posts tagged with 'compost'

home-made dirt

I don't count myself as being any good at making compost. When I read gardening books that talk about how to do it properly, I'm totally intimidated. Combine equal parts high-nitrogen and high-carbon material? Chop to one-inch chunks? Keep wet, but not too wet ("like a wrung-out sponge," we're told)? Turn weekly? I don't do any of those things. But I do pile up all the weeds and leaves and garden waste, with a little extra helping of food scraps, and let it sit for four to six months... and it turns out that's good enough, at least for our purposes! Twice a year we dig into the pile and pull out the dirt at the bottom of it; dirt that looks like a clumpy, straw-filled mess until we put it through a sieve made out of hardware cloth and sift out all the uncomposted bits. Then all of a sudden we've got the softest, blackest soil you could ever want! It's so gratifying to me, because that's how I want everything to work: don't worry about the details, just wait and it'll all come out fine!

Anyways, we've just prepped a couple beds in the garden so far: it's cool enough that I don't think the summer plants will grow at all if we plant them out now, even if there's no more frosts to threaten them (I count mid-May for our last frost date, so we're getting close!). But they're getting big in their cell packs, so yesterday I transplanted some of the tomatoes into individual three inch pots. I buy seed starting medium, but for potting soil it's just our compost mixed with some perlite from the store, and it looks just like the real thing. Since the one of the purposes of this whole operation is to save money, I appreciate not having to pay big bucks for dirt when we can just make it at home! Of course, watching the potting soil production Harvey was asking about the perlite: where does it come from, he wanted to know, and is there any chance we could make it or mine it or whatever ourselves? Ah yes, the self-sufficiency dream! We may be some ways off, but at least we've got home-made dirt.

the season's waste

What delightful jack-o-lanterns are to Halloween night—and really, folks in our neighborhood have some impressive skills and creativity in that regard—smashed left-over pumpkins are to November 5th. Some folks get them into their trash; others just toss em to the side of the road. Either way, I'm appalled at the waste! And I'm not the only one: even real writers now have something to say on the subject.

I wouldn't want to eat a jack-o-lantern pumpkin. Pumpkin cultivation is now so focused on the decorative market that even sugar pumpkins are often disappointing, never mind the big field pumpkins. But when I see one tossed carelessly aside, I wish I could grab it and bring it home to feed to the chickens. And if we had a pig I'd do it! As it is our hens were delighted with the guts of the jack-o-lantern we carved on Saturday, and we'll see how they like the waxy, slightly toasted pumpkin itself in a day or two.

What do you do with your used-up pumpkins? If you want to keep them out of the trash—where, as they decompose, they release gases that contributes to global warming—we know someone with a big compost bin who's always looking for more organic matter to turn into dirt!


on being a crazy person

We're back in the compost business, and this afternoon I went on an errand to pick up a couple full buckets that we had left to sit at a friend's house for far too long. Since I was just going around the corner—maybe a half mile away—I couldn't bring myself to take the car. The blue bike could handle the load fine. It was only as I rode home that I realized how I might appear to the more conventional citizens passing me in their cars on their way home from work: this guy in worn-out carhartts and broken shoes, piloting a ridiculous bicycle loaded down with two open five-gallon buckets of rather fragrant food waste.

In all fairness, I am actually pretty crazy; though I like to think my particular insanity is actually a rational response to the environmental threats our planet is under. So from that point of view I may be saner then the folks down the street who spent the afternoon using an excavator to smash down a perfectly good house (filling two dumpsters full of what, moments before, had been perfectly good building materials) in order to make room for a bigger house (made of newly-cut wood, naturally). For many reasons it might be possible to argue that they're the crazy ones. But they have the numbers on their side, so I get the label. Fair enough.

It could have been worse, actually. On the trip to the pick-up, I was going down a hill when the wind started to lift my cap off my head. I reached a hand up to keep it from flying away just as the front wheel hit a bump, and down I went. It was a pretty hard crash, and I have a bloodied elbow and some serious bruises to show for it. But when the bike went over the only things flying out of it were the empty bucket and an assortment of trash that the kids had left behind. Imagine if I'd been coming home when it happened: ten gallons of slop landing on my back as I hit the ground would have made me feel a lot, lot worse. So all told, I count the outing as a complete success!


the intercity waste trade

We're still importing compost (and happy to have more if you'd like to improve your environmental credentials) but the latest shipment is not entirely what we're looking for. A couple years ago when the Stevenses moved into a new place I jumped at the chance to offer then a big plastic tumbling composter (mentioned here) that was taking up space in our yard. Good stewards of the earth as they are they were happy to take it, but ultimately decided, as we had before them, that the think doesn't actually work. So much the better for us, since we got the thing off our property and then ended up getting their food scraps for our compost pile instead, but yesterday I finally paid the price for the deal. They've moved to a new place and, as the last step to leaving the rental, they had to remove the composter. It's mine again.

Of course, getting it back didn't come easy. It's full of a year's worth of foul, anaerobically digested food waste and grass clippings, and weighs a considerable amount. It took all the strength and cleverness Luke and I could summon—alright, all I could offer was strength—to get it from his old backyard to my car. And then when we put it in—on its side, per my less-than-clever directions—it immediately began streaming reeking brown manure water all over my trunk.

Now let me pause to say that I don't mind the smell of actual manure a bit. I know about farming—my uncle was a dairy farmer, and we spent many a happy summer day playing beside the manure pit—and to me manure smells like future vegetative fecundity. Our own compost piles here aren't any kind of a problem either (though I do try and take steps to minimize any aromas, for the sake of the neighbors).

