Showing posts with label compost. Show all posts
Showing posts with label compost. Show all posts

Monday, April 8, 2013

Adventures of Mulch Boy

It must be made clear: Mulch Boy is all Mulch Man. You must not let Mulch's diminutive title lead you to believe that he is anything less than a co-sovereign of our little kingdom. I did actually ask him whether he wanted to change his title from Boy to Man, but he says Mulch Boy is his preference. And let's face it: it's funnier.

I mention this as preface to a description of Mulch Boy's current adventures. So far I've pretty much focused on my own labors, but Mulch has been laboring mightily himself and deserves appropriate coverage.

Last Saturday, you may recall my somewhat haphazard approach to my garden plan of the day. Lots was accomplished, but I got no high marks for organization.

In contrast, Mulch Boy had but two missions: cut down the dead cherry tree and organize the compost heaps. Unlike his wife, who would have probably attacked this plan by cleaning mulch out of the creek bed, he approached his chosen tasks with laserlike focus.

The first was easily dispatched. We found two sour cherry trees in our backyard our first spring here. They are lovely in flower; when the cherries are ripe, they resemble every cartoon cherry tree you've ever seen on Washington's birthday.

Alas, the one in the very back of the yard began to slowly perish two years ago, from what grievous cherry tree disease we do not know. This spring, Mulch decided to put the poor thing out of its misery. And so Saturday, out came the handsaw and down went the cherry.

It was just a little thing. Mulch dispatched it in less than twenty minutes, taking off the branches until all that was left was its slender trunk, which he brought down in two pieces. From where I sit now on the porch, I can see the tiny stump, perhaps five inches high, all that is left of our pretty tree.

The real challenge of Mulch's day was not so easily overcome.

The compost heaps. Several years ago, my friend and I attended a free class provided by the city of Falls Church on how to make your own compost. If you are like me, you've Googled and read any number of articles about making compost, and have found yourself intimidated by numerous authors warning you about the delicate balance that must be maintained between hydrogen and carbon, the correct proportion of green versus brown matter, required frequency of turning and watering, tumblers versus three-stage bins, and so on.

Luckily, the nice ladies teaching this class talked about all these variables and then told me what I really wanted to hear: it just doesn't have to be that complicated. If you are willing to wait for the big payoff, all you really need to do is throw your leaves and grass clippings in a big pile and leave it there. Eventually (depending on whether you chopped up your leaves first, six months to a year) the bottom of your compost pile will have transformed into actual compost, or as Mulch likes to call it, Super-Soil.

I brought home from the class a free compost bin, which was simply a black sheet of flexible plastic with holes in it to allow air to permeate the pile. Thus our first compost pile was born.

What I did not know was that Mulch Boy had a cherished family compost heap tradition, one that my three-foot wide, three-foot high bin could not honor properly. As I learned, Mulch's grandfather not only maintained an enormous vegetable garden in his day, he maintained an enormous compost heap to support it, perhaps six by six feet. My little bin was fine for what it was, but dreams of a Grandfather-worthy heap took hold in Mulch.

And thus our second compost pile--truly a heap--was born. Behind the shed, where it would not take away from the glamour (hee) of our decorate backyard beds, Mulch began The Big Heap. As long as the length of the shed and perhaps four feet deep, The Big Heap was created by piling together the accumulated leaves already trapped between the fence and the shed, plus adding more leaves vacuumed from around the yard. (It's a big yard, surrounded by hundred-foot-high trees, so that was not an insubstantial amount of leaves.) Finally, an enclosure of chicken wire to keep Dogs out, and The Big Heap was a done deal. And then there were TWO, TWO compost heaps--ah ha ha ha!

Two compost piles would seem to be plenty for your average suburban farmer. But there was a problem. The Big Heap was big, yes, but its demure location behind the shed grew more inaccessible as the plants we installed in the area grew. What's the point of cooking all that fine Super-Soil if you can't actually move it where it's needed?

Then last year came the dry creek bed project. As you may recall, a lot of earth moved to make way for the 92-foot trench that ultimately made our basement safe and dry during rainstorms. Much of that earth was incorporate into the veg garden and the flower beds, but far from all. What to do with all that dirt?

Why, hide it along The Dark Side of the house, of course! As you face our house from the street, you see that the only thing separating our house from our neighbor's on that side is an old aluminum fence and a tiny walkway. This walkway is more tunnel, s it is overhung by four enormous overgrown holly trees, planted mere inches from each other and towering over our house.

