Soiling my plants

by Nathan Rutz

(not) Making compost in the cold

It’s been a really dang cold winter here in Cleveland. It was 21.7 F on average in January and and 22.5 F in February according to the National Weather Service.

ice beard

My piles of organic material have been frozen solid, doing just about nothing it seems.

snow coffee pile


I collect 5-12 gallons of coffee grounds from a nearby Starbucks and Pour Cleveland, a local pour-over coffee shop. Even though I am not a fan of Starbucks coffee or ubiquity, their grounds are much easier to deal with and the employees in downtown Cleveland are super friendly. Starbucks filters are big pieces of paper that are really well beat up by the time they give them to me – they’re nice and easy to chop up with my delightful Fokin Hoe.

Pour overs on the other hand are a total pain. The whole filter doesn’t get wet, there’s a MUCH higher paper to coffee ratio, and there are many more of them and they’re much smaller and more difficult to chop up.

Coffee pile 1 - Copy

coffee pile close up - Copy

I was really hoping to find some nicely composted material deep inside this pile, but even a foot in it’s all just cold coffee grounds. Dang cold!


soil test

Rabbit suggests that I get a soil test done so we can see if there are any real improvements in the soil as I go along with this permaculture scheme. The Cuyahoga County extension office suggested sending my sample to the U Mass Amherst soil lab, so I looked up their directions and followed them:

soil test how-to

I stuck sticks around the back yard in  locations as random as I could muster.  I really have no idea if there are different soil zones in my yard. This is part of the observation phase of Permaculture I didn’t really do, so I’m pretending it’s all the same.

When I jammed my spade in about 6″ deep as prescribed, it was a really wonderful surprise to find worms in almost every shovel-full.

Spade in the ground

There were a few spots where I hit a rock. My next door neighbor tells me the driveway used to go all the way back to the end of the yard where there was a garage which was torn down probably 15 years ago. Hitting rocks didn’t always happen in this area, but did sometimes.

hitting rock - Copy

I mixed the 12 samples in a pickle bucket I rinsed out and scooped out about a cup of it to spread out and dry drying soil sample - Copy

I bagged it up this morning and sent it off, asking for the soil organic matter test for an extra $5 and their amendment recommendations for mixed garden vegetables, blueberries, and trees and vines.

Soil test sheet



Permaculture for thousandaires!?

When I made my hugul beds I was stupid. I didn’t dig trenches for two of them, and the one I did dig a trench for was probably too shallow and small. When making a hugul bed next time I will consider the volume of soil I’ll potentially need to actually cover the surface of the hugul bed.

Hugul dimensions 2

Imagining that I want 6″ of coverage over the entire thing it seems I would need

5.7(diagonal)*15(length)*.5(half a foot deep)*2(both big sides) + 3.5(half base)*4.5(height)*.5(half a foot deep)*2(both short sides) = 101.25 cubic feet of soil = 3.74 cubic yards of soil

This would mean I’d need to dig about a foot deep over the whole area of the bed to have enough soil (15’*7’*1’=105 cubic feet).

I have three beds about this size. The material I dug out for one of them is mixed with my earlier compost pile which, despite my turning, is not really ready. I need about (3.74*3) 11.25 cubic yards of soil. Kurtz Brothers, a local composting company sells “all-purpose top soil” for $26/cubic yard + $58 delivery fee which with tax comes out to about $375.

Should I move the beds and dig? Shell out the big bucks for soil? Dig somewhere else?