Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to Compost


Anne allows Jasper to check out the new composter from
Envirocycle Systems of Canada. It's easy to load and easy
to rotate. Liquids drain into the base.. and it's one of the
least expensive rotating composters we found...
inexpensive enough to put a second one next to it.


We're making an effort and trying our best!

by Charlie Leck

H
ow seriously are you taking the new era under President Obama? Remember, he's asked each of us to find the little things we can do to make the nation and the planet better. It's great if you're doing some of the big things, but don't forget the little things, too. Become a great recycler! Donate to your local food shelf. Volunteer to help out at the food shelf or other community projects.

Among our other efforts, we've begun to compost. We didn't get the hang of it right away, but now I think we're figuring it out. I'll tell you this, the effort has reduced our trash -- the stuff we put out for weekly collection -- by at least one-half.

The rich, dark compost we'll create will go in our garden. Even if you don't garden, go through the process and give the results to your neighbors who do garden. It really doesn't take up much time and it does not have to be costly to get started. We've moved up to rotating barrels, but you don't need much at all to do a good job. Lot's of communities provide composting contraptions and others provide them for small fees. And, as you'll learn below, you can easily make your own.

I've attached an article from wikiHow, to help you out if you don't know where to begin. In addition, if you want to watch WikiHow's video, here it is.


video

If you are not a composter, this may be one blog you'll want to print out and keep it handy when you get started with your composting.





How to Compost


from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Good composting isn't only about building a good bin and correctly mixing the compost. It's also about what you add to the compost. This article will provide a simple outline of what you can and can't compost. Follow the reduce, reuse and recycle way of life to reduce the amount of things you have to end up throwing away.

Steps

  1. Choose or construct a bin for your compost. While you can compost successfully in a pile on the ground, a bin will keep the process a bit neater and help to discourage animals if you are composting food scraps. Depending on the construction of the bin, it can also help to regulate moisture and temperature. A good minimum size for a pile is at least 1 cubic yard or 1 cubic meter, though a pile can go larger than this, and smaller-scale composting can be made to work.

  2. Fill your bin with a balanced mixture for best results:
    • Green stuff (high in nitrogen) to activate the heat process in your compost. Perfect heat-generating materials include: young weeds (before they develop seeds); comfrey leaves; yarrow; chicken, rabbit or pigeon manure; grass cuttings; etc. Other green items that compost well include fruit and vegetables; fruit and vegetable scraps; coffee grounds and tea leaves (including tea bags - remove the staple if you wish); vegetable plant remains; plants.

    • Brown stuff (high in carbon) to serve as the "fiber" for your compost. Brown stuff includes fall (autumn) leaves; dead plants and weeds; sawdust; cardboard & cardboard tubes (from foil wraps etc); old flowers (including dried floral displays, minus plastic/foam attachments); old straw and hay; and small animal bedding.

    • Other items that can be composted but you may not have thought of before: paper towels; paper bags; cotton clothing (torn up); egg shells; hair (human, dog, cat etc.) Use all these items in moderation.

    • Air. It is possible to compost without air (anaerobically), but the process employs different bacteria and an anaerobic compost pile will take on a sour smell like vinegar. If you believe your compost pile needs more air, turn it, and consider adding more dry or brown stuff to open up the structure.

    • Water. Your pile should be about as damp as a sponge that has been wrung out. Depending on your climate, you can add water directly or rely on the moisture that comes in with "green" items. A lid on the compost bin will help to keep moisture in. If a pile gets too much water in it, it might not get enough air.

    • Soil or starter compost. This is not strictly necessary, but a light sprinkling of garden soil between layers can help to introduce the correct bacteria to start the compost cycle a little more quickly. If you are pulling weeds, the soil left on the roots may be sufficient to serve this purpose.

  3. Layer or mix the different materials in your bin so that they come into contact with one another and so that you avoid any large clumps. Especially avoid compacting large quantities of green materials together, since they can rapidly become anaerobic.

    • If possible, start with a layer of lightweight brown material, such as leaves, to help keep enough air near the bottom.
    • Try for a mixture of anywhere from 3 parts brown to 1 part green to half and half, depending on what materials you have on hand.
    • Sprinkle each layer lightly with water as you build the heap, if it requires additional moisture.

