Mirrormont Pea Patch: our organic community garden
The Mirrormont Country Club has generously leased the land for the Pea Patch to the Mirrormont Community Association.
For years, I felt like a failure as a farmer. But I refused to cut down trees to grow peas. To make matters worse, the deer, rabbits and slugs ate the few wimpy veggies I managed to grow. Yet, with the downturn in the economy, it seemed ever more important to find a way to grow my own food. So I set off with a mission to create a community garden in Mirrormont.
Foodies, locavores and gardeners joined with me in January 2009, lured by visions of growing juicy heirloom tomatoes, lush rainbow chard, and iridescent blue potatoes.
The first challenge was to find land with sun in this forested community. In order to promote community and better steward their land, the Mirrormont Country Club generously agreed to lease 6800 square feet of sunny land behind the tennis courts, adjacent to Mirrormont Park.
The next big challenge was funding. I took a grant-writing course and a diligent search yielded $10,000 matching grant from King County’s Community Partnerships and Grants (CPG) Program, a public/private partnership initiative that empowers user groups to construct and maintain public recreation facilities. Mirrormont Community Association’s successful track record with the CPG-funded Mirrormont Park made us the eligible for a small grant for the community garden.
Then the hard work of “sweat equity” began. At the end of the first work party, one volunteer almost walked away. We’d barely made a dent in the thorny tangle of blackberries. “It’s never going to happen,” she moaned. “There are too many brambles, too much to do.”
Despite hopes of planting those juicy heirloom tomatoes in 2009, it took a year and a half for volunteers to clear invasive Himalayan blackberries, pull out stumps, level the land, build raised beds, install a deer fence and a drip-irrigation system, and construct compost bins and a shed.
To meet the obligation of the matching grant, volunteers worked over 2340 hours (worth $35,100), and professionals donated 43 hours (worth $6450). In addition, local sponsors donated $9172-worth of in-kind donations. Generous neighbors donated chairs, picnic tables, and tools. All in all, volunteer efforts and donations matched over five times the amount of the grant, which demonstrates that the King County’s partnership-grant strategy effectively stretches the buying-power of taxpayer money. Mirrormont Pea Patch provides a model for citizen-led volunteer groups creating community gardens.
During the summer of 2011, it warmed my heart to see 22 families growing food, building community, and gathering for potlucks. Gardeners donated over 180 pounds of vegetables to Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. Junior Gardeners learned about planting, tending, and harvesting snow peas, strawberries, lettuce, carrots, beets, broccoli, and pumpkins, and sunflowers, and made the ScaryGirls, scarecrows with skirts.
Besides producing food, Mirrormont Pea Patch has been wonderful for building community. Neighbors stop by on walks and admire the gardeners’ creatively designed plots and to see what’s growing. One neighbor said she was so inspired that she built four raised beds at her home. Everyone says they’ve met more people through the Pea Patch in the first year than they did in the past 2 to 30 years of living in Mirrormont. The Issaqauah Press published an article on August 30, 2011, “Gardeners grow community spirit in pea patches,” which featured Mirrormont Pea Patch (http://www.issaquahpress.com/2011/08/30/gardeners-grow-community-spirit-in-pea-patches/).
Click on the tabs above for FAQs, Garden Rules, Resources for Vegetable Gardening, and a Photo-History.
Stop by and visit! Everyone is welcome!
— submitted by Linda Jean Shepherd
- Blackberry clearing and stump removal: Linda Shepherd
- French drain: Chas Wade
- Junior Gardener’s Garden: Meg Wade
- Sheet mulching: Terry Garrido
- Raised beds: Betsy Dahlstrom & Kevin Mashek
- Deer & rodent fencing: Joe Lapping
- Cedar Grove Compost: Diane Mashek
- Irrigation: Peggy Moe and Linda Shepherd
- Shed: Renée & Joe Kristof
- Compost Bins: Chris Homanics and Meg Wade
- Food Bank Coordinator: Kevin Mashek
- Education Coordinators: Carol, Bill & Chris Homanics
We welcome donations of:
garden tools wheelbarrows worm bin
If you are interested in Pea Patch gardening, volunteering or donating, please contact Linda Jean Shepherd at firstname.lastname@example.org. Checks can be made out to Mirrormont Community Association.
