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Composting in Place

     Here in the deep south we are blessed by a good deal of rainfall in the wet season and humidity almost every day the rest of the year. This natural abundance of moisture promotes vigorous microbial activity even in the dry season. The activities of insects should not be overlooked either. The much vilified ants and roaches break down larger pieces of organic matter into smaller pieces the bacteria can handle.
     Traditional gardeners in the more temperate climates north of us frequently create compost piles, which not only cleans up the garden area but also concentrates all that microbial activity in one spot to rapidly decompose plant matter. I can say that I have not really seen a compost pile here ever, because organic matter breaks down so quickly it kind of seems pointless. We get to practice what northern gardeners cannot, composting in place.
     Any waste plant matter an be used to create compost, which people around here frequently call mulch. The two terms are used almost interchangeably because even the big woody store-bought mulch will break down within one rainy season to produce the humusy compost that northerners recognize. That humus becomes washed into the sand, providing nutrition for even more beneficial microorgnisms like worms.
     Most cleared land here in west Florida quickly loses its topsoil. Many a new homeowner has been perturbed by the ide that the builders laid sod down on straight sand and they now need to constantly water and fertilize in order to grow the easiest of plants, grass. In the time between the land was cleared and the builders finished they house was all the rain and wind needed to remove that layer of humus from that property. In the older neighborhoods where grass has been cultured for years, simply lift the roots and see for yourself. The grass will pull out easily if the ground is dry and you will find the bare, pale sand.
     Small particles break down more easily. This is why cedar mulch decays faster than pine bark nuggets. If you want the soil to quickly make compost then chopping, slicing, and shredding are your friends. That being said, I did throw last year's pumpkins outside and in a month all that was left was a thin, waxy, papery shell. Coffee grounds will be invisible after one good rain. Orange peels and vegetable remains also disappear quickly as long as they are cut into small pieces.
     Leaves break down fairly quickly, but you may be better served by using them as an easy mulch. In the fall sometimes I rake under the oak tree in the front yard to get up some of the leaves so the place looks good. Once the trash barrel is full its placed out on the curb on yard waste collection day. From there the leaves and twigs are taken to a municipal collection site, what I like to call, The Dump. All yard waste is collected, shredded, then placed into huge piles for people to collect for their gardens. The mulch is part humus and part small sticks. It will blow away in the wind if you let it. Bring that home and put at least a two or three inch layer underneath every plant. It will block weeds and give all the benefits of mulch, while releasing humus into your soil. And its free.
     Another item I compost in place is all the waste from the parrot cages. The mulch from the dump lines the cages, and every week I go in and scrub the bars and collect the droppings and food bits. Used mulch is then placed directly on the plants. It is said that bird waste should never be placed directly on plants because of the high ammonium concentration burning the plants roots. However, I have never experienced that. Perhaps it is because the pooped-up mulch is exposed to the sun and elements before the ammonias ever reach the roots. It does seem wise to forego putting bird waste in containers for plants.
     Someone might ask me what I would do with dog doo, and here it is... Flush it. Collect it up frequently and flush it down the toilet if you have many dogs on a small piece of property. It would be the safest way to remove any pathogens or medications if that applies to you. Another thing I might try if I had one or two dogs is to collect it into a pile away from the house and mix the waste with mulch or shredded leaves. Allow to decompose and spread onto plant beds that you will not be eating the leaves from, like the obligatory hibiscus or crepe myrtle every house seems to have. Make sure it is well buried with even more mulch to keep flies and smell down. If you did that twice a year you would have no problems. Another thing might be to try spraying the doo into the grass while its still fresh. I would probably not do that since it would be so much work.
     We compost in place coffee grounds, contents from tea bags, banana peels, egg shells, fruit skins or cores, vegetable pieces, pineapple rind and cores, and more. Stale bread or leftover meat gets run through the birds or cats.

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