Compost, Mulching, and Preparing the Garden for Spring #2

Green Matter and Brown Matter

At the moment we keep compost in two places: a (420L) compost container and a compost pit.

The container provides enough drainage so that last year it was possible for us to experiment on producing moist (not soggy) fertile soil. During the minimum 6-8 months it’s resting, it is turned over two or three times. We then cover the beds, preferably before Winter, using it as both compost and mulch. In Spring, without any digging, we can plant vegetables directly in it, using a small dibber.

Compost in the form of freshly made fertile soil is already a properly balanced mixture of green and brown matter. Green matter is only plant-based waste and coffee dregs. Brown matter is egg shells, cardboard, paper, straw, sawdust (untreated wood), and manure – also called by some “an activator” (more information about how we did it last year and why will appear in a separate post). 

The pit is a place where, in a more traditional Polish rural household, people would put their scraps and other organic waste. In the end, although well rotten, due to relatively poor drainage, the organic matter unfortunately remains rather wet and is therefore smelly. Access to the compost is also quite difficult as most of it remains deep in the pit.

However, making use of resources already available to us before introducing any bigger changes or potential improvements somehow seems a natural thing to do. So, although soggy, smelly, and difficult to retrieve, the compost is a very good source of nitrogen – produced by green matter (mainly grass clippings and fresh leaves) breaking down – and we are more than happy to use it in the garden; any excess liquid is then used to feed the fruit trees and bushes.

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Over the course of the last two weeks, we’ve cleared one of the two long vegetable beds, which we then covered with cardboard (brown matter) collected from local shops and markets. The (green matter) compost from the pit has now rotted well enough, so we put a 5cm layer on top of the cardboard. Last year we placed the compost directly onto the soil and it worked pretty well.

As we’ve gained more experience, we know that the soil and earth-worms absolutely love the addition of brown matter, so it only made sense to add it to the beds. The green-matter-plus-brown-matter combo brings many benefits to the garden:

  • adding new layers of soil
  • feeding the soil
  • protecting the soil and the life in it from too much exposure
  • reducing weeds
  • retaining moisture
  • providing drainage
  • and more

Around March, that once soggy, green matter will be much drier. We’ll then break down and reduce the bigger, harder pieces and remove anything that still needs further composting. By then, the cardboard will have started decomposing nicely. After that, the bed will be ready for direct planting – without any prior digging. We will add some dry pig manure at some point, and as the plants are growing we’ll feed them with our home-made nettle slurry.

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