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Gardening for LazyBones Part Three

Gardening for Lazy Bones only! Part three.

Part, the third Guest Article by His Laziness Stravo Lukos

Take a deep breath, stretch, and slowly bow in front of a mirror. You’ve accomplished quite a bit by now, for instance:

You’ve begun that garden project you’ve been postponing for years; You’ve made a list of all the veggies you want to grow; You’ve zoned your property for sunlight; You’ve built (or started) raised-bed boxes; or, You’ve seriously given thought to all this. The good health and savings are worth all that energy you put into your garden. Now, the weather’s too cold to work in the yard. What to do? Have you bought or built a compost bin? If not, let’s get going on it. Compost is brown gold, and it’ll cut your waste and dump fees by at least half. Let’s talk a bit about this subject, because it possibly is the most important thing you’ll do for your garden.

Compost is composed of all the stuff plants need to grow. There are micronutrients and trace minerals that often are left out of commercial fertilizers. Then there are the standard NPK ratios— nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Simply stated, nitrogen produces growth and lush leaves, potassium produces flowers and fruits, and phosphorous promotes vigorous root growth. Sometimes sulfur (S) is added, but this will lower the pH level (acidify) the soil, something many plants cannot tolerate. A good thing to do would be to have your soil analyzed for chemical composition; however, it is easier just to cover your gardens with rich topsoil balanced with fully cooked compost. All the necessary ingredients will be released slowly for the plants to use as needed.

It is easy to make compost. Basically, it is rotted plant matter, and bins are widely available or quickly built. Wooden stakes and chicken fencing are all you need. Staple the chicken wire to the three- or four-foot stakes about two feet apart, stand this in a circle or square, and fill with vegetable scraps, grass clippings (no herbicides allowed!), and some brown compost such as untreated wood shavings or sawdust, dry leaves, straw, and shredded paper (with no colored inks). Mix the scraps (green compost) to the brown compost at a ratio of one part green to two parts brown. If the pile starts to stink, you most likely need more brown mixed into the heap. Compost should smell earthy sweet, not objectionable.

Temperatures will vary according to your mixture and whether you shred and turn it. If you compost intensively (shred all materials and turn regularly), you’ll produce high temperatures that will kill seeds and pathogens. You can have compost ready in less than a month if you want to exert the energy. I do not. Besides saving my efforts for better things, slow-cooked compost is richer in nitrogen. Whatever doesn’t break down fully gets composted again until it’s nothing but rich soil. Of course, if you put weeds and seeds in the mix, you might want to turn and burn, so to speak. I’m too lazy, and because I plant intensively, the weeds are shaded and out-maneuvered for sustenance. As I said before, the few that present problems are easily eliminated by hand. Of course, if you are planting a large-scale operation, you will want to weigh the benefits of quick cooking versus weeding.

Outside temperatures have little effect on the internal temperature of the pile, unless you are enjoying below zero F. weather. During a recent frost, one of my compost piles was cooking happily at 132º Fahrenheit. Even if the whole pile froze solid, it would thaw in the Spring and quickly disintegrate. Composting temperatures have been recorded in the 170s, I am told. Those microbes generate a lot of heat, as long as they have food, a little moisture, and air. Don’t forget, a pail of oily rags can ignite if left overnight. I lost a car in a shop fire, because of spontaneous combustion in a rag pile! Composting works.

If you’d like to speed things up without much effort, either add a little steer manure once and awhile, or sprinkle in some compost starter that you can buy at most garden-supply stores or departments. If you use manure, save a half bag and soak it in a big bucket or trough. Stir a few times and, after awhile, you’ll get dark concoction called manure tea. Drain this off in the Spring for a quickly-absorbed burst of food for your plants and veggies. Then throw the sludge into your compost bin, but be aware that this will reek of feedlots and critters. I don’t do this, because I’m afraid of E. Coli, foolish as that might sound. I know that bovung is composted, but I can’t bring myself to trust it until it’s gone through my own composting. You can do more research on the subject. It’s probably as safe as it can be. Whatever you decide, never use raw manure on plants you intend to harvest for food. That’s just asking for trouble. Not only are you risking ingesting pathogens, you also risk introducing herbicides into your garden. Some of those chemicals used to grow feed for livestock can take many seasons to render harmless. Just use your noodle before you put anything into your food.

You may have heard of green manure. This usually refers to the practice of over cropping the year before. Some truck gardeners will plant rye grass and legumes in the Fall, then turn them into the soil the Spring for extra humus and nutrients. I wouldn’t worry about this unless and until you are gardening in acres rather than square feet. The gardening I’m talking about takes place in anywhere from 20 to 600 square feet of yard.

Green tea is the drainage you get from composting. This tea is readily produced in drum-style composters. As with manure tea, you will want to use very little, or dilute the tea before you use it on your plants. It’s pretty potent stuff. Alas, I’m too lazy to make even this refreshment for my garden inhabitants. I have found that plain old compost does everything I want to do in the garden. It enriches the soil, produces perfectly textured loam, holds water without becoming soggy, and provides a bountiful harvest. So, if you like to fuss, go ahead and make your teas.

One more benefit of composting is the diverse and healthy population of worms and friendly insects you’ll harbor. Worms are the best composters in existence, and their neighbors will include centipedes, bacteria, predator nematodes, ground beetles, ladybugs, lacewings, praying mantises, wasps, bees, garden spiders, toads, and yes, snakes. All of these are your friends. Don’t discourage them or you might find yourself inundated with crop-destroying vermin. If you can’t live with the thought of snakes in your garden, there are ways to repel them. You must find them yourself, though. I like snakes— hmmph!

Stravo Lukos has been gardening and landscaping since he was eight years old. "Every oldtime Greek and Italian had a garden. It was the 11th commandment." Now, 44 years later, he still is learning and experimenting in lazier, more efficient, less expensive ways to grow plants. He has a BA in English, with several courses in forestry and soon, a certificate in horticulture. His yard is a wildlife sanctuary, veggie gardens, and a fruit-nut-and-berry patch.

Other interests include hiking slowly, camping in luxury, teaching kids how to garden, reading in bed, road bicycling on level ground, hugging his dog, smoking cigars, and cuddling with his wife in front of the television. Life is good.

You can contact him at [email protected] ,but it'll take forever to receive a reply-- if he gets around to it.

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