This particular compost, though, is truly horrid. There's a chemical edge to the smell that is still lingering on my hands even now, after several hours and several dozen hand-washings. Whether it's from the less-than-ideal conditions inside the machine or some decomposition of the plastic itself I can't say, but it doesn't seem entirely healthy. Add to that the slight but non-zero possibility of herbicide contamination—thanks to the next-door-neighbor's lawnmower clippings—and I feel a little bit like I've got my own personal superfund site at the end of the driveway.

No, not really, it's nothing like that bad. While I don't think I'm going to just tip the sludge onto the compost pile we're currently building, I'm not actually worried about having it in the yard. We'll just find an out-of-the-way spot to dump it where we can cover it with a few inches of dirt; contact with good soil and bugs will sort out whatever's ailing the mess and turn it all into good fertile soil for next year's use. That is, assuming I can even move the composter to an appropriate dumping location. If not I suppose I can always open it up and shovel the contents out in manageable portions; I'll just need to find a gas mask first.


another man's treasure

We've gotten into the trash-pickup business—and I don't mean just the usual opportunistic curb finds we've been so happy about in the past. No, we've branched out into actual prearranged waste removal, though it isn't ordinary trash in this case: it's compost. See, unlike the lucky folks in forward-thinking West Coast cities, we don't have municipal composting around here, which leaves green-intentioned city-dwellers with a quandary. (Sure, they could theoretically go the worm bin route, but not everybody is comfortable with harboring insects... which I totally sympathize with!)

Us, though—we have the opposite problem. I aim for some pretty concentrated agriculture in our little garden, so I'd really like to be able to fill up the big four foot by four foot compost bins I built a couple years ago. While we produce a considerable amount of food scraps (it turns out, for instance, that children occasionally waste vegetables) it's nothing like enough to make a sufficiency of compost to enrich the beds we have, let alone the new ones I want to create. Then there's always the hope of making enough finished compost to be able to use some in planters and for seed starting... you get the idea. The chickens are doing their part, especially since we realized that they add about an inch of dirt to their run over the course of a few months, and that we can—nay, must!—remove it if the coop is to continue to function. That's five cubic feet of high quality composted manure! But we still need more.

So I bought some five gallon buckets with lids and started passing them out to friends. The Stevenses were our first takers; we picked up the first full load last Friday and left them with an empty bucket. Oh, how happy I was dumping that rich mix of squash rinds, coffee grounds, and spent brewing grains onto the frozen pile (I also was a little envious of how pleasant life must be chez Stevens!). I think the VB Family will be joining the program soon as well. Do you live within 10 miles of us and wish you could be diverting some of your food waste from landfills, but don't have the time or space to deal with composting yourself? We may be able to help!


never thought I'd buy food with compost in mind...

... but the chickens are overwhelming our little compost pile with bucket loads of wet bedding. Less so since Dan had a brilliant idea of how to secure their waterer against burrowing and tipping (place it on a wooden block the height of their bedding so they can't dig under the thing and tip it over. What a smart guy Dan is.) but still, lots of dirty pine shavings have been heading to the compost pile as of late. So this morning I bought melon with the thought of composting the skin, plus beets with the knowledge that the stems of the greens and the skin would head in there. Plus a big tupperware of lentil salad that I left in the car by mistake after lunch at the pond, and we should now be back in balance with our compost pile out back. My, such things we need to think about these days.

one man's trash

I hate throwing anything away. Now, by that I don't mean that I have all kinds of junk that I can't bear to part with—true as that may be!—but that I can't toss anything into the trash can without picturing it sitting in a landfill for the next couple hundred years. Just now it was a baking powder container, lacquered cardboard and metal and dusted with baking powder. Could it have been recycled? Who knows. Orange juice cartons, ditto.

A couple days ago I read an internet discussion about whether tossing your apple core out the car window is littering. The consensus was that of course it was, because having a decaying apple core sitting on the ground for the length of time it would take to disappear—months, perhaps, or even years—would either uglify the property or upset the ecological balance of the area. There's something to that argument. And yet, when apple cores are disposed of "properly", swathed in plastic trash bags and entombed in landfills, they won't decompose for decades.

I don't know, I'm sure. Obviously, we can't all throw our apple cores in the same non-designated spot. But since that's not happening, I think I come down on the side of natural rather than official disposal; as long as it's unobtrusive, anyways. Happily, we can dispose of all the apple cores we want here on our own property without them entering the waste stream. That means we manage to only put out one or two 13-gallon bags of trash a week, which is perhaps acceptable if not superlative or noteworthy. And we could do better with a proper composting setup. Tissues, for example, don't need to go to the landfill. Maybe we can work on that as cold season approaches! I, um, think I need to talk to Leah about it before I take any drastic steps, though.


non compost mentis

We have a compost problem here in the squibix household. Namely, while we are committed to composting we are less committed to walking out to the compost machine in the cold cold winter air. It would be bad enough if we remembered to take it out during the day, but I never seem to be cleaning the kitchen until after dark, when I am even less inclined to want to fight through the raspberry thorns that grow around our patent composter. Then there's the problem of getting the lid of the thing—typically, it's frozen shut. And if you manage to prise it off, you're faced with the increasing mass of vegetable matter that is failing to degrade due to the low temperatures. So at the moment our cute little kitchen compost pail is full, as is a bowl I put next to it to take overflow... and we still keep producing compost! It does smell a little. All this is my fault, but for next winter Leah is in charge of installing an indoor composting system, so we won't have to worry about this vexing compost conundrum any longer.