Category: Soil

Poorly screened compost … a Gardening Oops

A topdressing with compost is a great way to begin the process of refurbishing an aging and abused lawn. A little bit, just a quarter inch, spread and raked into a grassy area provides nutrients and introduces beneficial soil organisms. My husband took on this job for a high traffic area of our lawn. Unfortunately, the task involved a bit more work than anticipated, making it the topic of my Gardening Oops – GOOPs – post for May 2012.

I believe that all gardeners make mistakes. If you are out there playing with plants you are bound to forget something, mis-plant something, or have a gardener’s brain freeze that results in a GOOPs. I also believe too many people refrain from trying an idea or a new task because they are afraid of making a mistake. But if we, as gardeners, admit and share mistakes we might make new gardeners … or even each other … more comfortable with investigating the activity of growing plants.

My GOOPs this month is about purchased compost.

I make compost … as much as I possibly can. I use it in vegetable and ornamental beds and mix it into planting medium for container plants. But I have yet to make enough compost to meet all our needs, nor have I met another gardener able to do so. This forces compost users to seek other, preferably local, sources of quality compost for tasks like topdressing a lawn.

Our lawn has taken a beating over the last few years and is screaming for our attention. Lawn is not the top priority in our landscape – we tend toward the easiest form of lawn care, but we do want what’s there to be healthy. So my husband found a local compost source, paid his money, and brought a pick-up truck load of compost home.


Compost for topdressing lawn should be screened to a quarter-inch or less. Do you see the larger chunks of material in this blend? These are not clumps of soil. Take a closer look.


This is the size of the partially composted material we had to hand screen, one wheelbarrow at a time, from the truckload.


This is the method I use to screen all the compost I make for my gardens, but I do small batches at a time. This job required hand screening a truck load of compost all at once, and getting it spread before ensuing rain.

The lesson here? Either make sure the compost you are purchasing has been processed through 1/4 inch screen or be prepared to do the job yourself.

Do you have a GOOPs to share? Don’t be shy. Tell your tale in a comment below or share your GOOPs on your own blog and leave a teaser below.

I’ve declared the first of each month GOOPs day at joene’s garden. Here’s a peek at past GOOPs. I hope you’ll join the GOOPs party. If you’ve not had a gardening faux pas you’ve not gardened hard enough.

For more information on organic lawn care peruse the information provided by the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s organic land care website. You may find Introduction to OLC particularly useful. You can even download a free copy of NOFA’s Introduction to Organic Lawns and Yards.

Garden thoughtfully … may my GOOPs prevent your GOOPs.

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Get Composting

October 5, 2009.  Anyone who has ever … in the slightest … questioned whether compost is valuable, please take a look at the photo at the top of the New York Times article about the composting practices at Harvard University.  Look at the darkness and richness of the soil plug dug from a heavily walked-upon lawn area at Harvard.  That’s the kind of soil all of us should strive for.  It doesn’t come in a bag of highly marketed "miracle" chemicals, or from applying the latest/newest/greatest perfect lawn technologies.  Harvard’s lawns come from good, solid organic gardening … really.

There’s no need for me to rehash the article … read it yourself.  Then go to Harvard’s Facilities Maintenance Operations webpage on organic landscaping.  Scroll through the various links to learn how Harvard brews their own compost tea, the types of tea they brew for specific uses, their composting recipes, and their soil management practices.  It’s all good information.

Now take this knowledge one step further, and figure out where you can start a compost pile and start one.  I’ve been composting for years – my kids have all grown up saving "good garbage" for the compost heap.  I use 3 simple bins made of welded wire, one actively receiving kitchen scraps, grass clippings, plant cuttings, leaves and more leaves; one filled to about 3 or 4 feet in height and in full composting mode; and one finished.  I turn the full pile occasionally, and empty the finished pile quickly, using it for soil amendments in every planting bed and as an additive to outdoor potting mix.  Still, I never have enough of this black gold.

Don’t have the time or resources to make bins?  Then make a pile in an obscure corner, that gets at least a little sun, where you toss spent plants, grass clippings, and leaves.  You don’t even have to turn it.  Just let it sit and in a year you can dig down into what’s left to find black gold awaiting.  Or, simply dig your kitchen scraps (plant material, coffee grounds, egg shells) directly into an unplanted area of a garden bed, cover the scraps with soil, and walk away.

And if you’re still not convinced, consider that composting reduces the amount of waste you have to transport to the trash can and ultimately the amount of waste entering landfills and trash processing plants.  Fully broken down compost makes a great soil amendment for nearly any type of plant, meaning you’ll need to purchase less outside product for your garden beds.  And if you really get into the whole composting process and make compost tea, you’ll need less store bought fertilizer for your plants.

It doesn’t take a Harvard education to figure out how to compost … all you need is a spot and a little common sense.  But if you want more info on composting in general, read one of the many articles listed in Organic Gardening.  Just go to the main page search box, and type in composting.

Sorry for the lack of composting photos, you’ll get the picture when visiting the links.  Besides, I don’t think you need to see a photo of my peach peels, lettuce scraps, plum and avocado pits, eggplant ends, coffee grounds, onion peels, or egg shells – they’re really not attractive until they become black gold.