For significantly stretching our grant dollars, we are incredibly grateful to the following for their generosity:
- Issaquah Cedar & Lumber gave us free delivery and a 20% discount on lumber for raised beds. We recommend their helpful and knowledgeable staff for your next woodworking project (http://www.cedarexperts.com/ ; 5728 East Lake Sammamish Parkway; 425-392-3631)
- Cedar Grove Compost munificently donated 60 cubic yards of Vegetable Garden Mix. Cedar Grove has diverted 4 million tons of organic material from landfills, and has many excellent products for increasing the tilth of your soil and producing lush plants (http://www.cedar-grove.com/ )
- DripWorks has given us a 30% discount on a drip irrigation system. Their expert staff will work with you to design a complete system to meet your needs. (http://www.dripworksusa.com/ )
- Andy Wade is the talented geotechnical engineer from GEO Group Northwest, Inc. who designed our French drain (http://www.geogroupnw.com/)
- Terry Meyer, a Mirrormont resident and owner of U.S. Diversified Services, Inc. donated time and expert use of his backhoe to remove stumps from the plot, for about what it would have cost to rent the equipment. He also donated time toward the French drain and putting in the access road. He’s a full-service general contractor, and a wonderful resource for remodeling, additions, decks, patios, preventive maintenance and repairs. Call (206) 295-3787 for a free estimate; see http://www.usds-inc.com/
- Boyd’s Coffee donated 2100 burlap bags used for sheet-mulching.
- Jasen Braun at JB Tree Service (800-840-2733) donated his time to chip huge piles of debris that Pea Patch volunteers hauled out of the plot. Wood chips for sheet mulching were kindly donated by Matt’s Tree Service (425-369-8733), and Eastside Tree Works (206-396-9998). Please consider calling one of them for free estimates for hazardous tree removal, limbing, thinning, stump grinding and other tree services, including pet rescue. They also offer free wood chips!
- Robin Spicer donated a picnic table and chairs; Heidi & Larry Paradis donated a second picnic table. They make the Pea Patch feel very homey. The Junior Gardeners used the tables to plant (and taste!) sunflower seeds and it’s a great place to relax and chat after digging in the dirt.
- Joe Lapping donated foundation towers, pavers, and shingles for the shed.
- Joseph Elfelt, owner of Eastside Raised Beds (435-881-8017), donated a 2-ft x 8-ft bed made from composite boards; http://www.eastsideraisedbeds.com/
Mirrormont Pea Patch Garden Rules: 10/13/10
The Pea Patch Committee adapted these rules from Marymoor and King County community gardens. These rules will be reviewed and revised as needed.
The Pea Patch rules are designed to help the garden run smoothly for all. We appreciate the cooperation and community spirit that makes this a successful community garden. However, any gardener who continues to break these rules after warning will lose their plot(s) with no refund.
- Obtaining a Plot
- Pea Patch Calendar
- Volunteer Commitment
- Keeping your plot
- Use and maintenance
- Organic gardening required
a. Mirrormont Pea Patch is open to Mirrormont residents who are paid members of the Mirrormont Community Association. To participate in the Mirrormont Pea Patch there is an additional annual fee to cover water and common costs. Group purchases can save us all money. The time period covered is from January through December each year. Gardeners are subject to these rules.
b. Raised beds are 4-feet wide by 8-feet long (24); 8-feet by 8-feet (3), and 8-feet by 16-feet (11). They may be cultivated year round. The annual application fee is $15, plus $10 for up to three 4×8 plots, one 8×8 plot or one 8×16 plot.
c. The maximum number of plots that a first-year gardener may rent is one.
d. Plots may be shared among residents.
