Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
November, 2007
Regional Report

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For my father, making compost is both a hobby and a duty.

Talking Compost With Dad

My father is my composting guru. He's a recycler at heart and hates to see anything go to waste, but he clearly enjoys the composting process, too. He layers and waters and tends the piles, turning them like you're supposed to. Chopping up large pieces so they break down faster. Sorting and screening. Scavenging ingredients wherever he can find them.

He has several wooden bins that he made in sections so he can move them around and stack them to make bins as tall as he needs. To turn the compost, he stacks some sections next to the full bin and forks the matter over into the empty bin. He does this several times with each batch, sprinkling the materials with water or other beneficial ingredients as needed.

I admire his organized approach and follow-through. I have good intentions but get sidetracked. I rely on compost to nourish my soil but take more of a laissez faire approach to making it. I pile dug-up sod and old plants into a compost "area," where they slowly decompose. Right now my bins are overflowing with weedy clumps. I may have revised the composting book, Let It Rot, by Stu Campbell, but ... well, you know ... do as I say, not as I do.

At the house where my parents used to live, my father had his own backyard compost facility. Hidden from view behind some large pine trees were several bins, piles of debris ready to be added, large screens for sifting the big pieces out of the finished compost, and other assorted composting accoutrements. Whenever I visited, that's where we would inevitably end up, checking on things. Talking compost.

At my old house we had an oversupply of large shade trees that would bury us in leaves every fall. My father would come over and collect the leaves in his truck, turn them into rich leaf mold, and return the priceless commodity to me for my garden, while my own piles of untouched leaves were still slowly decomposing. (Yes, I had it made.)

Then I moved to a house with fewer yard trees to shed leaves. My parents moved to a retirement home with a tiny vegetable garden and no hide-a-way for a composting operation. My father took his bins and supplies with him anyway, although he had to downsize. He set things up in the garden area and got to work. Before long he was clearing brush, enlarging the garden, and enriching the beds with a steady supply of compost. There's a small community of fellow gardeners that shares seeds and tools and techniques. There's always something that needs doing, and my father is always game to dig in. I wouldn't be surprised to find him in the garden any month of the year.

Even in winter, my father makes compost. He brings a small bucket to dinner, keeps it at his feet until everyone at his table is finished, then scrapes the leftover food from the plates into the bucket, turns it into a slurry in his blender, and heads out to the garden. He wishes the kitchen staff would collect all the food scraps for composting; he hates to see it all thrown away. I'm betting he'll eventually talk them into it. But I'm not so sure he'll ever convince my mother that keeping a worm composting bin in their apartment would be a terrific idea!

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