Sunday, October 4, 2009

Let's Talk Compost-Black Gold for the garden...

Let's talk composing. I started a compost pile nearly two years ago and I wonder why I didn't start it years earlier. I think it is because we have a VERY small backyard and I thought it would smell and attract raccoons and possums and possibly mice or rats.

Composting does not smell or attract critters and it takes up very little room.

I often have great ideas when I dream and then, because of my drafting experience, I am able to put my ideas onto paper fairly easily when I wake up. This is kind of bad for my husband Bob because my dreams usually mean projects for him. It is funny, but I feel like I am magic sometimes--because me dreams become reality.

So, I dreamed this basic compost bin for our small yard. It is 4 ft by 4 ft and has three sides. The fourth side is open and faces the back of our property, so I can easily walk around to turn the compost or shovel it out, but from the front it looks OK. The design allows for air circulation. We did not sink the posts, there is really no reason to. Because of the weight of the treated boards and the 4x4 treated posts, the mere weight of the bin keeps in firmly in place. However, if we wanted to move it, we could easily relocate it.

To make compost it is best to start with leaves, grass clippings, hay and/or straw and then add household waste. I don't put in any meat scraps. You could, but it might smell or attract animals. The general rule of thumb is only vegetable matter, no pet waste unless the pet is a vegetarian like a rabbit or goat.

We compost paper packing material, cardboard egg cartons, egg shells, vegetable peelings, cores and such, left over rice and noodles, coffee grounds and tea leaves [including filter]old bread or crackers, etc. You can even compost drywall, but I have not done that. I try to stick with yard waste and kitchen vegetable waste. There are a lot of websites that tell what you can compost, but found this one particularly helpful.

A little tip for composting cardboard things like egg cartons, is to rip them up and then toss in a large bucket and add some water [if practical]. Soaking cardboard for even 5 minutes helps it to decompose faster. Then I just pour the soaked cardboard and water on top of the pile. I also crunch up the egg shells before I toss them in. I don't put in banana peels because they seem to take forever to decompose, but pumpkin shells and watermelon rinds seem to decompose pretty fast, especially if you break or cut them up a bit first.

Another plus for composting is that garbage cans don't smell even in the summer because there is no kitchen waste them.

I have a nice turning fork to turn my compost, but you could use a shovel. It is important to turn your compost pile often. I usually turn it a couple of times a week and always after I add something like rice or noodles--I don't want to attract critters--so I always cover anything I think might look like a buffet!

I only have one bin, so when the compost turns into a nice rich dirt I need to put it to one side of the bin so I don't keep putting new kitchen waste on top [You really don't want to have huge chunks of egg shells and watermelon rinds in the compost when you put it in a flower box or spread around your landscaping]. I put finished compost on one side then put new material on the other side. Ideally, two-three compost bins or a bigger one with two-three compartments would be better.

If you have more than one bin, when you think it is close to being done, then start another with new scraps and bits--keep turning the first pile till there are no big chunks and it is a nice dark, rich material, then scatter around flower or vegetable gardens, put in flower boxes and so on. I put a couple of inches of compost in this flower bin--no other fertilizer--see how great they look?

You can see my compost is full of worms--which is what you want. I don't turn my compost as often in the winter because it freezes, but I do keep adding material.

I love my compost pile. I tell my little nephew it is a "worm farm." Lots of fun for kids and adults, and it lessens our impact on our land fill and gives me rich dirt for free. Amazing stuff! Like turning your garbage into gold.

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