  4. Turn your pile regularly, once every week or two. Clear a patch next to the pile. Then use a pitchfork and move the entire pile to the clear spot. When it is time to turn the pile again, move it back to the original spot, or back into the bin. Mixing the pile in this way helps to keep air flowing inside the pile, which kills the anaerobic bacteria. Anaerobic bacteria smell very stinky and they decompose very slowly compared to aerobic bacteria. Turning the pile helps to encourage the growth of the right kind of bacteria and makes for a nice, sweet-smelling pile which will decompose faster.
  • Try to move matter from inside to outside and from top to bottom. Break up anything that is clumpy or matted. Add water if it seems to need it. If you are still adding to the pile, take the opportunity while you turn it to introduce the new matter and mix it well with the older matter.

  1. If you live in a colder climate that has a shorter composting season, be careful of adding slow rotting items such as tough branches, twigs and hedge clippings; wood ash; wood shavings and wood pruning. They can be composted, but you may want to compost them separately due to their longer break-down time.

  2. Try to avoid composting bread, pasta, nuts, cooked food, and newspaper. They don't break down very easily, become quite slimy, and can hold up the heating, rotting-down process. (Old nuts left in the garden will disappear quickly if you have squirrels or monkeys around!)

  3. Never compost the following items for reasons of health, hygiene and inability to break down: meat and meat scraps; bones; fish and fish bones; plastic or synthetic fibers; oil or fat; pet or human feces (except for manure of herbivorous creatures such as rabbits and horses); weeds that have gone to seed; diseased plants; disposable diapers (nappies); glossy magazines; coal and coke ash; and cat litter. These items should be removed in the normal garbage collection.

  4. Harvest your compost. If all goes well, you will eventually find that you have a layer of good compost at the bottom of your bin. Remove this and spread it on or dig it into your garden beds.

  • You may wish to sift it through a coarse mesh screen or use your hands or pitchfork to remove any larger chunks that haven't yet broken down.
  • Very fresh compost can grow plants, but it can also rob the soil of nitrogen as it continues to break down. If you think you are not all the way done, either leave the compost in the bin for a while longer or spread it in your garden and let it sit there for a few weeks before planting anything in it.

Tips

  • Composting works almost magically if you begin with a cubic yard of proper materials and turn it weekly. Less than that on either point and results quickly diminish.
  • Locate your compost bin somewhere that is easy to access, so that you and family members will be encouraged to use it.
  • Share a composting facility if you live in an apartment complex.
  • Have a mini compost bin indoors that you keep near your meal preparation area. It should be something that is easy to fill up, transport daily to the compost bin, and keep clean. You could consider a small plastic container (there are fun tiny garbage cans with lids) or use something as simple as a glazed terracotta plant saucer - it looks nice, is easy to clean and transports easily.
  • To aid the decomposing, add some red worms, which can be bought online.
  • Cut around the top of a plastic milk jug leaving it attached at the handle. Keep it under the kitchen sink to collect your compost.
  • For faster break-down, shred leaves, clippings; and crush egg shells.
  • Layering is very effective if possible - one layer brown stuff, one layer green stuff, one layer composting worms (as long as the temperature of your compost does not exceed 25ÂșC).
  • Contact your local municipality if you can't compost for whatever reason, to see if they will collect garden waste for composting. Many municipalities will collect Christmas trees and chip them for compost in January.
  • In dry weather, fill your bucket with water each time you dump in the compost pile. This will help add needed moisture.
  • If you mow your yard, collect your grass trimmings! It's free, and it's a great way to get more compost, unless you have a mulching mower. A mulching mower will add the grass back to your yard as mulch (not thatch), which will provide your lawn with 40% of its fertilizatin needs. Also, never compost grass that's been mowed within a few days of adding chemical peticides or fertilizers.
  • Bury food scraps under a layer of general yard waste if you wish to include them. It will help to discourage animals and flies. So will having a contained, covered bin.
  • While it's not strictly necessary, a compost pile that's working at its fastest will heat up. If you have created a good mix, you may notice that it's very warm inside, even steaming on a cold morning. This is a good sign.

Warnings

  • Don't add the things to the compost that are marked above as "never compost" - they will absolutely ruin the compost for one reason or another and some are downright unhealthy.
  • While it is slowly becoming possible to compost dog feces, this must only be attempted under very special conditions in municipally sanctioned compost bins; usually these are located in local parks. Do not use this compost in or near vegetable and fruit gardens. Check with your local municipality for more information. Encourage your municipality to supply these bins in parks and on dog-walking routes.
  • If you are going to compost weeds, dry them out before adding them to the pile. If you don't, they might start to grow.

Things You'll Need

  • A location for your compost pile
  • Vegetable scraps, yard waste, and other compost materials
  • A pitchfork or other tool to turn the compos

Sources and Citations

Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Compost. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

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