I just moved several tons on compost in only a few hours. This is pretty fast for doing it solo. Therefore, I thought it might be useful to share some suggestions on how you might do the same type of job efficiently. I am also looking forward to hearing your personal tips and insights too.
The following suggestions apply to just about any large volume of material you may shovel in your garden (mulch, soil, manure, sand, rocks, etc).
Spend less, get more:
There are places where you can pick-up lots of awesome quality free compost. For more info, check out my previous article on getting free compost. This is the cheapest organic fertilizer you will ever find.
Your local recycling facility may also have deals on mulch or even compost. As an example, “ArgriService“, is the place that does this in our area and has facilities in Oceanside and San Diego.
Some tree cutting services are more than happy to dump freshly chipped wood mulch from their days work off in your yard. However, be warned: There is a possibility that the material from the tree cutting services contain diseased plants. If this diseased material is received fresh and not processed adequately, it may pass that plant disease problem onto your yard.
Its pretty awesome to have a truck… or to have a friend with a truck. However, I wasn’t always so lucky and in the past I had to do this type of thing in my car. Its not impossible to do this work without a truck, but it will just take longer and you wont be able to do as much at a time. Importantly, if you are transporting this stuff in your car, then you really want to be sure that the container you use is sealed tight and wont tip over.
Once you get your compost home, you will want to optimize your vehicle positioning for the most efficient workflow. A little bit of maneuvering here goes a long way.
Back-up your vehicle as close (and as safely a possible) to where you want to put your compost. If you have a truck, try to position the back-end of the tailgate over some existing ground cover and not directly over your driveway. This will save a lot of time on clean up. If you don’t have that option, then a tarp under the tailgate is a great alternative.
Transfer the compost from the truck directly down into your wheelbarrow. Let gravity do some of the work, and in doing so, use your shovel to guide the compost down.
Oh yea… of course max-out the air pressure on your wheelbarrow tires. This will make it a whole lot easier to move your wheelbarrow when it is full of compost.
If you want to fill some pots/containers with compost/soil, just do it in the truck. You can shove the stuff in there pretty easily and fast that way. In addition, there is no over-spill to clean up when the job is done in the back of the truck.
If you have a huge heavy-duty container to fill (like the one in the picture below) then you might want to have a strategy for moving the container when it is weighted down by the compost. If you are able to slide the big container down to a flatbed cart, you will save your back some pain. Unfortunately, a wheelbarrow is not the best option for this task because you will then have to lift the heavy container out of the wheelbarrow at the end of its journey.
Save more time:
Depending on where you intend to put your compost, you may want to be very precise about where that compost goes. This is particularly true if you are working in an area of your yard that is otherwise finished with gravel or if you are working near a formal pathway and you don’t want the compost to spill all over.
Using a tarp here does four very useful things.
- It allows you to work quickly without having to worry about spilling
- It makes clean up very fast
- You don’t waste compost
- You keep the rich compost out of areas that you don’t want weeds growing (don’t fertilize the weeds)
I just got this tarp you see in the pictures on Amazon. Although it is a bit thin for a typical tarp, it seems very durable, has great ratings, and it was pretty darn cheap.
Check the forecast so that you don’t have to do this work in the rain. The issue is not that you might get wet… If you garden, you probably don’t care about being out in the rain.
However, the major issue is weight. Compost, mulch, soil, etc. will absorb moisture like a sponge, and as you know, water is darn heavy. Therefore, you (and your poor back) will be doing a lot more work if this stuff is wet. In addition, the suspension on your vehicle will be under greater strain with the extra water weight.
Of course, it as also great to plan the day so you can do the work when the weather is cool, or when it is overcast.
If you really want to dial it in tight… pick a day just before there is a forecast for heavy rains. This will allow nature to water-in the compost the next day. This timing is pretty awesome when you are using the compost as a “topper” around the tree, because the rain will bring good-stuff down to the roots without impacting your water bill.
Its always a good idea to factor in more time than you think you need for any project. However, this is particularly important in this situation because you don’t want to have the weight of the compost sitting in your truck overnight… beating up your trucks suspension and tires.
I have to be honest here, I don’t wear gloves as much as I should. What can I say?, I like to be close to what I am doing. As a result, my hands are callused and scarred. I can deal with that.
However, when it comes to compost, I would suggest making an exception. The main reason is because of the powerful and unique smell of fresh steamy compost. If you are using good organic compost, it will smell like… well, it will small like organic crap.
This smell also seems to stick a little too well to your skin. Therefore, putting a barrier between your skin and the compost with gloves is a really good idea. Especially if you are going out in public later that day.
If you are really getting in there with the compost, then sometimes the moisture will seep through your gloves and get onto your hands. If you can’t quite get the stink off your hands with normal soap and water, these metal odor removal bars do wonders at getting the smell off your skin. These bars also amazingly remove the smell of other things like garlic, onions and fish… and somehow the bars don’t seem to wear out.
I like to garden in sandals. I am not a hippy or anything (ok, perhaps I am a little bit crunchy) but that’s not the point. I just like my toes to be free.
However, when it comes to big jobs like this, you got to wear some boots. My favorite ones to date are these boots with great ratings on amazon. I liked them so much that I have bought this same pair twice. Whatever type of boots you like, the point is wear something to protect your feet and something that you are not planning to wear out on the town; the compost smell is powerful.
Of course, also wear some old pants and an old shirt that you don’t care about.
Personally, I hate putting on sunscreen, but it is the right thing to do. Even if it is overcast, the sun will find you. So please put on some sunscreen before you get started… and put on a large brim hat.
If you garden, then you probably already have a nice big hat. But if you don’t have a nice big hat, you should get one from somewhere. Costco sometimes has them for a good price and even grocery stores sometimes carry them. However, garden stores tend to mark-up the price. Here’s an example from amazon that has great ratings. I have a similar one that I like but I haven’t tried this particular hat myself.
Positioning your trucks back-end over existing ground-cover will make clean up a lot faster. As an added bonus, the over-spill will also feed the plants that you have growing in that area. Once you get the majority of the compost out of the truck with your shovel, a nice stiff broom is a great next step. I find that the long push brooms are perfect for the majority of the remaining job and then the smaller stiff brooms are great for the stuck-on or hard to get to corners.
If you are conserving water, at this point you can get away with not rinsing out the back of the truck. The direct exposure to the elements will neutralize the smell and the rest of the mess. However, if you are going to use water for anything, it is a really good idea to rinse-out your brooms… cuz those brooms are probably going back inside the house or in your garage.
Oh yea, on that note… perhaps the most important point. For a happy home (at least for my home), don’t borrow the kitchen broom to do this work. A small investment in a dedicated outdoor broom can go a long way for household harmony.
You are ready to efficiently make your plants and everyone around them happy.