Every time I toss out a scrap of apple peel in the trash bin I have serious pangs of guilt. Grandma always said, “Waste not, want not!” Coming of age during the Depression was her teacher and I take her life lesson to heart. I’ve used all our compost in the bins prepping the beds for Spring and need to start anew. For some unexplained reason (possibly attributed to my potty training or whatnot…) there is a part of me that becomes paralyzed into inaction with the idea of doing ‘it’ wrong. Makes no matter what ‘it’ is either! Thankfully there is the other side of my personality that shouts “Just do it!”, and off we go! Time to get on with it…
Composting was one of the first projects we undertook on our road to sustainability. If you haven’t started, get busy! It is simple with a huge return on your investment. What is the investment? Time mostly. Here are the What?, When?, Where? and How? of composting.
What is composting? It is a mixture of decayed plants and other organic matter. In other words, instead of tossing apple peels in the trash bin, you toss them into a compost pile and let them become a rich and sexy soil enhancer!
When do I compost? Always. It is a perpetual kind of thing. Decomposition occurs naturally in nature. The trick for us is to help the process be more efficient. There are two types of composting; ‘cold’ and ‘hot’. Decomposing matter creates its own energy (ie: heat). When we harness the power of the microorganisms, temps in the center of a compost pile can reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit. To understand ‘cold’ composting, think of a forest. The dead wood and fallen leaves will decompose over time, but the temperature never gets that high. This is why it takes so long. For our purposes, we are after a ‘hot’ bed of decomposing goodness.
Where do I compost? There is a fact you need to understand about decomposition – it can get nasty. Balance is key. The correct mix of green and brown materials will keep the compost pile in harmony and ward off the nasty. In the event balance isn’t met, it is a good idea to place the compost pile in an inconspicuous area. Although, you do want it handy to access every day. There are two ways to do this; containers or open bins.
Our first go at composting was an open bin. There is a risk of critters and a lot of pitch forking going on in this system. It wasn’t long before I opted for a container. The first little beauty was the Envirocycle. It is a small tumbler composter. I like the ease of use in this little guy, but I soon realized we needed more composting space. We added a larger tumbler, which I love, but for the life of me cannot find the name of it! Plus, Jerry made one from a 55 gallon barrel (more on that later). Now, I use the smaller tumbler for the finished product. The compost can continue to mature, but is ready for use. Works for us. You’ll have to research ways to control the pile and see what works for you.
How do I start? The microorganisms are the workhorses of your compost and are similar to you and I. Really? Well, kind of… These good little guys need food, water and air – just like us. They do not need a perfect climate to exist, but will be more prevalent and work more efficiently if the environment is right (like some of us).
The air and water are pretty easy to handle – it’s the food that trips us up. Like us, the microorganisms thrive on a balanced diet. Their diet consists of ‘Greens’ and ‘Browns’. Greens are high in nitrogen and are the protein source for the little guys. Browns are high in carbon and provide their energy.
Here are some examples
GREENS (Nitrogen) : moist plant matter, coffee grounds, food waste, vegetable scraps, manures, seaweed, juicing pulp
BROWNS (Carbon) : leaves, pine needles, lint from dryer, shredded cardboard/newspaper, straw, sawdust, wood chips
Remember the bit about balance? Extremely important here. If you have too many Greens you will notice an odor that is far from pleasing. This means you need to up the Browns to find your balance again.
Here on the homestead, we know we are composting to create great garden soil, but we are also doing it to cut down on the amount of trash departing the curb each week. Look at everything you are about to toss out – is it either a plant or animal material? When you look at it – ask yourself if it is ‘Green’ or ‘Brown’.
To summarize: Air + Water + Carbon + Nitrogen = Compost
§ Use equal amounts of “Greens” and “Browns.”
§ Mix together a variety of ingredients.
§ Shred or chop all ingredients, if possible.
§ Build the pile large enough to retain heat.
§ Turn or aerate the heap regularly to let in the air.
§ Keep the pile as moist as a damp sponge.
There is a ton of info on the web concerning composting and thousands of books published on the subject – just try not to get overwhelmed into inaction. It isn’t that difficult and if the nasty comes to call on your compost pile – it is easily overcome (trust me!). Just do it!
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