bin

It’s Not Too Late

Just because January 1st has come and gone, that’s no reason you can’t make a New Year’s resolution to start that compost pile you’ve always wanted. There’s nothing to it, other than a trip outside. Really. No turning, twisting, flipping over raking–unless you want to. And it doesn’t stink, despite what you’ve heard. This is where Mother Nature is your friend. You’re very best friend.

backyard compost pile

All that’s required is desire and effort you’re already making. Raking leaves? Dump them onto the compost pile out back. Tossing out leftover food? Toss it onto the compost pile. Want to recycle those paper towels, napkins, and newspapers? Place them on the compost pile instead of the recycle bin. All of these items work perfectly and produce excellent, non-toxic organic results.

compost cross-section

And the dirt you’ll reap from your efforts is superior to anything else for your garden soil. And it’s free! Of course, if you don’t have a backyard, you can always buy one of those handy-dandy contraptions to hold your compost.

black gold compost

They do work and with excellent results. For your kitchen, you can make a cute compost bin to hold your kitchen leftovers until you’re ready to make the trek outside, complete with carbon filter hidden in the lid to absorb the smell. Unlike your outdoor compost pile, your indoor compost bin WILL stink. Bad.

kitchen scraps get covered

My kids painted this one at one of those clay-glaze places, although we’ve since changed over to a simple stainless steel version. Less breakable (hint, hint). So what are you waiting for? Start resolving and get composting!

Your garden will thank you.

Compost 101

What is compost?  It’s the mixture of decomposed remnants of organic matter (those with plants and animal origins) used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients. 

How do you create compost?   

Air + Water + Carbon + Nitrogen = Compost

Like most living things, the bacteria that decompose organic matter, and the other creatures that make up the compost ecosystem, need air.  These microbes also need the right amount of water; think “wrung out” sponge.  If too wet or too dry, optimum conditions for bacteria activity will not be met and decomposition will be slowed or halted.  This is the reason some folks “turn” their pile.  It improves air flow!

Me?  I’d rather put Mother Nature to work.  I’ve learned my compost pile works fine without a single turn from me.  (LA-zy!)  Basically, I pile plants, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and the like and let nature takes its course.  The materials break down and become black gold in our garden.  Composted soil provides nutrition for vigorous plant growth, improves soil structure by creating aeration, increases the ability of soil to retain water, moderates soil pH, and encourages microorganisms whose activities contribute to the overall health of plants.  LOVE it!

What not to compost?  Diseased plants, weeds gone to seed, coal ashes, dog/cat manure, lawn clippings that may contain herbicides. 

Once you’ve established a location for your compost pile, it’s important to know how much carbon versus how much nitrogen to include.  Too much nitrogen and your pile will smell, because excess nitrogen converts to ammonia gas.  Too much carbon and the pile breaks down too slow, because microbes need nitrogen to increase their population.  The ideal is a 30:1 C/N ratio. 

 Carbon is used for energy by the microbes and comes in the form of leaves, straw, hay, sawdust, etc.  These are the “browns” of composting.  Microbes also need nitrogen for the proteins that makeup their tiny bodies.  Matter high in nitrogen are the “greens” of composting (though not always the color green) and consist of “fresh” plants, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and the byproduct of animals such as manure and worm castings.

There are two types of composting:  hot and cold.  Hot composting is accomplished more quickly and best done within a bin.  Made up all at one time, it’s allowed to compost without further addition of material, although it does require frequent turning and proper moisture control.  Bacteria give off heat as they digest the material.  The enclosed pile will insulate the heat raising the internal temperature to 120 – 190 degrees.  This attracts more bacteria whose breakdown continues more rapidly. Hot compost is good because it kills pathogens and many weed seeds.

A cold pile (70 – 90 degrees) takes longer though it manages a steady stream of material additions; perfect for the family backyard pile (as in mine).  Simply begin your pile with the organic material of your choice, i.e. leaves, kitchen scraps, etc. and continually add to the top of the pile.  Within 6 – 24 months (depending on climate conditions) the material will break down—though turning the pile will speed up this process.  The bottom of the pile composts first (higher heat due to insulation).

