Food and Garden Dailies started as a way to record my family's favorite recipes. It has come in handy many times when I'm asked for a recipe. I simply email a link to the blog! But I couldn't just stick to recipes. The kitchen is tied to the garden in so many ways...and so I let you into my ever changing garden as well.

If you're interested in my all-time favorite recipes, check out this post first: My Favorite Recipes

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How to Compost the Easy Way

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A couple years ago, we started composting our yard waste.  Why we waited so long is a mystery.  OK, not really.  I didn't have the room.  When we moved our fence back 3', that left a weird space (4' x 12') behind the shed in a corner of the yard.  We could've moved the shed back up against the new fence, but that would've taken a ton of work.  Instead I claimed the space as my new composting area!

Back behind the shed, I can fit three composting bins, and a workbench (old desk from the Habitat Restore).  I also can stash buckets, bins, and my annual supply of sunflower stems.  I had a small stash of paving stones leftover from our patio, and made a nice little path back to and through the compost area.  These are slightly raised so I have a non-muddy stepping spot during the fall-winter-spring rains.  
For years I was intimidated by composting.  I'd read that you needed to have a specific ratio of materials with carbon and nitrogen.  You had to turn it.  You needed nitrogen boosters.  You should get a fancy (and expensive) tumbler.  Or you needed to be handy and build a three step wooden structure.  Or you had to dig underground and bury it.  And then it had to be far away from the house (smells), yet close enough that you actually used it.  Oh, and then sometimes rodents would be attracted and build a nest there.  No wonder I put off composting for so long.

But once we moved the fence over, I decided to just go for it.  I started off by reading Let It Rot:  The Gardener's Guide to Composting.  With thorough lists of what to compost and what not to compost, nitrogen and carbon levels, and an overview of several composting methods, I felt confident enough to start. 

I thought I would choose a barrel that tumbled. But when I looked at the cost (usually well over $100 each), the amount they held, and the space they took up, they were less appealing. Plus, at one of the local gardening centers I learned that they're not as effective in the Pacific Northwest.  For at least 2/3 of the year our garden waste is wet.  The tumblers, they said, just tossed a big wet lump from side to side, not really mixing it up well.  Another reason to save my money.

On its way!
I looked around at garden centers, big box stores, and also at our local compost provider, Greenlands.  What appealed to me most was the Earth Machine.  I found it at one farm store for about $90, and half the price ($45) at Greenlands.  Supposedly, they sell them at cost to encourage composting.  I started with one and quickly got a second.  15 months later  I purchased my third.  And, truth be told, I could easily use a fourth!

At first I followed the composting rules precisely...making sure I had 2/3 brown (carbon) material to 1/3 green (nitrogen) material.   I also was good about removing the Earth Machine container to another spot, and regularly using a pitchfork to mix it up before putting it back in the container.  I kept it wet, but not too wet.  I checked the internal temperature to make sure it was cooking.  Yeah, I was the model composter.
Compost after 6 mos.

Then life got in the way, and I became more of a composting slacker.  Would I ever get "black gold" this way?  I wondered.

Then my friend, Margy, the gardening guru, set my mind at ease.  Margy's a seasoned composter who really doesn't follow all the rules.  She puts it all in a heap, and simply lets nature take care of the rest.  Margy's advice was that "eventually it will all decompose".  Whenever I worry about the right mixture, whether it's wet enough (or too wet), whether I've stirred it enough...I let Margy's words come into my head.  It might take longer, but it really will rot on its own.

Some tips I've learned after two years of semi lazy composting:

  1. While I'm not nitpicky about the perfect carbon/nitrogen ratios, I do know th
    Leaf bag
    at I don't have a lot of carbon materials available in the winter/spring.  To help balance the compost during these months, I have a dry leaf stash in my shed.  During the fall I collect leaves and store them in holey trash bags.  I use the same bags year after year.  I make sure the leaves are completely dry before putting collecting them, and then make sure the bags have plenty of air holes.  This way, I always have plenty of great carbon around.
  2. I also keep a stash of cardboard boxes by my compost bins.  I've removed labels, tape, and staples.  Rather than recycle, I rip them up a bit and add them to the compost as well.
  3. I don't add anything with grease, meat, or bread.  That cuts down on attracting a rodent population.  I'm not fond of rodents and in two years have never had a problem. 
  4. Sunflower stalks are excellent aerators.  As my flowers fade, I colle
    Sunflower stalks used to aerate the center of the compost pile
    ct every single stalk in a couple 5-10 gallon plastic plant containers (which have drainage holes).  As I'm building my compost pile, I push the stalks down through the compost.  The stalks dry easily and hollow out, allowing air to flow within the pile.  I can never have enough sunflower stalks!
  5. I stopped worrying about having perfect, non-lumpy compost.  Who cares if it has a few twiggy elements in it?  I could sift those out or wait a bit longer for them to decompose...but I choose not to.  I just use it when it's good enough.
  6. Kitchen compost container
  7. While I'm not that picky, I've found that extra woody-twiggy plants take too long to decompose.  Examples of this would be many herbs (such as rosemary and oregano).  I also don't compost rose branches because the thorns don't break down.  The woody/thorny plants go into our yard waste container. 
  8. I choose to use a stainless steel kitchen container instead of a ceramic one.  When I'm bringing my compost from the kitchen to the outdoors, I'm not always gentle with it.  I want something light and I don't have to worry about chipping or cracking.  I wash out my container every single time.  I used to use the carbon filters, but find that if I'm emptying it regularly (every few days), I don't need the filters.
If you've been putting off composting because you don't know how, remember Margy's words:  "Eventually it will all decompose."  So, what's stopping you now??

1 comment:

Alana Meads said...

You could find compost kitchen container available in the market that will help you compost all the food scraps from your kitchen in a more stylish way.