e. Applications must be submitted by: February 1st. Application forms may be found on the MCA website.
f. Returning gardeners have first preference to the plots they rented the previous year as long as their applications and payments are received by the deadline set by the Committee and they have complied with garden rules.
g. Assignment of space is given first to returning gardeners who want to renew their plot(s). A waiting list will be maintained by the Pea Patch Registrar; plots will be assigned on a first come/first served basis.
h. Applications received after the deadline will be assigned space as available.
i. When you no longer want your plot, you must notify the Pea Patch registrar. You cannot give your plot to others.
a. Applications may be submitted beginning November 1st and must be received no later than February 1st.
b. Plots will be assigned beginning February 15th.
c. Growing season – all year. You are responsible for maintaining your plot throughout the year.
d. Use deadline: Plots not worked by May 15th or being used for storage only may be reassigned at the discretion of the Pea Patch Committee after consultation with the gardener.
e. Availability: January to December. Water is turned off from approximately October 15—April 15 for winterization, but gardening can continue.
a. Gardeners are responsible for contributing 8 hours per plot each year for the common areas of the garden (not inside your plot). Completing, recording, and reporting hours are your responsibility.
b. Tasks for common areas include: weeding paths, putting down wood chips, maintaining compost bins, layering and turning compost, fence repairs, tool repair and maintenance, weeding & watering the herb garden, maintaining and winterizing the irrigation system, cleaning chairs & picnic tables, creating garden art, organizing educational programs, holding potlucks, participating in holding plant sales &/or bake sales.
c. Gardeners are responsible for recording their volunteer hours. Volunteer hours can be recorded on the log form in the shed or reported by email to the head of the Pea Patch Committee. The Mirrormont Pea Patch Committee will be monitoring and compiling the volunteer hours throughout the garden season.
d. Volunteer hours must be completed by October 31st every year.
a. During the gardening season, the Pea Patch Committee monitors plot usage. When plots need obvious attention for more than two weeks, gardeners will be contacted by email and asked to take care of the plot by a certain date. For vacations or extended away-times if you cannot find back-up to weed/water/harvest, contact the Pea Patch Committee and we will try to accommodate your leave.
b. If the Pea Patch Committee contacts you about an untended plot two times in one year and your plot becomes untended a third time, the Committee will reassign the plot without further notice or refund.
c. Violation of Pea Patch rules on gardening, behavior etc. will result in loss of privileges without refund.
a. Motorized vehicles and equipment, with the exception of small rototillers, mowers, and weed-whackers, are not allowed in the gardens.
b. Gardeners are responsible for all tilling, soil amendments, cultivating, weeding, fertilizing, watering, end of season clean up, and all other care of their plots.
c. Garden plots are used for growing vegetables and flowers for the gardener’s own use or for donation to charitable organizations. Growing vegetables and flowers for commercial use is prohibited. Growing trees is prohibited.
d. Gardeners should place any unwanted plant materials in the designated compost areas. Do not pile weeds and rocks in the pathways. Take home any non-plant materials (plastic, wire, trash) not being used in the garden. There is no trash container in the Pea Patch and the trash can in the parking area is NOT for Pea Patch use.
e. Since plots are close together, gardeners must keep plots relatively free of weeds, especially when weeds are seeding, to avoid spreading them to other plots. NO WILDFLOWERS PLEASE.
f. Tall plants (such as corn, sunflowers, or tall trellised plants) that cast extensive shade must be planted where they will not impact adjoining gardens. Tall row plants should be planted in north-south rows. If you grow plants 4 feet high or taller, plant them in the middle of your plot so your neighbor’s plot will not be shaded. Keep your plants within your own plot. If you grow spreading plants, be sure there is room in your plot.
g. You must receive permission from the Pea Patch Committee before building any structure in your plot. Trees, large shrubs and permanent structures are not allowed in plots.
h. Tires are not allowed.
