Thursday, February 11, 2010

Composting and Gardening, part 1

I just posted about starting a new compost bin.  I was asked a few questions about how it's done so here's a post all about composting my way.   This will be a series of a few posts for fear that I might write an epic tale!

There are two very important aspects of composting: greens and browns, and drainage.  If you don't have these two ( I guess 3) things, your compost isn't going to work out so well. 

Greens are things like veggie scraps.  Browns are paper, leaves, grass, etc.  You want to have a good mix of both in order for your compost to be the most beneficial.

Here is how you start a small bin:
You want a very, very big plastic bin.  I use the biggest rubbermaid storage bin with lid that I can find.  Drill plenty of holes in the bottom and around the sides.  You can do some in the lid too if you want.  You'll want your compost to have optimum drainage so I rest my bins on top of bricks or cinderblocks.  I haven't quite found a way to retrieve the "tea" which also makes great fertilizer, but one day I'll find a way.

There are two ways to start filling.  You can either aquire some compost (then just add to it) or you can do the layering method.  If you are going compelely DIY, start by laying down some newspaper or empty the contents of your paper shredder.  Then lay down some greens.  Continue layering greens-brown-green-brown.  I try to do two layers of each.  Replace the lid and Voila! you are composting! 

It's best to stir every time you add to it.  Once every couple of days at the least.  It's a good idea to dig a small hole and bury your additions just in case there are some pesky raccoons around.  It will take about a year of adding and stirring.  In the warm months, the bin will probably feel hot inside.  This is the compost cooking.  If at anytime it starts to stink, you've got a problem.  Usually it's drainage.  The cooking pretty much stops during the winter, but you can still add to it.  I didn't know this until recently so it's a new addition to our repetoire.

There are a few things you will want to avoid:
Gourds including the decorative ones you in the fall- the seeds don't seem to die off, thus growing in our veggie garden and choking most of the plants (true story.)

Weeds- It's hard to know if the seeds will die and that's the last thing you want growing in your garden.  For this reason, I don't put grass clippings in my bin.

Meat/anything from a meat eating animal- Bad bacterias will grow.  Droppings from vegetarian animals like cows, horses, guinea pigs, rabbits, etc are fine and even encouraged.

Ash- It will affect the ph balance. 

Synthetic materials- no plastics, lint from the dryer is fine but only if it's natural. 

Human waste- refer to Meat/anything from a meat eating animal.

Oil or Grease- it doesn't break down well

A few things that people don't think about that are great additions: egg shells, leaves, wood shavings, urine (seriously... it's great for it!) tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, nut shells, cardboard (tear it up first) and hair. 

We shred all of our important documents then compost them just for some added security.  I don't know about composting cooked fruits and veggies because I try to finish them off.  That is something you might want to look up. 

If you are looking for a more uninvolved compost collection, you can do what The Grandfather did when I was a kid.  Just pile up grass clippings and leaves.  Dig a hole in the pile to add your food scraps then cover it back up.  Over the course of 5-10 years you will have some amazing compost. 

The pile I grew up with served not only as our fishing bait (worm) collection area, but as an animal burial ground.  While it's supposedly against the "rules of composting" The Grandfather informed me that dead chickens, an occasional deceased cat, and one dead calf all composted down just fine in about a year.  I wouldn't suggest it, but if the need arises you could always give it a shot.

Tomorrow I'll tell you all about my "double bin" process and how to harvest your compost for usage!


Toni said...

My brother-in-law is an avid compost'er. I regularly shred my documents, and I would like to give it to him to use in his compost pile. How do I know if its safe to give him. What about the inks and glossly paper are they fine to use in the compost pile? I don't want my shredding to go in vain, if I can't use it in the compost, I'll use them in crafts.

The Mother said...

From what I understand, inks are fine because people regularly compost newspapers. I would avoid glossy papers and stick with plain ol' copy paper and newsprint. It's hard to know what the glossy coating will do over time.

Eliza said...

I've always wanted to compost. Hmmm, I will have to share this with the hubs. Thanks!