From a pile of
leaves to rich black gold compost in just one
year… the Walter family likes to make
compost in a big way. Each year, the garden
gets about 20 inches of compost. In the fall,
we turn it under and start all over in the spring.
We use a front end loader to turn the pile over.
We have been doing this for five years now and
it has made a big difference in the garden.
It is soft ground now and the worms are back!
How we compost
First, we collect the leaves – in the
fall we run a lawn service. For a charge, we
vacuum the leaves. Last year, we collected over
six tons of leaves. We do not have any green
to put in with the leaves, so we throw in dry
nitrogen as the leaves go on the pile. We also
throw on green sand and tons of eggshells
from a local eggplant. We also add a lot of
water and turn the pile over about every thirty
days to let her heat. The farm dogs and cats
like the compost pile in the Iowa winter because
it is warm!
We use some of the compost in the spring when
we plow the garden. We use more of it after
the plants are in and or up; we put it ten inches
deep between the rows to help keep the darn
weeds down. It works great and saves on water.
Not for the pile
There are things we never put in the compost
pile: weeds, tomato plants and squash or pumpkin
vines. Our operation is based on a one-year
cycle and the vines take longer than a year
to turn into compost, tomato plants may have
plant disease in them and we just don't like
weeds in the compost. We also do not compost
sawdust; it takes too long and takes way too
much nitrogen to compost. There is one other
thing we never allow to get even close to the
compost pile or the garden....don't even think
about smoking anyplace close to our garden!
The tomato plant is related to the tobacco plant
and the tobacco plant MAY have a plant disease
called tobacco leaf mosaic (TMV).
It is not killed in the process of making the
cigarette and it is not killed when the cigarette
is smoked. IF that disease is in a cigarette
that is smoked in the garden and the cigarette
ash gets near the tomato plant, the tomato plant
CAN get it and it will kill the tomatoes.
My dad is six feet tall and, as you can see
in the photos, our tomato plants towered over
him. They were loaded with large tomatoes all
the way to the top. This fall when we dug the
garden, we covered it another ten inches with
compost that was a year old. It looks like good
Iowa black dirt. See the photo showing the size
of the tomatoes we had. We also had a large
cabbage that was over 50 inches around. We had
it weighed at the post office, 38 pounds 9 ounces;
not the largest ever, but darn big for our garden.