Since the first principle of abundant living is to produce two or three times as much as you think you’ll need, my overly-large garden yields dozens and dozens of such stumps and still more dozens of uneaten savoy cabbages, more dozens of three foot tall Brussels sprouts stalks and cart loads of enormous blooming kale plants. At the same time, from our insulated but unheated garage comes buckets and boxes of sprouting potatoes and cart loads of moldy uneaten winter squashes.
There may be a few crates of last fall’s withered apples as well. Sprouting potatoes, mildewed squash, and shriveled apples are spread atop the base of brassica stalks.
I grow my own vegetable seed whenever possible, particularly for biennials such as brassicas, beets and endive. During summer these generate large quantities of compostable straw after the seed is thrashed.
Usually there is a big dry bean patch that also produces a lot of straw. There are vegetable trimmings, and large quantities of plant material when old spring-sown beds are finished and the soil is replanted for fall harvest. With the first frost in October there is a huge amount of garden clean up.
As each of these materials is acquired it is temporarily placed next to the heap awaiting the steady outpourings from our 2-1/2 gallon kitchen compost pail. Our household generates quite a bit of garbage, especially during high summer when we are canning or juicing our crops. But we have no flies or putrid garbage smells coming from the compost pile because as each bucketful is spread over the center of the pile the garbage is immediately covered by several inches of dried or wilted vegetation and a sprinkling of soil.
By October the heap has become about six feet high, sixteen feet long and about seven feet wide at the base. I’ve made no attempt to water this pile as it was built, so it is quite dry and has hardly decomposed at all. Soon those winter rains that the Maritime northwest is famous for arrive.
From mid-October through mid-April it drizzles almost every day and rains fairly hard on occasion. Some 45 inches of water fall. But the pile is loosely stacked with lots of air spaces within and much of the vegetation started the winter in a dry, mature form with a pretty hard “bark” or skin that resists decomposition. Winter days average in the high 40s, so little rotting occurs.
Still, by next April most of the pile has become quite wet. Some garbagey parts of it have decomposed significantly, others not at all; most of it is still quite recognizable but much of the vegetation has a grayish coating of microorganisms or has begun to turn light brown. Now comes the only two really hard hours of compost-making effort each year. For a good part of one morning I turn the pile with a manure fork and shovel, constructing a new pile next to the old one.
First I peel off the barely-rotted outer four or five inches from the old pile; this makes the base of the new one. Untangling the long stringy grasses, seed stalks, and Brussels sprout stems from the rest can make me sweat and even curse, but fortunately I must stop occasionally to spray water where the material remains dry and catch my wind.
Then, I rearrange the rest so half-decomposed brassica stumps and other big chunks are placed in the center where the pile will become the hottest and decomposition will proceed most rapidly. As I reform the material, here and there I lightly sprinkle a bit of soil shoveled up from around the original pile.
When I’ve finished turning it, the new heap is about five feet high, six feet across at the bottom, and about eight feet long. The outside is then covered with a thin layer of crumbly, black soil scraped up where the pile had originally stood before I turned it.