Thursday, April 29, 2010

I know I said I'd discuss chickens

but I think it would be a better thing to talk about compost today. I will try to get to chickens tomorrow. I also hope to have a guest blogger in the next couple of days. Exciting!

So on to composting.

Garbage dumps smell. So do landfills. This is probably the case because these places are full of the rotting waste and detritus of thousands of people. If you’re looking for motivation to compost, you might try taking a walk around one of these blights on the landscape. Then it might also help to know that when most families start composting, the volume of garbage that they produce is reduced by about 30%.

So if you’re just hoping to reduce your impact on the environment, composting is a great way to go. But if you’re also looking for a cost-effective, relatively easy, and ultimately educational way to get great fertilizer and dirt, composting tops the list of things you can do.

Whether you live in a condo with no yard, a townhome with less than 100 square feet of lawn space, a house with a nice-sized back yard, or anything in between, you can compost. In other words, no matter what your living situation, you can compost. To learn about composting, you could Google ‘compost’ and quickly become overwhelmed by the myriad resources available. In doing this, you could also learn about thermophilic microorganisms, and mycorrhizae. But why would you complicate things when composting is actually an incredibly simple process?

See, the thing is that when plants grow, they take in carbon dioxide from the air and nutrients and water from the earth. Then when they die, they naturally decompose and return those elements and materials back to the earth. So the truth is that when we compost, we are simply taking part in a natural process that has been going on for millions of years. Thus, in order for us to be able to compost and take advantage of the multitudinous benefits of doing so, we just need to imitate nature.

There are plenty of methods and approaches to composting, but they can basically be summed up into two categories: closed container and piles.

Closed Container
Modern closed containers look essentially like barrels propped on their sides on a stand. These barrels have an opening through which organic materials, such as vegetable and garden leavings, are placed into the container. With that opening sealed closed, the barrel is rotated on its axis, combining old materials with the newer materials. These containers also have air vents.

Closed containers work well because they obey the three principles of good composting: stirring, air and shade. When you rotate the barrel, you stir the materials, thus eliminating noxious fumes that might build up under layers of inert plant material. Air is necessary because it helps the plant material break down. Shade keeps things from drying out, which is necessary because moisture also enables the process of decomposition.

Barrel composters come in a variety of sizes. The urban composter who specializes in indoor or container gardening can actually get a composter that they can put on their kitchen counter. Usually coming in an attractive shade of green, these small composters, if used correctly, will keep even the most sensitive of noses happy.

You can also find container composters that vary in size from four feet to six feet tall. Some of these composters are designed to create a wonderful organic tea that is full of nutrients. This type of composter works in much the same way as other container composters, but they have a way for the fluids that are produced through the process of decomposition to seep out and get caught in a tray. Some of these composters can hold up to four gallons of nutrient-filled liquid.

Make a pile
If you’ve got some space in your yard, making a compost pile can be the easiest and most straightforward way to get your compost going. To make a compost pile, you need to find a relatively shady area in your yard. If you can find a shady spot that also gets hit by your regular lawn watering, you will be in business.

With your compost spot chosen, all you need to do now is collect your grass and leaves, as well as your organic kitchen waste and then deposit all of this on your spot. You can even add egg shells and bread leavings to this pile. Then keep it moist. Wait two weeks before doing anything, making sure you are consistent with adding organic materials to the pile.

After two weeks, use a pitchfork to turn the pile over. Your objective here is two-fold: get air into the pile and move the top layers to the middle of the pile. You should, after these first two weeks, have some nicely decomposing organic material that is black and moist-looking. If you have kept your compost pile wet, you should also see quite a few healthy worms in your pile as you turn it over. Worms are your friends; they help break down the organic material into delicious dirt for your garden.

Your compost pile doesn’t need to cover much ground, and this can be helped if you put a containing frame around it. This can be done using 1”x6” boards as retaining walls. Of course, if you really want to make a fancy compost, and you have plenty of space, you can use the increasingly popular three-tiered system. 

Here's a helpful image: 

This system utilizes three different sections, numbered 1, 2 and 3. Number 1 is the farthest to the right, where you place your fresh organic waste. If you keep it all wet, in two to three weeks you can turn the material in number 1 over into number 2. Then a few weeks later you can move the fully decomposed material into number 3 by sifting it through a wire mesh. The compost waits in number 3 for you to put it to use. 

Notice in the first picture that there is a shelf-looking thing across the top of #3, but in the next image it is across #2. It is hinged. When you sift material through it into #3, big chunks are often left behind. Simply swing the mesh shelf over to #2 to dump the chunks back. 

You might be intrigued by the three-tiered system, and this is fine. But all you really need to remember if you want to start composting is that anyone can do it. Whether you use a low-cost container composter in your home, a large barrel in your backyard or a compost pile, you will be able to reap the myriad benefits of making your own compost.

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