Step one is to plan for compost. I already had a backyard bin, so I decided to investigate how it was doing. Previously, I had been composting in 5-gallon buckets, but last year I "splurged" on a $40 compost bin. It ain't pretty, but it's 9 sq. ft., which is the minimum space needed for hot composting, although I suspect the bin may need to be a bit bigger to really do its thing. I've been adding vegetable scraps, dried leaves, shredded newspaper, and spent potting soil to the pile. Since I'm currently taking a woodworking class, I also have access to sawdust. Living in the city means I don't have an abundant source of carbon materials (with the exception of newspaper), but nitrogen-rich materials are never a problem. I don't bother shredding the few leaves I do get or cutting up my food scraps. This means everything will take a bit longer to compost, but it will do so all the same. When I finally turned the pile (which was long overdue), I was thrilled to see lots of rich, dark compost and that numerous fat worms have made their way inside. I think I'll be able to use quite a bit of the compost in my garden beds this spring.
|outdoor compost bin with fresh sawdust|
|Compost after turning - can you see the fat, happy worms?|
I must admit, I haven't gotten to step 2 of the challenge: buy fertilizer in bulk or make your own. I'm terrible with fertilizer - meaning I tend to neglect it. I use lots of compost and also worm castings, and my plants seem to do ok. I know this is not good gardening practice, and I occasionally supplement with an organic fertilizer from Dr. Earth. I don't have anything growing yet, but I do plan to fertilize more often this year, especially after reading the comments section. Who knows, I may get an abundance of tomatoes because of it!
The third part of the soil building challenge is to build a worm bin. Again, I got off easy because I already have a worm bin, though I bought it rather than building it. I started out with a large tub, but last year I made another splurge (this time, it really was a splurge) on a stackable bin. It was pricey but well worth it, since it makes harvesting so much easier. I harvested the first castings this weekend, and got 7 quarts out of one tray. Not bad!
|Harvesting bottom tray of worm bin. A lot of the egg shells, but they'll decompose eventually, so I don't mind.|
|An expensive investment, but well worth it. 7 quart-size bags of castings harvested from 1 tray!|