brush pile“Feed the soil, not the plants”.

We make LOTS of compost at the Botanical Garden. This is a fairly recent development. The first summer I worked here, the weeds, leaves, etc from the garden were going into the dumpster out back. I was appalled. In there with the garbage, broken glass, cracked plant pots, and misplaced recycling. All that good organic matter going to waste!

The next summer, thanks to the relentless pestering of someone, we had a separate dumpster for the organic matter from the gardens and greenhouses. It came from Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, otherwise known as “The Landfill”.  RIRRC is really big on composting these days, because it helps keep “The Landfill” from filling up. This dumpster went back to Johnston and was…composted? I don’t know what they did with it, but apparently they were separating it somehow from the general waste stream.

In 2008 The URI Master Gardeners Association received a grant from the Champlin Foundations to begin creating a composting facility for the greenhouses and Botanical Gardens. The grant would also cover the purchase of a John Deere bucketloader tractor and a shredding machine attachment. This felt like  a turning point for the Gardens —  sustainability coming into view.

So, all the clippings, weeds, leaves, left over potting soil, and other organic matter from the gardens and greenhouses go onto a concrete pad between two greenhouses. It all gets put through the shredder, which  accelerates the rate of decomposition.  It’s not a perfect system — this summer the pile got very backed up and there was an unsightly mountain of green and brown stuff sitting on the concrete pad for months. But overall it works very well and right now there are three finished piles — about   3 cubic yards each —  and three unfinished piles still cooking. Finished compost gets spread on the  garden beds. It’s actually more than we can use at the moment and we sell it too (bring a five -gallon bucket to fill).

Compost  increases soil fertility and helps balance soil pH . It increases drainage, aeration and water holding capacity of the soil. It also creates a healthy habitat for beneficial microorganisms. All these things keep  plants healthy and help them withstand adverse conditions such as drought, diseases, and pests. Black gold for the garden,made right here.


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