i. The Mirrormont Pea Patch supports local food banks and soup kitchens, and so we want to minimize food going to waste. The Food Bank Coordinator will contact gardeners whose food is not being harvested, and will tag those vegetables with a target date, beyond which they will be donated to the hungry. Tags will also be given to all gardeners to put on vegetables you’d like to donate.
j. When a gardener discontinues gardening at Mirrormont Pea Patch, all perennial plant material, semi-permanent structures, wire cages, etc. must be removed. In particular, large material such as established grape vines or shrubs are to be removed. Individual gardeners are responsible for clearing the plots and returning them to their original weed-free condition so that they can be assigned to new gardeners. Any abandoned plant material will either be composted or removed.
a. Gardeners must be present at their plots while watering them. Drip irrigation, soaker hoses, and other irrigation may not be left on unattended, aside from our automated drip irrigation system.
b. Conservation – Please conserve water as much as possible.
c. Water is to be used only for gardening. Make sure the water is turned off after use.
d. Water is turned off during the winter (usually beginning in mid-October).
e. Gardeners may not keep open containers of water on the premises. These are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes that may carry and spread viruses that are dangerous to humans.
a. Plants of an invasive nature (such as bamboo or English ivy) are not allowed in the ground. Plants on the State’s Noxious Weed List are not allowed. These plants must be pulled if identified. See http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/animalsAndPlants/noxious-weeds/weed-identification.aspx and http://your.kingcounty.gov/dnrp/library/water-and-land/weeds/WeedLists/2009-King-County-Noxious-Weed-List.pdf
b. To learn more about the current list of noxious or invasive plants go to http://plants.usda.gov/java/noxious .
a. GARDEN ORGANICALLY (NO pesticides, NO herbicides, NO weed killers, NO artificial fertilizers). Mirrormont Pea Patch gardeners follow stringent organic gardening standards, wildlife and environmental protection practices, and the legal rules set out by the King County Parks System. Therefore, the use of chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and chemical fertilizers is strictly forbidden (examples include Round Up and Miracle Grow).
b. Use of raw human or animal waste, including “hot or green” manure is not allowed due to environmental and health concerns; however, fully composted manures such as steer or chicken manures are allowed. You may also use other organic fertilizers such as fish meal, bone meal, kelp meal, etc.
c. For information on organic fertilizers and pest control, call the Master Gardener Hotline at 206-296-3440.
a. Dogs and other animals are NOT allowed in the garden area at any time. There are doggie hitching posts by the front and back gates.
b. There is no smoking allowed in the gardens at any time. Research shows that tobacco can transmit a virus to tomatoes.
c. Use common courtesy and resolve differences in a neighborly way. For problems with fellow gardeners, stay polite and listen carefully; usually solutions are easily reached. Verbal or physical abuse will not be tolerated. Contact the Pea Patch Committee for more serious difficulties.
d. Loud radios are prohibited.
e. Closely supervise your children; help them learn respect for gardening and boundaries. Children using tools in the garden must be under direct and constant supervision of a parent or responsible adult. “Direct” means to be within talking distance.
f. When not in use, tools, hoses, and other equipment cannot be left in the pathways. Paths must remain clear.
g. As a courtesy to other gardeners, please do not walk on someone else’s plot or pick their produce unless invited.
h. Removal of vegetables, flowers, or garden equipment without the owner’s consent, or the intentional damage to a garden plot is subject to prosecution in accordance with King County Ordinance 6798:7.12.550.7.
i. If you witness or experience garden theft or vandalism, notify police by calling 206-296-3311 to file a report, email other PeaPatchers, and report to the Mirrormont Community Association at www.mirrormont.org.
j. The Mirrormont Pea Patch is not responsible for loss of garden products.
Any gardener found to be in violation of the community garden rules will be asked to leave the garden.
Resources for Organic Vegetable Gardening
- Greendays Gardening Panel on KUOW (94.9 FM), Tuesdays at 10:00 a.m.
