In between storms, the beautiful days of sunshine, made more precious by their scarcity. On one such recent day of unseasonable sunshine, I emptied half of the twin compost piles, using the pitchfork to remove the uncomposted top layer and fork it over to the neighboring pile, revealing the fluffy black compost beneath. It took a few days to complete the task, because of how I like to work in circles in the garden; I'd take a wheelbarrow of compost over to an area in the garden and spread it, then fall to my knees in a nearby weedy area and pull the grass that is now almost a foot high in the in-between garden spaces, paths, and wild areas. When I had a wheelbarrow full of the green material, I'd layer it back on the pile. And then fork out another wheelbarrow of compost, flinging any unfinished material onto the green grass of the pile next door, so I was alternating layers of green and brown compost material. In a perfect world, we'd have enough space to let it all break down before using it, making the sifting unnecessary, but the fact is, we just don't have enough space to do that, so a pile that should be aging most times gets compost material thrown on top of it, and even packed down along the sides, for lack of space. This way works for us, though, especially because we do not compost food waste, but only garden materials in this pile. The wire on the pile that I was adding to had become very bent and mangled; I peeled it back and used a few wooden plant stakes as uprights, then wove prunings of grapevine, salvia Amistad, hyssop, and other sturdy linear clippings between the uprights, like weaving a giant compost basket. Along the way, that pile was able to grow a little bit, becoming oblong rather than round, so it can hold more compost now. More for the soil!
Moving compost always feels so good, it's like feeding your family a well-cooked meal, if the family liked worms and microbes and loam. The feeling of nurturing the soil that sustains and provides us with so much makes sense, and I make sure to try to distribute the scarce resource "fairly"; which places need it most, which places got more last year?
I had weeded much of the garden before beginning the compost project, so the compost topped off beds that are now ready for planting. I'll let the compost weather in this next rainstorm, then think about planting some spring crops soon. Yes, spring! Though it is only February, do you see the wild manzanita blooming? The ceanothus is forming buds, too, and the redwood tips that were blown down in the last storm are thick with fluorescent yellow pollen. Oaks, too, are making pollen; on sunny days I see the bees carrying a vivid yellow assortment of pollen into the hives. The bees need pollen to make brood, or baby bees, to gear up for their season of gathering and pollinating. We'll need to keep an eye on them to make sure that they don't starve in this last home stretch, as they increase their population, and finish up the last of their winter stores, in a time when they might also get trapped indoors for 2 weeks by inclement weather. Such a fragile and beautiful and resilient dance they do, the bees, the flowers, the garden, the world.
In some areas, I will mulch over the fresh compost and let the soil rest for a bit. I've marked out the areas I want to grow tomatoes in this year with tomato cages. I put the big bulky cages there mostly to remind myself not to plant anything more than lettuce there, holding the space for the tomatoes that are still far in the future, but getting closer every day.
It’s part of our mission here at Mountain Feed to help you grow beautiful, sustainable, gardens whether you have sprawling acres of farm or just a tiny plot along the highway. Stop by and say hello on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Or, as always, you can do it the old-fashioned way and come by the store to speak with one of our in-house experts.