Monday, July 1, 2013

GOOPS - Misadventures in Composting

I've spent a lot of time this past week weeding.  On my hands and knees, covered in dirt, face first in the posies.


One of the downsides of digital cameras is how darn quiet they are.  Makes it much easier to sneak up on one's spouse and take a photo.


Caught sitting down on the job.

Weeding is contemplative work.  Time to daydream, consider the great questions that life presents and wonder what the heck is that plant doing there?


Sometimes it's lettuce that grows up through the flowers.  Cilantro is another culprit.  I have weeded out ten times more dill this spring than legitimate weeds.

Dill with its large flower heads produces a lot of seed
My trouble is composting.  I compost just about anything.  Kitchen scraps, weeds, vegetables gone to seed and the dried stalks of last years blooms.  With this mix I add manure, straw and sawdust among other things.  But I'm not terribly careful.  Sometimes there's more weeds than manure, less sawdust than kitchen scraps.  In a carefully controlled bin with equal parts of brown and green matter the compost would get hot and wayward seeds would be killed off.  However, mine rarely does.  Instead it gets nice and warm and provides the perfect germinating conditions!

Then I spread all that compost around my garden and all sort of chaos ensues.  It's not necessarily a bad thing.  I've had some beautiful oops moments.  Like the bleeding heart that decided to make itself at home next to my birdhouse.


Or the pink lupines that showed up this year behind the hosta.


This week particularly has been bountiful in terms of plant finds.  Cilantro next to the hydrangea, lettuce mixed among iris, birch seedlings, dill, and then ... holy hannah WHAT is that?!?


If anyone knows what plant this is can you please let me know.  I'm stumped.  There's a number of them blooming and they're quite pretty.  But I haven't a clue what it is or where it came from.  I know I didn't put this in my compost so where did it come from?

Even stranger, I also found veronica growing.  That wouldn't normally be so weird but I didn't put it there.

All these plants are volunteers!  Veronica on the far left, chamomile in the center
and those funny puffy purple blooms on the right
There is veronica in my garden but they are hybrids and the seed should be sterile.  or not I suppose?  Life's a mystery.

Despite the unexpected treasure there is a downside to all this madness.  I decided to do a little work in my compost bins this week.  I got out my pitchfork intending to turn it over, make sure things were breaking down.  I got a bit of a surprise.  Those nice warm conditions are not only good for germinating seeds, they make a nice nesting spot for voles.

There are no pictures for what occurred next.

Let's just say there may have been some screaming... and squeaking.  I'm not sure how they got in.  I had specifically chosen a very small wire screen for the bin in order to avoid just this scenario.  Somewhere there must be a gap.  I should have dealt with the matter right there and then but instead I closed the lid and walked away.  The image of skewered vole was a bit overpowering.

Now, several days later I'm rather reluctant to visit the bin again.

any suggestions?

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For more GOOPS (Gardening OOPS) please visit Joene's Garden where we share the trials of gardening on the first of each month.

27 comments:

  1. I compost most everything too and also find plants growing here and there unexpectedly. And, like you, I love most of these surprizes. This spring I transplanted volunteer pumpkins from my compost to a raised bed and they are growing amazingly fast and well.

    Voles like my compost bins - made of welded wire fencing. Small snakes like them as well. Must be lots of food for both.
    How wonderful to find the blue/purple blooms of what I believe are campanula growing ... a much better surprise than the speared vole.
    Thanks for playing in the GOOPs garden bed! Happy weeding.

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    1. I've found snakes too! but they tend to stay in the open pile and slither away when I disturb them. The voles just crawled back under... :(

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  2. How nice to see pictures of you in your garden! I agree with your approach to vole encounters in the compost -- walk away quickly and never go back.

    But you will have to return, since compost does take some work to get hot enough and finished enough to avoid the sprouting problems you are having. You could try setting traps to lure the voles out. In September when they build nests, set out mousetraps under overturned flowerpots nearby (tilt the pots up on low bricks). Bait with peanut butter and maybe they will like that lure better than your yummy cozy compost. Maybe.

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    1. LOL, never ever ever go back again! thanks for the ideas. I think I'm bringing feline reinforcements with me the next time I try to go in there.

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  3. Heck, all you can hope for is if the neighbors cat comes over to "take care" of your vole problem. They tunnel under so you can never get rid of them. They squeak at me even when I just sit on the patio. They think they own my garden. One skewered vole is not a bad thing.

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    1. I think the solution is a new cat. Our best mouser disappeared last year and I now have two fat lazy beasts who never leave the porch.

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  4. P.S. I would like to have any or all of your oops in my garden. What beautiful blooms.

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    1. thanks Lisa! I didn't mention the abundance of weeds though...