- Seattle Tilth, has a Garden Hotline at (206) 633-0244, veggie gardening classes, and annual edible plant sales in Seattle and Issaquah http://www.ci.issaquah.wa.us/News.asp?NewsID=1420
- Trellis, a group of vegetable gardeners, meets on the third Saturday of each month at 10:00 a.m. at the Valley Christian Assembly Church in Fall City, 32725 SE 42nd St.
- Alpaca poo: Linda’s friends on Lake Alice Rd have alpaca and thus a daily supply of alpaca poo. Contact Linda Lasure (email@example.com or (206) 498-7734 ahead of time to arrange. For information on using alpaca beans, see http://safehavenlas.org/uploads/Llama_Poop___Tea_Labels__rev_6.09_.pdf and http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/composting-basics/alpaca-manure-fertilizer.htm
- Mole Control: For a gentle organic solution, see http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/homegarden/article/Ann-s-Organic-Garden-A-gentler-way-to-discourage-1229717.php
Bellevue Demonstration Garden, 15500 SE 16th St, off 156th, was created by King County Master Gardeners and offers garden talks: http://www.mgfkc.org/locations/bellevue/
Bradner Garden: 29th Ave S and S Grand St, created by Seattle Tilth and KC Master Gardeners who are often onsite to answer questions: http://www.seattle.gov/Parks/park_detail.asp?ID=401
Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon
The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide: Planning Calendar for Year-Round Organic Gardening by Seattle Tilth (Note that Mirrormont is 2-4 weeks behind Seattle; our last frost date is Mother’s Day)
Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew (in the Pea Patch Library, donated by Maryfrances)
Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte
Nurseries & Garden Stores:
Squak Mountain Nursery: 7600 Renton-Issaquah Rd SE; has lots of seedlings and gardening supplies
Issaquah Grange: 145 NE Gilman Blvd; carries Territorial Seeds, seed potatoes, and gardening tools
Seed & Plant Catalogs:
Uprising Seeds provides open-pollinated heirloom seeds, which are grown in Bellingham and adapted for Western Washington: http://uprisingorganics.com/
Territorial Seed Company offers seeds field-tested in Oregon: http://www.territorialseed.com/
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds offers 1400 heirloom varieties: http://rareseeds.com/
Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit dedicated to sharing heirloom seeds: http://www.seedsavers.org/
Abundant Life Seeds specializes in organic and biodynamic seeds: http://www.abundantlifeseeds.com/
Raintree Nursery has fruit, nut and berry cultivars from around the world: http://www.raintreenursery.com/
When to Start Your Spring Garden
All digging should be done when the soil is moist but not dripping wet. Pick up a handful of soil in one hand and squeeze it into a ball. It should feel damp, but no water should drip as you squeeze. Ideally, you should be able to form a ball of soil that stays together when you open your hand, but crumbles easily when you tap it with a finger. Planting dates vary according to microclimate. Those gardening very near Puget Sound or one of the area’s large lakes will probably be able to start quite early. Inland gardens, particularly those in the Cascade foothills, will need to wait a little longer.
- Planting Calendar from the P-Patch Trust in Seattle (2.3MB)
- The Old Farmer’s Almanac: http://www.almanac.com/gardening
As soon as soil is ready in March, can plant
- mustard greens
After April 1, plant
Wait until after mid-May to plant
- Brussels sprouts
Wait until June 1 to plant
Companion Planting: see http://www.gardensablaze.com/Companions/CompanionYield.htm
What is a Pea Patch? A “pea patch” is a community garden. Since 1973, Seattle’s P-Patch Program (P for the Picardo Farm, Seattle’s first community garden) has served thousands of gardeners. Their program now has 78 gardens, over 2000 plots on 13.5 acres of land that serve 4400 gardeners.
What can you grow in a Pea Patch? Gardeners can grow all organic vegetables, not just peas — or anything else, except noxious weeds, trees and large shrubs.
