By Jerry Orton
For many people worldwide, gold is an obsession. But, all that glitters is not gold. To a gardener, gold is brown—the brown of the soil. And for those who want the ultimate in perfect soil, the name of the game is compost.
When my wife, Peggy, and I lived in San Diego, California, we had a small lot (as lots tend to be in Point Loma), so we could either grow Bermuda grass or a garden. We elected to put our whole back yard into a garden. The growing season in San Diego is phenomenal, so we had something going almost year round.
However, the soil in our back yard was poor. Even soil amendments we bought at nurseries and Home Depot never quite satisfied. Then, one day, my wife bought a book at a yard sale: “Crockett’s Victory Garden” by James Underwood Crockett, copyright 1977, Little, Brown and Company, which was the companion book for the PBS series by the same name. This book is perhaps the finest garden reference book of its kind; simple, but elegant. Unfortunately, it is only available nowadays through outlets such as Amazon.com at greatly inflated prices, because it’s become a collector’s item. But, I stray from my main topic.
On page 180 of this book begins a section on composting, entitled “The Composter, or the Brown Gold Cadillac.” Space doesn’t permit a complete recapitulation of this article, but to summarize, it defines compost as “the gardener’s best friend.” For the poor soil of our back yard in San Diego, this proved one hundred per cent accurate.
More than just a testimonial, the article provides plans for a 3-bin composter, which I built with materials purchased from Home Depot. We began depositing lawn clippings from the front lawn, table scraps, and an occasional bag of manure into bin #1, applying water copiously, and before long, we had a mixture we could transfer to bin #2, then to bin #3. The final product was a soil that was truly magnificent. When blended into the native soil, this proved to be the brown gold that Mr. Crockett promised. Our garden took off like gang-busters.
One important point that I must stress (as the book explains) is that no meat scraps are to be added to this mix. Only vegetation can be used. Meat won’t decay at the same rate as vegetation, gives off an unpleasant smell, and attracts undesirable critters.
The only negative is that this is labor-intensive. Turning the compost into each bin with a shovel on a routine basis is hard work, plus the need for regular watering is tedious. Being of the engineering persuasion, I thought there ought to be a better way. Since we moved to Missouri, I’ve tried a purchased composter made of black plastic that has proved to be an expensive bomb. For less money, the Crocket composter is a real winner.
I’m attaching a scan of the plans for the Crockett composter, and believe me, if you follow the plans scrupulously, you will produce compost that is truly brown gold. Try it and see.