Compost & chill

The tranquility of spring break, the heavenly crisp temperature Charlottesville saw this week, and the nourishing rains in the forecast made for the perfect moment for an impromptu Saturday workday in the garden. A winter’s worth of time for the earthworms and microorganisms to work their magic gave us an opportunity to check in on the garden’s numerous composting systems, new and old.

Much progress was made in our eight-bin rotational system, which Engineering Students Without Borders constructed in the garden a few seasons back. Three bins contain fully finished compost, and the others have made varying amounts of progress in their generation of black gold. Check out the process in the slideshow below.

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It’s important to maintain a balance of nitrogen-rich or “green” material, like food scraps, and carbon-rich or “brown”material, like leaves, pine needles, and woody twigs. The former offers the decomposers the bulk of their nutrients but breaks down slowly, while the latter aerates the pile and adds oxygen, speeding up the process. The ideal carbon-to-nitrogen ratio hovers around 30:1, but volumetrically that translates to one part green for every two to three parts brown. So every time you toss in a couple vegetable trimmings, grab a handful or two of leaves to balance it out.

Check out all those earthworms doin’ their thing!

Saturday started off with a solid turn of the compost in each of the eight rotational bins – there’s nothing like taking a shovel to the earth to get out some frustration and/or energy. We also started a brand new pile in our brand new compost bench! As we took out the winter’s cabbages to make room for spring planting, we chopped them up and tossed them into the seat compartment, interspersing them with dried leaves.

Finally, we made use of a generous donation of finished compost from Black Bear Composting, as we planted fava beans, white icicle radishes, and speckled Bibb lettuce! Black Bear and  U.Va. dining have a wonderfully reciprocal relationship – dining halls and cafe locations across the university send their food scraps to Black Bear, and Black Bear furnishes our student gardens with its superpowered soil amendment. Beans and radishes are perhaps the best crop for the impatient gardener, as these favas will germinate in about 7 days, and in only 29 days we’ll have whole radishes to munch on! This variety look like ghostly carrots, sending their satisfyingly zippy root deep into the earth. Come on out to our next workday, Sunday, March 20th at 3 p.m., to see what we’re planting next!

Credit for photo and planting power go to Liz Master.


Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team


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