How big is the Mirrormont Pea Patch, and how large are the plots? The Pea Patch is 105 x 65 ft. It contains twenty-four 8-ft x 4-ft raised beds, three 8-ft x 8-ft plots, and eleven 8-ft- x 16-ft plots. The minimum fee is $25 for a raised bed. A common area contains compost piles, tool shed and picnic tables. The plot size of other community gardens varies from 80 sq ft to 400 sq ft; Seattle’s program charges an annual application fee of $23, plus $11 for each 100 sq ft gardened ($34 for 100 sq ft).
Who can obtain a plot? Members of the Mirrormont Community Association can apply for a plot. There is an annual fee to cover water and joint purchases. There is currently a waiting list. Preference for plots is given to those who volunteer and contribute to maintaining the garden.
What are the benefits to the community? Healthy food to share: Many Mirrormont residents love to grow vegetables without sacrificing trees to grow beans and broccoli. Gardeners share their vegetables with friends and neighbors. Excess produce is donated to the Seattle Union Gospel Mission.
Community building: The Pea Patch has been weaving more community through gardening together, work parties, and bimonthly potlucks. Volunteers talk while working; people stop by on their walks to ask what’s happening. Gardeners are excited about exchanging seeds and seedlings, sharing food, and having potlucks made from the abundance of the garden. The garden is open to anyone who would like to walk through and see what’s growing throughout the year.
Education: The Pea Patch is a place to learn together about growing food. For the past two years, we’ve had a Master Gardener available at Growing Groceries Clinics. Gardeners are exchanging information about what works and what doesn’t in our microclimate. We occasionally bring in speakers for events open to all Mirrormont residents.
How is the Pea Patch funded and maintained? The infrastructure was built using a $10,000 Small Grant from Community Partnerships & Grants (CPG). Only previous partners were eligible, and the MCA qualified based on the success of the CPG-funded Mirrormont Park. This partnership grant, funds was matched with sweat equity and other donations. Our contributions made possible a project that wouldn’t be feasible with the grant money alone. The P-Patch Trust in Seattle generally budgets $15,000 to start a typical P-Patch.
The Pea Patch Committee has drafted rules for maintaining the garden. One rule is that each gardener is required to contribute 8 hours annually to maintaining the common space (aside from their plot).
Google Map Satellite View
In June 2009, we were awarded a grant for $10,000 from King County Partnerships and Grants, which is a matching grant designed to save the county money by depending upon volunteer labor to accomplish the project.
During work parties in 2009, we cleared blackberries, removed debris from the site, pulled stumps, leveled and rototilled the ground, installed a French drain, and harvested a lot of rocks. While the thorny blackberries fought back, we emerged scratched but victorious.
First Work Parties: Clearing Blackberries
Project Team: Linda Shepherd (Project Manager) Diane & Kevin Mashek, Terry Garrido, Sue Kenfield, Yvette Cardozo, Maryfrances Lignana, Meg Wade, Betsy Dahlstrom, Heidi & Larry & Alex & Christian Paradis, Bryan Stempson, Liz Bromley, Brit Brigs, Carol & John Vekich, Gerard Jancoski, Larry & Lynn Powalisz
Installing French Drain
Project Team: Meg Wade (Project Manager), Chas Wade, Linda Shepherd, Terry Meyer
Researching Other Pea Patches: what we can look forward to!
Rototilling & Harvesting Rocks
Sheet-mulching to Suppress Blackberries & Provide Paths
Project Team: Terry Garrido (Project Manager), Linda Shepherd, Kevin & Diane Mashek, Betsy Dahlstrom, Yvette Cardozo, Liz Bromley, Bryan Stempson, Lisa & Ray Roberts, Jim & Maggie Warren, Carol Vekich, Maryfrances Lignana, Sue Kenfield, René Kristof
During this period, we built raised beds, installed deer and rodent fencing, filled our plots with Cedar Grove Vegetable Garden Mix generously donated by Cedar Grove, installed a drip irrigation system, and held a plant sale to raise money for a shed.
