January 2014
Home Grown Tomatoes

I Prefer the Smell of Roses to Rotting Leaf Litter

  Just look at the finished product! I can even smell the richness though the pages of this magazine. Scratch and sniff? Not really.

I do. I do prefer the smell of roses to rotting leaf litter. However, this time of year, it is hard to find a rose in the garden that has not become as stinky as the rots. In fact, the roses are the rots, along with the other plant materials.

Here in Alabama, we enjoy long, mixed-up autumns and springs, rather than full-blown winters in between. All of the leaves on the oaks, tulip-poplars, hickories and maples are still dropping in January.

I wish, sometimes, we could have a December with temperatures consistently below 40 degrees, rains of three inches per week and occasional winds of 15-20 mph. Then, I could have my leaf and pine straw maintenance taken care of, and my roof and gutters would not have to be power-blown again in January!

It’s January and the leaves are still falling, but of course I have a good use for them.  

Ah, "if wishes were horses" … No matter, I love the climate here. My roof is at a 4 and 12 pitch, so it is easy for this old man to walk around and blow the litter to the ground four to five times per year. This also gives me the opportunity to inspect the roofing shingles, chimney, standpipes, ventilation turbines and gutters.

All of the leaf-litter is blown to the ground and then, with the same wonderful blowing action, blown to the back of the Tomato Tower property and gathered at the head of the central compost heap. There is where the magic begins and the best soil is created.

The Tomato Tower composting system works much like a blast furnace, in that all raw materials (compostable materials) are deposited at the top of the heap. The "heap" is positioned at ground level at the back of the gardens. The beginning of the compost system is at ground level, but the final product is deposited at the bottom of the heap (about 10 feet below the ground level). In other words, the compost heap is on a hill.

Left to right, newspaper can be added along the way. Be certain you wet the papers in order to start their decomposition. This is my favorite: shredded documents. Better cover them before the spies get to them!

Leaf litter, grass clippings, potting soil from pots of annual spent plants, small branch clippings, and various and sundry other organic materials are deposited at the top of the heap.

Kitchen scraps, such as all vegetable discards, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, banana peels, corncobs, bread scraps (that I don’t save for the birds and squirrels) and non-animal fat products are added to the top of the compost heap. Sometimes, when I process a lot of vegetables such as peeling 30 to 40 potatoes at one time, I place the peelings into a paper bag and just deposit the whole thing on the top of the heap. Paper breaks down in short order and becomes part of the soil mix.

  Left to right, be sure to evenly spread your shredded paper so it doesn’t blow all over the place. This will all become fine soil in a few weeks.

The mixture of yard waste and kitchen waste is lightly stirred and turned with a potato rake nearly every time an ingredient is added. This is done to keep the mixture aerated so it doesn’t smell like rotting garbage. In fact, if you keep the mixture properly aerated, it will begin to smell like rich garden soil in no time at all!

The blast furnace concept of composting works very well for me. One might say that by adding rotting leaf litter at the top, it comes out smelling like a rose at the bottom. Or, "I love the smell of processed compost in the morning! It smells like …" Wait for it … "Victory Garden!"

Make your compost this winter and start amending your planting beds with nature’s magic in the spring.

If you have any questions or comments regarding composting methods, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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