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Reprinted from the 2003 WHTC. Used with permission.
Since I am basically (some say pathologically) lazy by both temperament and choice I'm opposed morally and ethically to hard work of any kind. But knowing what sort of soil a properly prepared compost heap will produce can stir even someone like me to actually exert some effort and build one. After years of experimentation I've finally come up with a system that yields lots of the highest quality compost with a minimum of actual physical work.
Forget about building an enclosure, disregard what you've heard about layering precisely engineered substances, and banish forever the barbaric notion that a compost pile should be turned. Perhaps if you're in a hurry such high energy inputs like (shudder) "work" are necessary. But I'm hardly ever in a hurry.
So what's the secret? Well the secret is, oddly enough, water and worms. Get the compost good and wet as you build it, offer tasty tidbits to tempt the worms to your pile and nature takes care ofthe rest. I build all my compost heaps in November when my more industrious neighbors set large numbers of bags of leaves along the street for pickup. So I pick up a dozen or so bags and then spread a bag of leaves on the ground and saturate it thoroughly with water. Then a few shovelsful of dirt from last year's compost heap followed by a double handful of chick feed (for the worms) and then more leaves which are again thoroughly soaked.
Whenever the pile seems in danger of toppling over I toss on a layer of twigs and small sticks to hold it all together before adding the next layer of leaves and dirt. Once I've run out of leaves or get tired - whichever comes first - I quit and leave the rest to God and the worms.
All winter long (while I'm shirking chores and procrastinating) the worms and the water are doing their magic - turning soggy leaves, sticks and worm chow (chick feed) into this amazingly rich, black, fertile, friable topsoil.
Come late April when I need compost I just take a sharp spade and start slicing away at the heap. A quick sifting through a large (half inch mesh) screen winnows out the walnut shells and sticks and gives me the best potting soil on the planet. Even my wife, who was unswerving in her conviction that the best soil came out of a high priced bag, has become convinced. In thirty minutes of sifting we can produce 50 to 100 pounds of the blackest, richest soil you've ever seen.
And that's how I do it. A few hours of actual work, six months waiting, plenty of worms (who do the actual turning), and you're in business. And don't worry about the worms - if you build it they will come.
I highly recommend compost heaps.
The information on this page is tailored to Southern Illinois, Southwest Indiana, Western Kentucky, and Southeast Missouri
Copyright © 2006 Jim Jung