Never enough compost

Every year I produce more compost. But there's never enough.

I have three large bins in which the kitchen waste from the past winter is breaking down – they won’t be ‘cooked’ until July - and two composted piles from last summer that will just need sieving when they unfreeze.

I also have four bins of leaves from the fall of 2011 which have turned into leaf mould, an excellent mulch and, if sieved, a useful element of potting mix. Another large wire bin, filled with leaves from 2012, won’t be ready to use until the spring of 2014.

I need still more material to meet the potting needs of a small nursery so I have to buy. Last year I explained why I don’t use peat and suggested mushroom compost as part of the mix.

Doug Green, a knowledgeable gardening writer who publishes a weekly electronic newsletter, writes that he doesn’t recommend mushroom compost because it has high levels of salts and chemicals and low levels of nutrients – the N-P-K plants need to grow. Organic mushroom compost is chemical-free and a source of organic matter and micro-nutrients, Green says, but don’t expect it to provide a nutrient charge. This stuff is spent.

That said, what I’m looking for in my peat-free potting mix is material that will provide organic matter for aeration and moisture retention. So, I might use organic mushroom compost if the price is right. As for nutrients – I mix my own compost in and am confident it’s fully charged. For now, compost tea is on my to-do list. It’s what I'll use on my seedlings, which are doing quite nicely so far. Of the 19 varieties of seed I put out for cold treatment in a snowbank on February 3 (I brought them back inside March 24), four have germinated easily – Giant Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), Rose Milkweed (Asclepias incarnate), Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) and Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia).

That still leaves 15 pots languishing in the warm dark under black plastic. They get inspected twice a day for signs of life, inspected very carefully because once something decides to germinate, it’s off and running and before you know it, you have an inch of pale, light-deprived growth.

Sharp eyes indeed were needed to spot the action on the surface of a flat that I’d sprinkled with the spores of a Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis) on March 8 and covered with a clear plastic lid. Almost a month later, on April 4, I spotted tiny green dots. Or I thought I did. And then on reflection decided that they were bits of perlite turned green by mould. I can see clearly now, with the help of a magnifying glass, and the specks are not perlite. They're a rich green colour that is very promising. But I’m still not sure – growing ferns is a first for me.

No need for a magnifying glass to track the progress of the Stupice tomato seedlings. Started April 5, they germinated April 8 and with true annual vigour have overtaken most of their perennial neighbours. It won’t be long before they want their own pots.

I have been dismayed to find Garlic Mustard seedlings in my ditch, when I was pulling out all the free newspapers that someone delivers there, rather than to my driveway. Now I'll have to pull out the Garlic Mustard, which is growing around a culvert where work is done from time to time by road maintenance crews. Par for the course. I believe public works are playing a significant role as vectors for the seeds of invasive species and will continue to do so until municipalities implement strict protocols to ensure vehicles are cleaned between jobs.
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