As spring arrives, some of us become obsessed with Gardening Plans.
Successful gardening’s foundation is good soil – soil teeming with nutrients, microbial life, worms, moisture, minerals, decaying organic matter, you name it! Having a compost pile helps us maintain our nutrient-rich soil with a minimum of expense; we’re using our food scraps to create it, after all.
Here on our little homestead, we have three compost piles currently; one way in the back for things like lawn clippings (our mower sadly does not mulch, which is a huge bummer;) one next to the garden for garden waste; and one up by the house for kitchen and household waste.
We are very lazy composters – we just dump stuff into the pile, and pretty much leave it. It would turn from garbage into compost so much more quickly if we were to turn it, thereby aerating the mix, and distributing the moisture and nutrients more evenly. Still, even with no effort whatsoever, the food and paper scraps become compost after about a year. The lawn and garden piles take more time, due to the large items needing to be broken down, and a lack of a proper nitrogen to carbon ratio.
Speaking of compost and soil, Paul Wheaton of Permies.com posted a wonderful article on completely lazy, cheap, and organic lawn care today: You can find it here.
Even if you don’t garden, composting is still a wonderful way to keep your food scraps out of your landfill, and your family, friends, or neighbors would surely be happy to take some off your hands! You could even sell it for a little side income.
What makes a successful compost pile?
- Keep a relatively close ratio of 1 part “greens” to 3 parts “browns.” Greens are nitrogen-rich substances, such as lawn clippings, vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, feathers, hair and pet hair, egg shells, manure, coffee grounds, tea leaves, et cetera, while browns are carbon-rich elements like leaves, straw, cardboard, newspaper (with soy ink preferably,) sawdust and other wood products like twigs and branches.
- Keep the pile covered, if possible, to avoid excess moisture. We use a pyramid composter for our household waste, as it is black to soak up the heat of the sun, ventilated for adequate air flow, and has the perfect amount of holes in the top to allow rainwater in (some moisture is required for composting; if your pile is dry, run the hose over it for a short while, and mix the water in.)
- Turn the pile weekly, semi-weekly, monthly, or whenever you happen to think of it. Spinning bins make this super easy. As I said, we literally never turn ours, so it composts more slowly. Regular turning/spinning will make yours go faster. There are a number of tools which make turning easier, or you can simply use a pitchfork, shovel or spade.
- Make it easy to keep adding the compost – use a kitchen countertop mini-composter to quickly toss kitchen scraps into. This is a convenient, odor-free way to store your scraps before hauling them out to the bin or pile.
If you’re not composting, chances are you’re putting your scraps down the garbage disposal (if you have one.) Getting out of The Garbage Disposal Habit can be challenging at first; behaviors like this become so ingrained, we do it without even thinking. However, if you stop and think about what we’re doing when we run things down the disposal, it quickly stops making sense: We’re using potable water to throw compostable waste down the drain!
If we had to fetch our water from a well, every drop would count, right? I try to bear that in mind when using water to keep the waste down. