Monday, September 1, 2014

Simple Composting and Compost Screening Tool to Make

Hello Folks!  It is the end of August 2014 and Fall is on its way already.  Due to an Auto Accident and a long recovery,  my garden started a little slow this year.  I didn't get that one 4 X 8 plot rejuvenated but I did manage to get in the major vegetables I wanted this year and done a little experiment with making and using compost plus trying out Manure Tea. In my last issue, I showed you how to make and plant a 3 X 6 Onion Bed.  Used for either early small Green Onion production or larger Late Summer Bulb Onions.

The  White and Red Onions are finished and while they are only medium sized, they are beautiful and tasty. The tops on the White Onion side were all down and drying.  The Red Onions were almost all down, so I pulled them all. They are drying out in the sun for a few days before bringing in for storage.  I planted about about 60 bulbs of each kind of Red and White and harvested at least 150.  I am happy with the results of the first season of using the new Onion Bed. 

Hopefully, by next year planting time, the Onion Bed Soil will be amalgamated and ready to plant by early spring.   The Red Onions were a little small, I felt.  I will look for a different brand next year.

 I also tried a Manure Tea mix of 1 part manure water to 6 parts water.  The Manure water was made with 2 pints of Commercial Composted Cow Manure and 2 pints of water stirred well and allowed to set for a few days in warm weather. From this, I made a strained Manure Tea.  (1 cup of strained Manure Water to 6 cups of out of the hose water) and out of this, I poured 1 cup of tea around each of  my vegetables.   

I used Manure Tea on All my vegetables to see how it worked out on the different types of vegetables.  I did notice some burning on All my plants which tended to set them back a couple weeks until they recovered and grew New Leaves.  None of the plants died, but there were a lot of yellow leaves on the bottom foot or two of my Tomato Plants. This mix was too strong!

The only other time I had Ever applied Manure Tea to my plants, was when years ago I made a mix of Rabbit Manure and Water and poured it around my front porch railing Coleus flower boxes.  I had heard that Rabbit Manure is so mild that it never burns plants.  Rabbit  Dooky!

   After about 2 days, they begin to shrivel before my eyes.  And they were just small plants from the grocery store anyway. Just getting established in their boxes.  I soaked them down several times with generous buckets of water, hoping I could stop the carnage!  In the end, I saved about half the plants ... and then they started to grow.  And Grow. And GROW!  The Coleus plant leaves got Humongous!  As big as dinner plates!

 People driving nearly a half a block away on a busy street were turning around, coming back and pulling up to the curb by our house.  "Where did you get such Giant Coleus?  Are these plants for Sale?    I just told them we had rabbits for sale ...


There was also some yellowing on my Zucchini Plants, my new bedded Onions, on my Cucumbers, and on my Dill.  I decided some modification of my Manure Tea Recipe was in order!  I then changed my recipe to 1 part Manure Water to 10 parts Water and made another application 2 weeks later.  This time no burning.  All the plants are Thriving like crazy now except for the Onions whose harvest time has come.

Through out this experiment, I applied 1 cup of Manure Tea to each plant in the main root area.  I also tried to stay about  2 inches away from the main stem. A few day later,  all the plants started a nice growing spurt which I attribute to the newer milder Manure Tea Mix.  My plan was to apply Manure Tea every few weeks or so. 

In another experiment this summer, I wanted to see what adding a 1 inch layer of new Sifted Compost around each plant. to help keep the moisture in and how it works as a purely natural Fertilizer.  In addition, I added an inch of wheat straw on top of the whole thing to help Shade the roots of each plant.  My Cucumbers are putting on fruit fast this year, full of flowers  and have the large sturdy stems and leaves. 

Simple Easy Composting
Composting is probably the easiest thing in the world - if you are willing to wait 6 to 8 months for the results. Nature takes a while but you always get good results in the end. Even if you do nothing!

An easy way to make compost, is to watch for leaves that never got raked along fence lines... Take a fork. Pull away last years leaves on top and down below this you will find finished compost.  Just fork it into a container and take it home.  However leaves, even dry ones, are not compost.  Put them directly on your plants, and the next good rain will paste them together an make a barrier that keeps your plant from getting moisture and air.  And while the leaves underneath are composting, they are Stealing Nitrogen from the plant to do the process.  The plant actually suffers from the process!

Compost in 3 weeks!
It's true, vegetable matter, egg shells, banana peels etc add good nutrients to a compost pile - but don't do a lot to speed up the process.  Instead of taking Months to make compost - how about 3 or 4 weeks using equal amounts of just two free items.  Grass Clippings from this week and Dried leaves from last year.  No special Ben is necessary.  just make a pile Alternating equal amounts of Grass and Dry Leaves.  No additives - unless you want to. Try to make the pile about 3 foot around and 2 or 3 feet tall. Dampen down with water.

Easy Compost Recipe

           One Part of Old Dry Leaves
           One Part  of Fresh Lawn Clippings.
           Or 1 Fork Full of Grass Clippings for ever Fork of Dry 
            80 degree days or better for a few weeks to Heat the pile and get it started Composting.   Pray for Rain. Or sprinkle and mix the pile is damp through out.  Not soggy or dropping.

Take a hand full of the leaf/grass mixture and squeeze. It Should not drip, but should feel like a damp sponge rung out.
If it is too Dry,  add a little water and mix.
If it is too Wet, add equal parts Leaves and Grass Clippings until you get that damp rung out sponge texture.

Try to turn with a Garden Fork every 3 or 4 days.  The mixture of leaves will start to look "Crumbly" in about 2 weeks.  In about a month, 90% will be broken down and ready to spread over your garden soil - or sift and pore into your Container Plants or Plant Boxes.

This is about 90% composted.  At any time, you can reach into the bottom of the pile and pull out some much needed compost. 
The good stuff is usually near the bottom of the pile that is still working.  It takes a few weeks and  a few turnings to be able to find this stuff in a New Compost Pile. And I'm impatient.

Rolly-Polly Bugs

 You may see a few small gray Accordion Looking Bugs crawling about and through the fresh compost. Anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 inch (1 Centimeter) long. About as thick as a skinny Soda Straw.

Rolly Pollys won't bite you. Let them alone.  They actually help the composting process a lot and work at it very hard.  They will not usually hurt the plants.  They like to chew up Dead Organic Matter for their sustenance.  If the baby bugs are extremely hungry, they may attack your plant roots - but this is rare. I have Never seen it happen however.  I'm not sure what they are Officially called.

When I was a kid, we called them "Rolly Pollys" and watched them crawl around in the palm of our hands.  And they seem to be everywhere there is dead matter to be broken down into healthy soil.  Under Brush, damp rotten Boards, and in every Compost Pile.  They are Beneficial Bugs and help you make great compost.

This is freshly screened compost.  I have circled in green a Rolly-Polly.  You should be viewing it at actual size.

Another bug you will see often are Millipedes  (translated means 'many legs'.  Kinda resemble gray or black skinny hairless caterpillars with lots of legs and can move very fast.  DO NOT CONFUSE with Centipedes  ( ten legs?) usually Bright Red, Orange or Yellow in Color.  Millipedes are also usually found in Compost. Centipedes more rarely.  Centipedes Are Dangerous, like to bite and come with a mean streak and are poisonous.  Don't touch them!

While I am at it.  Often you will see Wolf Spiders in Gardens.  They are looking for Bugs to eat and are (to my knowledge) not dangerous to people.  I have had many run over my arms picking vegetables and have never been bitten.  They are medium size, rather plump looking, and are called Wolf Spiders because they are Gray and have what looks like a woolly coat of grey fur on most of their body.  I leave them alone.  And they are Beneficial to your Garden.  Likewise, colorful little garden snakes.  But learn which ones they are!  Even Moles are benificial in that they are busy turning the soil.  Voles  however (a relative of Moles) not only turn the soil,  they eat the tender roots of your plants.  Moles just look for Grubs.  If you have them, worry about the Voles most.  Learn the difference.

If you have never used Composting or using the great Rich Soil it produces, you need to give it a try.  I have applied a cover of about one inch or more around all my plants.  Tomatoes, Onions, Cucumbers, Dills, Asparagus.  And even around a Volunteer Watermelon Plant - that originally came up in my Compost Pile .  It's doing great, except for the one small melon that our Dachshund managed to eat when she found a break in the fence. Others are coming along nicely too.  All in all, there were 3 volunteer watermelon plants  and one Roma (?) tomato plant growing in the compost pile this spring.  I couldn't kill them.  So I transplanted them to a better spot! The screened compost around this Cucumber plant not only helps hold the ground temperature down,  It also helps hold the moister in down below and becomes the perfect fertilizer when the plant is watered.  However, to really keep the hot sun from drying out the box, I will be adding Wheat Straw on top of this in a day or two.  It does not Mat Down as just leaves or dried grass would.  Wheat Straw Reflects the Sun off of the soil and provides a kind of Air Conditioning for the plants roots!

Because of their great qualities and inexpensiveness, both of these (Compost and Straw) are great additives to protect your plants in the heat of the summer.  If you see lots of Crickets, it means that the Straw is doing its job and they are comfortable in it. And,  you have a great supply of good Catfish bait handy! 

[  To make the Handy Sifter shown in this article, Check out my article :  ]

  Making a Scraping Tool for your Compost Screen

If your compost is a little damp,  as it should be; You need to help push it through your screen for easier and faster results.
I was just using my hand but if your Compost has sharp sticks in it or even bits of glass, you need a better way.  

I looked around for a tool - maybe a stick to see if it would work better.  I found an old board in the trashcan I have situated in the corner of my garden.

[By the way - to interrupt my narrative - you have probably noticed the January 1, 2008 on some of these pictures.  No. these pictures are not 6 and 1/2 years old!  When you reload batteries in My camera - it resets the date back to it's original factory time.  You have to notice and reset it to the correct date.  I didn't notice this time.

  That's what happens when your the Gardener, the Writer, the Photographer,  Editor,  and publisher of a garden blog! Little things tend to slip in unawares!  These pictures are all within a day or two of September 1, 2014.  Rather than take additional time to edit the wrong date out, I ask for your understanding.]

I found out that with the help of this old board, I could easily and quickly rub the damp compost through the screen and soon have some fine compost to spread around my plants.  Each Garden Fork Full gave me around a Gallon of fine Screened Compost.  At this point of screening, you can pick out any bits of trash, sticks, small branches, plastic, glass, rocks and other junk that may have ended up in the Compost pile.  Extra large pieces of Compost?  Just throw back on the Composting Pile to further break down for later screening.  

This is what is left after sifting my compost.  Extra large Chunks of Compost etc.  In the red area we find an old plant pot label.  In the Green oval, a small rock.  lots of small plant sticks etc.. Pick out the trash and throw it away, then recycle the rest back to the compost pile to continue working.  Nothing good is thrown away!

Using a practiced eye, I noticed how the configuration of my hand and the old board fit together as I worked.  What felt best. I come up with this.  how I could cut it out so my hand and thumb would fit comfortably.  An Ergonomic tool custom made for easy holding!  I will show you how to make this easily in an hour just using simple tools and a little stain varnish to help protect it from the weather for a few years. 

This is the set-up I use to sift out my compost.  To the upper right is the trash can to throw out any junk that may be left in the sifter after screening.  The Wheelbarrow with the beautiful Purslane plant that made itself at home, provides the height i need.  The Blue tub catches the sifted compost and the Sifter of course is self-explanatory.
 This sifter is Several Years old with a few simple repairs and you can find out how to build one for yourself.  Search through the articles for Compost Sifter plans.  I should be listed as one of the Favorite Articles on the narrow column to the left of the main article here. 
  You will never be without this light and hand tool again!  Let the "young'uns" play with those big awkward things used for sifting Construction Sand!  This hand "Soil Sifter" is my own invention and you may use my instructions for making one or two.  Please be my guest. 

After you have built this little hand gadget, you are really ready to start saving great sifted compost.  Use it for everything from Raised Garden Beds to the Pots and Containers of Flowers and Vegetables around the house.  Even bushes and trees can greatly benefit from its water retention qualities and its great Fertilizer Power when watered into your top soil.  It also helps to "fluff up" your soil and keep it airy and loose the way that plants love the soil to be and thrive on it.

I have found that with the second finger in the center, and the thumb and little fingers on the sides, you can get some great leverage and push a lot of compost through in just a few minutes. 

As you will see in the single page plan below, there is a bevel  on the business end of the tool.  The angle is not too critical. Somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees works well. 

 Cut it with your saw or just use a Wood File or Sander to get the angle.  The Bevel greatly facilitates the ease of using the tool and really helps to quickly move the broken flakes of compost through the screen.  You will have a couple gallons of fine quality sifted compost in just a few minutes.  If I was selling it, I would say it is worth 3 to 5 dollars a gallon to fine Flower Growers.  That's how good the quality of this stuff is when you make it yourself.  And the Material is Free! 

To finish it out to keep it from deteriorating outside in the garden, give it a light stain for looks and protection. Spread it with a varnish of any kind.  I like any popular spray can version.  It will last for years.  It probably costs you about 3 cents worth of new lumber. 

Compost Screening Tool

Drafted a simple picture to follow so you can make your own.  I used a chunk of White Cedar Fence Board about 3/4 thick.  You can cut it out with a power saw (Jig Saw or Band Saw) or just use a hand held Coping Saw to make yours.  Hardware Stores always have them.  They cost around $10 dollars plus a package of blades. 

After cutting the tool out, I rasped it with a wood rasp to round the edges and smooth the curves.  Sand a little and spray with a can of paint or Clear Lacquer.  Your done.  Less than an hours work. 

Happy Composting Garden Friends! 

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Please leave a comment if you made your own Wooden Scraper for screening Compost or if you just enjoy the article. 
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