It was here that the former homeowners inexplicably plopped several tiny shrubs, I suppose to impress potential buyers. I rescued as many of those poor stunted guys as I could, leaving that dark corner to itself as ill-suited for supporting plant life.

But what about compost? As Mulch Boy moved the dirt displaced by our creek bed to The Dark Side, it occurred to us that this was perhaps a better location for The Big Heap. Not only was it discreet, but imminently more accessible from the front and back yards--not to mention the fact that it appeared to be constantly fed by the continual shedding of the holly trees above it. Brilliant! Pleased with the new plan but exhausted by our labors with the dry creek bed, we left the pile in The Dark Side to do as it would, and left building an actual enclosure for another day. Or, as it turns out, year.

And so finally to the weekend of March 30, 2013. (You thought we'd never get back, didn't you?)

After dispatching the cherry tree, Mulch Boy turned his attention to our various compost heaps... and began to have doubts. Was it too dark in The Dark Side for compost to cook? Wasn't The Big Heap behind the shed much more practical, given its size? Let's hear what happened in Mulch Boy's own words.

It was declared by PQ (Royal Decree # 42) that the big compost pile [The Big Heap] in the back (which has not been mined for two years because we’ve been using the new small compost pile at the side of the deck) was too difficult to get at, and potentially dangerous for MB’s back. MB disputed this at first, saying that he could get back there, and that if in future there was no path for the wheel barrow to get to the compost pile he would just park the barrow by the shed and move one shovel-full at a time to it.
Furthermore, PQ determined that the spot on the outside of the fence by the cellar stairs [The Dark Side] would make a nice secondary compost pile, as it would be easier to get to and because the holly tree sheds back there all year round. Mulch initially didn't agree to this, as that area does not get any sunlight and he wondered if it would compost as well without light. PQ then pointed out that Mulch often got some really good soil from that area from the holly leaves that collect there year round and pile up in the corners. Mulch was forced to grudgingly admit this was so.
After much gnashing of teeth MB acquiesced to the queen’s decree (avoiding open rebellion and maybe an angry stare from the queen when he eventually injured himself trying to get to and from the pile out back and then using some vile language that the children should really not hear), and so decided to move as much of the super soil from the back of the shed to the new spot and as much of the dirt that was in the new spot (leftover dirt from THE TRENCH) to the back.
This was not rebellion, as Mulch saw it. This was a one-time dispensation. Like the repatriating of funds from overseas banks by US corporations (something MB approves of and wishes POTUS would allow) only with super-soil. It took four or five round trips, but the deed was finally done (“for heaven, and the future’s sake” as Robert Frost may have said). Now the new spot is 80% super-soil and 20% leftover dirt from THE TRENCH, and the old back of the shed compost pile is 80% leftover dirt and 20% super-soil. It has been smoothed down so it is even, and the fencing has been removed. It will be left to itself for another two years, at which point the process may be repeated, if needed and allowed. The new area has now been fenced in and will be left to itself except to give it a stir in mid-fall to incorporate any new leaves that will surely pile up there.
The results of Mulch Boy's labors are seen below. (And no, he is NOT as downtrodden as he would have you believe!)

Our first compost heap 1: My Little Bin. It all started here.
Compost Heap on The Dark Side. Daphne rests comfortably
until I find her a new permanent home.
The Big Heap. Grandpa would be proud.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Did I not just write a few posts ago that I always have a plan but rarely follow it?

After having publicly declared my excitement about checking out Community Forklift, after convincing Mulch we should go to Community Forklift's annual to-do on Saturday, after Google-mapping the way to Community Forklift, I decided not to go to Community Forklift.

Do I have attention-deficit disorder, or am I just a flake? That's for Mulch Boy to decide. Still, there was some logic to my decision. We had a plan--ie., The Plan--that included a trip to the hardware store, the possible purchase of a new gas grill, some shopping, and planting. Given that we were getting out of the house late, I decided that we would never get the rest of our errands done if we schlepped halfway across the Beltway to get to the Forklift, and so the late cancellation.

Instead, we got lots of other things done. It started with potato prep. We got our seed taters and seeds the previous weekend, and so this past Saturday I cut up the seed taters and left them to cure in the sun room. We are going to have quite a lot of potatoes.