When your compost is ready, you’ll know it.  Your material will be unrecognizable from its original form and look like gorgeous black dirt.  Like I said, around these parts we call it “black gold” for the garden!

Composting on Vacation

I think I’ve come up with a new invention.  I call it the Travel Composter.  Not sure if it will take off or not–maybe needs a catchier title–but I think it’s a great idea nonetheless.  It occurred to me over the past summer (past, as in, my kids went back to school today — yay!). Yes, well it occurred to me that everyone should have a Travel Composter.  Easy, odorless, compact and storable (or packable) this item is a must for eco-minded people.  Think of the guilt it would relieve!

And I am so all about relieving guilt.  No room in my life for the emotion, at all.  But this past summer, I felt it–to the core.  Gut-wrenching, heart-aching guilt.  Can you imagine? There I was, clearing the dinner dishes while on vacation and–as is my habit–automatically went for the kitchen composter to deposit my food scraps.  Ouch.  A kitchen composter that wasn’t there. 

Well of course it wasnt.  It was at home.  I was on vacation.  Staring at the plate of leftovers, my first instinct was to return them to nature.  My gaze drifted outdoors.  I’m in a rural setting.  No one will notice.  Maybe the wildlife will enjoy them. 

On second thought, maybe not.  If gone uneaten, they might cause an unsightly mess or worse–a stench.  Then of course there’s my husband.  If he saw me toss the scraps outdoors he would not be happy.  Nor would he let me keep them until we returned home.  Already tried that and it didn’t go over well. 

Trust me.  It’s never good when your husband spies you stashing away leftovers in a Ziploc bag.  “What do you think you’re doing with that?”

Wasn’t it obvious?  “Um…taking the leftovers home for the compost pile?”

“No, you’re not.”

What?  Why not?”

“I’ll not have my car smell like garbage number one and number two, you’re not saving the planet by taking them home.  They’re biodegradable.”

Hmph.  Doesn’t he appreciate the fact that I’m environmentally conscious?  That this will serve a higher and better purpose as organic fertilizer than it will as building supply for the local dump?

Not when it stinks up his car, he doesn’t.  Though he does have a point.  Is it worth ruining the interior of an automobile for items that will biodegrade anyway, no matter where you deposit them?  But what about the bottles, jars and cans we had to throw away?  The place where we stayed had no recycle bins, no options for guests to do the right thing. 

I have to admit, I was bothered.  It wasn’t right.  It’s too easy to accommodate individuals such as myself.  We only ask for a separate container.  A bin, a bag, heck–I’ll drive my trash to the corner if you’ll point me in the right direction!

But alas, there was no such offer.  Which is sad.  While I don’t like anyone being forced to comply with recycle standards and practices (I’m a Libertarian at heart), I would like to see them offer the same.  It would keep the skip in my step, the smile on my face, not to mention the guilt out of my heart.

On a brighter note, there are some companies out there doing the job I wish I could have done.  One of the largest in the Southeast happens to be GreenCo.  This company works the greater Atlanta area by taking food waste from not only restaurants and hotels, but grocery stores, colleges, hospitals–all sorts of places!–and hauls it to their area facilities.  Once there, they turn it into organic fertilizer which they sell to retailers who in turn, sell to the public.  Talk about full circle–the public who made the waste can then re-use the waste.  Ingenious!

Isn’t it nice to know someone out there cares?  Sure does relieve the guilt I feel about not doing so myself.  Perhaps I should restrict my future travel in Atlanta to these green-minded organizations.  At least I’ll feel like I’m giving back, literally.

How about you? Are you doing your part to recycle? Do you know of any companies who are?  If so, let us hear about them!

p.s.  Go ahead and feel free to take my idea for the Travel Composter, too.  Really, I don’t mind a bit.  Just get out there and make a difference (and earn a mint in the process! :))