Cheer for Decayed Organic Material

Much of the country is in a deep-freeze, but here in California we’re drifting our way out of winter. Spring is about to pounce. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the winter pouring over seed catalogues, checking out the latest varieties of beans and squash and beets and rutabegas … ok, maybe not rutabagas. Seed catalogs are my vice, my dirty little secret I keep stashed in the greenhouse - in between the potting mix and the fertilizer. The pictures are luscious looking, the descriptions enticing, the promise of a bountiful vegetable garden, irresistible. They never fail to rejuvenate my gardening ardor.

But, before any seeds can go in the ground, those dormant garden beds need to be readied for planting. Wake ‘em up! Best way, a good dose of compost - otherwise known as decomposed organic matter. Nothing like humus to make a garden grow. It’s just what the soil doctor ordered.

I’m lucky enough to have the room in my garden to make my own compost, a delicious mix of grass clippings, leaves, chicken manure - because I’m also lucky enough to have chickens - coffee grounds and food waste, topped off with a couple of buckets of water. It’s a veritable carbon, nitrogen and oxygen stew.

I think of my compost bins as giant crock pots cooking all of these ingredients, all the while creating the right blend of microorganisms to break down what’s in the pots into a beautiful meal for garden soil. Give it a good stir regularly and over the course of a few months it will automagically turn into a sumptuous soil amendment.

The science of it is really cool; the process really hot. Put a compost-cam (if there were such a thing) inside a bin and you’d see bacteria, actinobacteria, fungi like molds and yeast, protozoa and rotifers all working in unison to break down the diverse organic matter. Earthworms move in, eating their way through the composted material, aerating it and creating drainage tunnels. What a team! And all I have to do is stand on the sidelines and cheer them on:

It’s no lie
I’ve got great fungi.
It’s so firm
I’ve got hungry earthworms.
It’s no boast
I’ve got awesome compost.
Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go …
Gotta make things grow!

Clearly, I missed my calling as a high school cheerleader! Nevertheless, compost is worth cheering for: add it to the soil and it helps with water retention, so you can water less … incredibly important in drought areas like California; use it to clean up and repair contaminated soil; use it to help prevent erosion; use it to improve soil structure; and in very simple terms, when added to soil it helps plants go stronger.

So, this summer when the garden is in full bloom and all of those seeds I was enticed in to buying have grown into plants laden with vegetables, I’ll be standing nearby, pompoms in hand … Gotta make things grow! Go Team!

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