Building Raised Beds
Project Team: Betsy Dahlstrom with Kevin Mashek (Project Managers); Diane & Alec Mashek, Liz Bromley, Carol Vekich, Yvette Cardozo, Chrissie Dahlstrom
First Annual Pea Patch Plot Pickin’ Potluck Party
Project Team: Meg Wade, Linda Shepherd, Ben Pinsky, Terry Meyer
Staking Out Unframed Plots
Deer Fence & Rodent Barrier Installation
Project Team: Joe Lapping (Project Manager), Chas & Meg Wade, Linda Shepherd, Betsy Dahlstrom, Bryan Stempson
Framing Plots & Filling Raised Beds
Raised beds filled with Cedar Grove Vegetable Garden Mix
Project Team: Joe Kristoff (Project Manager); Ross Kristoff, Helen Radliff, Gerard Jancoski, Chris Homanics
Ross Kristoff, Joe Kristoff & Helen Radliff celebrate at the end of the third day of assembly.
Project Team: Chris Homanics (Compost Chief), Linda Shepherd, Rick Quandt
With his expertise in farming and permaculture, Chris Homanics built two compost bins with pallets. The bottom layer is rocks, covered by layers of dirt, ground oyster shells, straw & leaves (brown), and green garden waste (green), followed by alternate layers of green and brown. Rick Quandt added another two bins.
Community Herb Garden
Project Manager: Linda Shepherd. This was a joint project with the Mirrormont Park
Joe Lapping’s lettuce, broccoli and chard in July
Thanks to Seattle Tilth’s Master Composters Ruth Ihlenfeldt and Michelle Brennan, we learned how to make our Pea Patch composting system more efficient, so that it yields compost in three months rather than two years. Below is a summary of what it takes to create and maintain a compost pile, with photos by Janet Horton, who is a professional photographer as well as a PeaPatcher.
1. Plan for a balanced diet of green and brown. We stash bags of maple leaves behind the compost bins in the fall, so we can use them in the spring and summer. Mulching them with a mower first would be even better.
2. Accumulate succulent “greens” in the designated bin, cutting materials into one-inch pieces or smaller.
“Greens” include grass clippings (no herbicides or pesticides!), weeds that haven’t gone to seed (no buttercup or blackberry roots), manures, coffee grounds, and non-diseased garden vegetable leaves, stalks and fallen fruit. Starbucks packages up coffee grounds daily and offers them to gardeners.
Be sure to cut up stalks and roots into pieces no longer than one inch using hand pruners and loppers available in the shed for everyone to use. It only takes a few minutes to do this as part of your garden routine. Decomposers can break down small pieces faster than large ones; otherwise, kale and broccoli stems still aren’t broken down after two years.
3. When ready to build a hot pile, mix equal volumes of chopped greens and browns. In our case, we mixed accumulated vegetable waste, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and two scoops of manure in a 5-gallon bucket. And then we dumped that simultaneously with 5-gallon bucket full of browns (maple leaves) into a ~15-gallon tub.
4. Stir to thoroughly mix greens and browns.
6. Add the moist, mixed mess to the compost bin. Repeat until the bin is full.
7. Cover with a tarp to retain moisture, and so rain doesn’t wash out nutrients. Allow to cook for about a week, monitoring the temperature with a compost thermometer. Ideally the center of the pile reaches 110°—140°F (130° is hot enough to kill weed seeds—too hot to touch!).
8. After the pile has cooled, turn it to mix materials from the center with those from the edges. This means emptying the bin onto a big sheet of cardboard, mixing, and restacking it in the bin to cook for another week.
Moisten again, if necessary.
9. Let it cook again and turn again when it cools. Turn for a total of three times (in addition to the initial mixing). Finally, cover the pile and let it cook for another month or two.
10. When most of the material is dark, crumbly and sweet-smelling, it’s ready to use!
To request the comprehensive booklet “Composting Yard and Food Waste at Home,” contact Seattle Tilth’s Garden Hotline at 206-633-0244 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.