Thursday, August 9, 2012

Composting 101

     This might be an odd subject to write about, but with more and more people trying to reduce the amount of trash they generate, I thought I would share my method of composting for those who might be interested.
     When we first moved here six years ago, I built a scrappy little compost bin, and went about learning how to compost the "right" way.  All gardening books I read, recommended an elaborate set up of perfectly balanced green and brown materials with added fertilizers and ashes, all perfectly layered.  If done right, the compost would heat up and turn into wonderful humus in a matter of weeks.  The problem with that is, it's not practical.  Who has heaps of "green" material just laying around?  No one. Green stuff turns to brown pretty quick.  It's called decomposition.  I even read one book that recommends keeping your kitchen waste in a plastic tub, until you were ready to start a new pile. Yuck; that method is not for me. 
     So that leaves the other method.  Dump it and forget it.  This works OK, because you can add kitchen scraps, weeds, grass clippings, etc. over time, but it takes a long time for everything to break down and turn to dirt.  The third method, that I have never seen in any gardening book, is my method of composting.
     Her is my compost pile.  This is a new bin, made from old ceder fencing, as the original one eventually decomposed right along with the garbage.  The left side is my green pile, where I add stuff as I need to.  Right now there's a lot of grass clippings.  The right side is my brown pile.  This stuff has been in there for awhile, and has broken down enough to be, well ... brown. (See, this is very simple. )
    When I've let a bit of green stuff pile up, I get my pitch fork and scoop some of the brown stuff onto the the green pile.  I do this until I run out of brown stuff, and then the newly emptied side of the bin becomes the green pile. The stuff on the left is now brown, and can be layered onto the new green pile.  The benefit to doing it this way, is turning the piles helps it break down quickly, and layering the brown with the green also helps it not to smell.  Simple, practical, and efficient.  What's not to love?
     So what do you put in a compost pile?  Anything that can rot.
     The compost bucket that I keep in the kitchen, is a stainless steel stock pot.  I found this works best.  Plastic absorbs odor and is gross.  I've seen  pretty little ceramic compost buckets for sale, but they're tiny.  Maybe they would work for one or two people, but if you're cooking for a family, you need something bigger. 
     Other than food waste, I also put paper towels, shredded newspapers, and cardboard egg cartons into the compost bucket.  It gets emptied every day to every other day.  Any longer than that, and it starts to smell.  The stainless cleans up easily, and it's really not a hassle.  I like knowing that I'm turning garbage into lovely dirt I can use in my gardens, and I'm also keeping a lot of trash out of the trash.

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