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  5. Hi, enjoyed your post ! I think your Little Imposter may be a Campanula. I have them all over the garden where they self seeded, but never bought one until last year, when I bought a white one.

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    1. thanks Jane! I have a type of campanula in the garden but this is very different looking. I guess there's a number of types though. Now where in the world did it come from...

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  6. I wish I had volunteer dill. I never seem to have enough. I have had friends who have discovered all kinds of nests in the compost, but I am glad I have not. You could try sprinkling cayenne or black pepper throughout the pile or spread castor oil pellets around. That should send them scattering and keep them out of the pile. Good luck!

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    1. Michelle, I wish I could gift you some dill. I have pulled literally hundreds of seedlings. it's a bit ridiculous. Cayenne is kind of brilliant. I keep some around to keep the cats out of things, perhaps it would work in the compost too.

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  7. Love the photo of you weeding)). As for the vole impaling..don't say another word. I have lived in dread of doing exactly the same thing. Once, I lifted a pile of fluff in the veg garden and in my hand this dreadful squeeek came out. 'put it down Brenda'...walk away from the squeek. ))

    You have an old garden and this may just be the year of ancient seed germination. You are doing so much to bring it back to life. It is showing it's appreciation, clearly. Oh..I have that blue bellflower..it comes in white also. lovely. (think that is what it is).

    Great progress on the house you guys.

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    1. thanks Brenda, I generally avoid the camera but he caught me this time :) I know exactly the pile of fluff you're talking about, I've seen them and walked away. Good point about this being an old garden. I've found all sorts of things in the dirt - horseshoes, broken pottery, belt buckles - finding new plants shouldn't be a surprise.

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  8. When I hear "skewered vole", I think maybe add chunks of tomato, pepper, and onion - then another couple voles, and throw on the grill! As for the seeds in the compost, I've given up even trying to get my compost hot enough to kill all the seeds. Actually, I think I would exchange my weeds for yours - your dill, lupine and campanula look pretty good.

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    1. LOL!! feeling slightly sick at the thought but they are good kebab size :) I must admit I didn't tell you about all the weeds I spread around too. I've got thistles up the ying yang as well as dill.

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  9. I'm glad I'm not the only one who walks away and pretends I didn't see something that I'm just not ready to deal with (although Jason's image of vole kebab made me smile).
    I wonder if your very pretty volunteer is Campanula latifolia (great bellflower). It's 2-5 feet tall with flowers about 2-3 inches long. -Jean

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    1. Usually I'm pretty good at dealing with tedious tasks but the sight of dead vole hanging off my pitchfork was simply too much. Now the longer I've left it the less I want to deal with it. Thanks for the plant ID, that sounds like the right one.

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  10. I saw a vole for the first time a few months ago. I had never even heard of them before! Your garden is beautiful :)

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    1. Thanks Keith :) lucky you never having to deal with voles. We have them everywhere here and they do quite the number on trees and shrubs in the winter. Normally I don't mind them too much but in my compost bin is pushing it.

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  11. Wow, a scewered vole...I have dealt with lots of things in my garden, and killed a mouse that strayed into my sons house last week from their garden, but never even seen a vole. We do have them here in Britain but I have yet to see any here in London.

    Love your ‘campanula-weed’, have you looked around in your neighbour’s gardens to see if it came from any of them? I frequently get self seeded plants in my garden and some of them I have kept and treasure just as much as those I have bought.

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    1. be thankful you haven't had that experience yet! can say it was not pleasant. Good idea to check the neighbour's yards, makes perfect sense that the seed would blow over.

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  12. Campanula! And what a beauty she is! I need some of that compost. :o) Skewered vole? Gag! But at least that's one less vole to damage your trees. You're in my Blogger Spotlight! Love this post. :o)

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    1. Thanks Tammy. what's not to love about skewered vole!! :)

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  13. I'm still trying to get over Jason's suggestion for vole kebab; not an appetizing image this early in the morning:) What wonderful surprises you've had in your garden! I agree with Casa--I'd like some of your compost! I've been dealing with some self-seeders, like nicotania, which apparently loves my garden. But some of your volunteers may have had help from the birds or the wind. I'm still trying to figure out how a phlox got into my shade garden last year.

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  14. Your plant is Campanula, they self seed readily even up here in zone 3. Your garden looks and sounds lovely. It's great when unexpected plants pop up although weeding out the extras does take too much time, some days :) I try to remember to pull off seed heads/flowers before tossing plants on the compost.

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  15. Eek! Voles in the compost heap is not a problem I have ever faced, thankfully, though I suppose if the pile got hot enough it would put them off. Mine never does either, but I figure the occasional delightful surprise and general goodness is wortht the (seemingly endless) weeding.

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