Seed taters, garlic, asparagus crowns.

Next we went to the Dee-pot and bought a new gas grill, tried a new sandwich shop in the neighborhood, then went to PetsMart to snuggle the dogs at the adoption event (under the guise of buying treats for Charlie and Rosie).

Back at home, we did Poop Patrol (you dog owners know what I mean), while I impulsively cleaned out the shed (i.e., it made me mad by being a mess). I never understand how we can routinely make such a tiny space so completely a wreck. I took nearly everything out and put most of it back in. There were, however, sacrifices. Why do I hold onto tools that are broken or rusted out or that I never use? I don't know. (Perhaps naming them doesn't make it easier to dispose of them. That's just a theory.) But Saturday, I decided NO MORE, and tossed rusty loppers and shears and the Garden Weasel to the curb.

(You know the Garden Weasel, as seen on TV? I can't believe I allowed myself to become victim to the marketing of this lame tool. The commercial show gardeners breaking ground effortlessly with this silly thing. I am here to tell you, it does not work this way.)

Once finished cleaning out the shed, I threw some potting soil in the rectangular planters on the porch and sowed some mesclun seed--a new experiment. Will they survive? Will they grow? Or has Monday's snow done them in? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, Mulch turned the garden bed, which was of course The Plan. Part of this included harvesting the Super-Soil (you probably know it as compost) from our two compost piles and adding it to the garden bed. In the process, he uncovered several potato and carrot survivors from last year. While occasionally yelling at me in the backyard, asking when I was coming to the front to plant the garden according to The Plan.

Mulch Boy tills the good earth with Super-Soil. Also, this is Mulch Boy's butt.
Rescue potatoes.
He's mighty mighty.

Finally, I made my way to the front yard and the garden. This is when Mulch discovered the Garden Weasel, ready to be abandoned by the roadside. And decided to give it one last chance. And that's when the Garden Weasel got its reprieve. Turns out the Weasel may not break ground As Seen on TV, but it DOES do a creditable job in breaking up the big hunks of dirt and clay created when you turn the ground with your garden fork. And so Mulch used it, and so now it's back in the shed. I guess I'll have to come up with a name for it now.

The Garden Weasel, redeemed.

Then finally, FINALLY, I rejoined Mulch in following The Plan and put down my pathways...

Paths of landscape fabric--added!

...and FINALLY got my first planting done! In this first section, there are three rows of peas, two rows of kale, two rows of garlic, and a general dispersal of mesclun next to the creek bed. All of these are new experiments for us. Will they survive the snows of Monday to sprout another day? None can say.

I guess one butt shot deserves another. The Potato Queen in her dork boots, planting kale.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Oddly, I HATE to vacuum in the house...

Normally, I'm not a big fan of power-driven gardening tools. I don't think there's anything wrong with them per se; it's just that I get a peculiar enjoyment of doing things with my own two hands, even if that turns out to be the hard way. I also like the quiet of using my hand tools. Plus my little garden is just that: little, so the need is really not there. It's true the lawn is large, but I'm afraid of our gas-powered mower, and to Mulch Boy's amusement I bought myself a little rotary mower this year, which I happily push around the yard when Mulch Boy doesn't mow it fast enough to suit The Queen. It makes this great little "whiiiiirrrrrr" noise that I love. AND the doggies are not afraid of the rotary mower, so we can all be together while I mow. Good times!

There are, however, exceptions to every rule, and my exception is my fabulous new electric leaf blower/vaccuum/mulcher. Oh how I love it! It is my new best friend. Mulch Boy even named it: Sookie. (Pronounce that "Suckie.") (Yes, we are addicted to True Blood.)

Thanks to Sookie, this weekend we vacuumed up and mulched all the leaves in the front yard and filled up our both our compost heaps with nice shredded leaves. No more endless raking piles to the street for the county to pick up. Instead, we're recycling it all on our own property. And of course there's more to come, as Fall has really just started here in NoVa.

I don’t want to come off as a shill for the maker by trumpeting their name (what are the ethics for that on a blog?). But if you want to know the brand/make, shoot me an email or comment and I’ll share. It really is a good tool and works great. Or just do what I do and go to Consumer Reports and live your life according to their reviews and recommendations. I’m sort of a slave to Consumer Reports. A dork slave.