene at Mount Prevost School (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Classes cancelled for Mount Prevost students today

Second school fire in five days for North Cowichan schools

New well in Youbou expected to meet community;s drinking water needs for years. (File photo)
New well provides fresh water in Youbou

Well expected to meet community’s needs for years

Smaller egg farmers find themselves in a David and Goliath situation when it comes to major producers and chain-grocery store shelf space. (Citizen file)
Name on the egg carton not what it seems, cautions Cowichan producer

“Island” eggs may come from Manitoba, Woike says

The Kerry Park Islanders and Peninsula Panthers battle during a Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League game in November 2020. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League hasn’t given up on season

Games can’t resume until at least February, but league brass still hopeful

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. finds its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government announces creation of B.C.’s first anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

A northern resident killer whale shows injuries sustained by a collision with a vessel in B.C. waters. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Coast Guard ramps up protections for B.C. whales

First-ever Marine Mammal Desk will enhance cetacean reporting and enforcement

Two toucans sit on tree at an unidentified zoo. (Pixabay.com)
BC SPCA calls for ban on exotic animal trade after 50 parrots, toucans pass through YVR

One toucan was found dead and several others were without food

Nanaimo RCMP seek public assistance after numerous tire slashings between Jan. 12-14. (News Bulletin file)
Police seek public’s help after ‘tire slashing spree’ in central Nanaimo

Ten reports of slashed tires in the last three days, say Nanaimo RCMP

Most Read