Monday, July 29, 2013

Composting 101

There are a zillion ways to compost.  You can compost in a bucket, in a composter, or in a big "stink pile," as our yard help calls it.  Poor thing.  Ours is just out of control.  It even grew a tree (see above)!  A slight exaggeration, maybe.  That is actually a very happy volunteer cherry tree.  But all of the foliage around it has sprung up in the past week or two, no doubt encouraged by all of the nutritious soil.

There is a science to composting.  At least there should be.  If you would like some detailed instructions on how to do the dern thing properly, check herehere, and especially here.

But I like things to be simple, as my attention often wanders when unfamiliarity is paired with long winded instructions.  So here's a brief summary of what we do.
  • Pick a place.  We picked an area and sectioned it off with some spare chain link fence we had.  My grandmother is the only other person I personally knew that composted, and she just had a big pile of stuff out behind the woodshed.  You don't have to have it enclosed, but it may be a good idea if you have scrounging animals around.
  • Find a bin.  This is something we are still working on.  Shown above is the large container we were using.  Its size is great in that when I'm canning, or otherwise have lots of scraps, there's plenty of room for everything I need to jam in there.  However.  After a miscommunication which involved this bucket not getting dumped for about 3 weeks, we decided to search for a smaller, more manageable bucket.  I was too scarred by the contents to ever risk doing that again.  I hear coffee tins work well, but I'm putting a counter compost bin on my Christmas list!
  • Learn what to toss.  Vegetable scraps, yard waste, egg shells, fruit peels, coffee grinds and filters; these are all pretty obvious.  Some less obvious ones could include lint from your dryer filter, contents of your vacuum canister, collections from hairbrushes and pet brushes, and any non glossy newspapers (shredded).  We also occasionally toss in paper towels/napkins that have nothing more than dirt or water on them.  No cleaners please!
  • And what not to.  Don't toss meats, dairy products, things with high contents of grease/fat, or anything that has come in contact with harsh chemicals.  I know some people toss any and all kitchen scraps, but we avoid those.  Just seems like an easy way to make a bacteria pile to me, as well as attract raccoons, opossums, foxes, etc.  Also don't include pet waste or cat litter.  There is a way to do it, but it shouldn't be combined with your regular compost.
  • Toss what you toss!  When I take a ripe batch of goodies out to the pile, I stir the whole mess up right good.  (Did I sound as if I should have had a piece of hay hanging out of my mouth as I typed that?  Good.  That's what I was going for.)  Dump the bucket, lightly toss the whole thing, and then sprinkle some grass clippings on the very top if you have some on hand.  This kind of sounds like a recipe.  Stink Soup a la Mode.
  • Dig down deep.  We tend to let our compost sit all winter, tossing occasionally, and place it in the garden come Spring.  Chop everything up with a shovel (although by Spring, there shouldn't be much left in the way of roughage) including 3-4 inches of the dirt underneath.  Sprinkle on your greenery and watch everything spring to life!
My Granny didn't really use her pile for manufacturing fertilizer, I don't believe.  I have found that even if I decided to stop gardening, I would continue to compost.  We have about half as much trash each week as we used to, and that makes me feel good.  I don't generally lose sleep at night thinking about landfills, but knowing that I'm not contributing more than I have to is somewhat enjoyable.

Also, we received quite a surprise a few weeks into the summer!  We had spread compost around each of our fruit trees, and had four or five tomato plants willingly pop up at their bases.  Good karma...?

Happy composting!

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