• Lori Adams discusses composting in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 4 of the Wednesday, June 27, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)


By Lori Adams


Sitka has poor soil. Any plant waste thrown into our garbage cans travels by barge and truck to Eastern Washington. Bagged soil is expensive and travels by truck and barge to get here. Garden waste can be turned into soil. COMPOSTING IS IMPORTANT!

Concentrated fertilizers provide plants with basic nutrients and are potent enough that they only need to be applied once or twice a year. Compost feeds plants with a gentler mixture of basic nutrients and a multitude of micronutrients, but must be applied about once a month to adequately feed your plants. Many people use a combination of the two.

“Compost” is defined as “a mixture of decaying organic material used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients.” Basically it’s the process of throwing excess plants and plant parts into a pile to rot down and turn into soil. This process can take about a year, but if you educate yourself and compost with a plan there are ways to speed up the process.

Plant parts fall into two main categories — Carbon/Brown and Nitrogen/Green. Composting experts suggest using 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.

  • EXAMPLES OF CARBON MATERIALS: untreated sawdust, straw, leaves, shredded newspaper, corn stalks and cobs, needles and cones, wood ashes (be sure the ashes are cold!)
  • EXAMPLES OF NITROGEN MATERIALS: manure, seaweed, chemical-free grass clippings, coffee grounds, food waste, spent brewer’s grain, fish waste
  • EXAMPLES OF MATERIALS NOT TO USE: cooking oil, soap, cat or dog poop, walnuts, maple leaves, colored paper, weed seed heads or roots, diseased plants
  • LOCATION: anywhere in the sun where it’s safe from rats, dogs and bears

There are many styles of composting bins you can purchased, but I think the ideal setup would be three bins side by side, no larger than 4 feet by 4 feet, made from pallets with see-through roofing to keep out the rain. The bottom would be just dirt to allow free movement of worms and bacteria and the fronts would be open.

In Bin No. 1 accumulate plant material. At some point, spend a day gathering bulk materials and layer them with your plant material in Bin No. 2. (Any new material that accumulates from now on is held in Bin No. 1.)  After a week use a pitch fork to “flip” the pile into Bin No. 3. Flipping gets oxygen throughout the whole pile better than stirring does which will really speed up the decomposition process. You should now notice quite a bit of heat coming from the pile and it should not stink.

Flip the pile once a week back and forth between Bins No. 2 and No. 3 for about two months.  By then it should resemble dirt. Sift it for use and throw all the chunks into Bin No. 1.

Remember that compost is not magical … whatever you put into your pile is what you will get out of it as far as nutrition is concerned. Be sure to adjust your pH level by adding some lime or seashell sand to it before you use it.

If you want to learn more about composting, I highly suggest you read these two books — “Let It Rot,” by Stu Campbell, and “The Complete Compost Gardening Guide,” by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin.

Once your compost is ready you can spread it about 1 inch thick around your plants and watch them grow!!

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241