Meet Mark Cullen

Canada's best known gardening personality, Mark Cullen believes that Canadians of all ages need to play more - preferably in the dirt. A best-selling author with over 400,000 books in print, Mark reaches over one million Canadians every week through various media outlets. He is Home Hardware's horticultural spokesperson and regularly contributes to various magazines, gardening shows and newsletters. With a familiar style that people can relate to, he delivers a message that is compelling, fun, informative and inspirational - all based on his organic approach to gardening. In his spare time Mark enjoys driving his Ford Model A - and of course he loves to garden.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas is only a few weeks away and they will be playing this song ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ on the radio until we are very glad that December 26th has rolled around.

I argue that THIS is the most wonderful time of the year because of another miracle: compost.

You may think that I am nuts and you would not be alone. Join the line up right over here behind my kids. Truth is, I am not alone either.

Talk to my friend Lorraine Johnson, with whom I co-wrote a book called The Real Dirt, The Complete Guide to Composting in Canada. It is out of print, but is still used in some post secondary schools as text for the subject. Lorraine is a passionate composter.

So is my friend Susan Antler. She is the executive director of the Composting Council of Canada and while she is very enthusiastic by nature, she reserves her greatest output of exuberance for the subject of composting.

Yes, we are out there. The crazy composting community stretches far and wide across this great land.
So, it is fitting that you do two things this time of year to celebrate the great composting season:
#1. Empty your composter if you have not done it since last fall.
#2. Fill it again.

Empty it.

When you remove the composted material from your composting unit (or pile…) be sure NOT to spread it like salt and pepper all over your yard. Compost is not a condiment. It is the meat in the sandwich. It provides the lifeblood for all plant life in your garden by feeding the micro organisms that support the perennials, annuals, vegetables etc. that you plant out there.

I spread finished compost 3 to 5 cm thick (1 to 2 inches) all over my garden this time of year. In most cases this means that the contents of your composting unit will not go very far. That is o.k. as you can buy more or spread next years’ compost supply over another part of your yard next fall.

Fill it.

Put a shovel full of finished compost in the bottom of the composter. This will help to ‘get the party started’ - in other words, the beneficial bacteria in the compost will initiate the decomposition process.
‘Layer’ your compost beginning with a thick layer (10 to 15 cm, scrunched down) of ‘brown stuff’ – fallen leaves is the #1 brown stuff of choice. You can use shredded newspaper if leaves are scarce in your area.
Next layer is ½ as thick of ‘green stuff’. Finished tomato plants, annuals, grass clippings or kitchen scraps will do the trick.
Continue to alternate a thick layer of ‘brown’ with a ½ layer of ‘green’, pushing the contents into the composting unit as you go to maximize the volume in it.
Add water as you go….. It is only in the presence of moisture that decomposition takes place. Pity the poor people in the desert that try this….
Add Green Earth Compost Accelerator ( every 2 to 3 layers to speed up the decomposition process.
If your composter has a lid, put it on the unit but only if you have pre-moistened the contents! Remember, dry stuff just sits there! If your composter does not have a lid, no worries. I don’t really get the point of the lid anyway, except that it ‘neatens’ up the look of the unit.

Siting your compost.

Position your compost in as much sun as possible and close to the kitchen door, for convenience. You can add compost all winter long, regardless of where you live in Canada. While it will freeze solid in most regions, it will also thaw in time and when it does, the greatest decomposition occurs. The frost ‘rips and tears’ the cell structure of the organics that you place there: the warmth of spring will activate the ‘good guys’ that do the breaking down of the works.

What to put in: Anything organic, providing that it is NOT any of the following:
- meat or meat byproducts
- cat and dog droppings (or any meat eater, for that matter)
- dairy products
- wood, bark, metal or plastic
- weeds that have gone to seed (though, I break this rule all of the time)

The Foot Soldiers arrive!!

Back to the beginning: when you spread finished compost over the surface of your garden you encourage earthworms to come up and pull the compost down into the soil. They eat this stuff; convert it into organic, nitrogen rich earthworm castings that feed the soil. Earthworms also open up the soil, allowing oxygen to flow to the root zone of your plants. (Note: all plants need oxygen at their roots.)

And finally, there is the wonder and awe of watching what WAS something recognizable, like leaves, banana peels and grass clippings, convert into the most useful soil additive ever created. Your plants thrive: they grow faster, resist insects and disease and they produce flowers and fruit like never before. They are happy.

And all you did was organize ‘waste material’ into a pile or composting unit and wait.

THAT is the miracle of compost.

Keep your knees dirty!