Compost, Worms, Flies, and Gnats

I love compost3/20/10 - I'm not sure why I'm driven to compost. It didn't seem to do much good in my Virginia gardens, where the sandy soil ate organic matter faster than I could add it. In New Mexico, the kinds of plants that can withstand the arid climate, hot sun, and dessicating wind are the kinds of plants that don't need rich soil; they do just fine in what's already here.

I know I'm not the only gardener who's goofy about compost. See for yourself. Google the phrase, "for love of compost" and be amazed at the thousands of links that come back. Composting is just one of those right things to do.

Swallowtails on butterfly weedMy statement about the value of composting in my Virginia gardens isn't wholly accurate. I amended the soil in my wildflower meadow with compost, in spite of admonitions that wildflowers don't need special treatment. It was my experience that if I didn't amend the so-called soil, the only plants that grew there were of the crabgrass variety.

Beneath the swallowtails shown at left is a type of milkweed that butterflies adore. It wouldn't have survived without the double-digging-in of compost prior to the meadow's first season. The purple coneflower, cosmos, and blue dayflowers (not yet in bloom in the photo) wouldn't have made it either. Without the flowers, the butterflies wouldn't be there.

Compost is useful, but making it isn't necessarily easy work. You have to see to it if you need it in a hurry, as I did in Virginia. It needs oxygen, so you have to turn it now and then. It needs to be kept moist. If you put the wrong stuff in the pile, critters from ants to skunks seize the opportunity for an easy meal. If you put the pile in the wrong place, tree roots gleefully invade and pin the compost down tight, making the stuff hard to turn and even harder to get out. If you ever have to move a compost pile, you understand the significance of putting it in the right place at the outset.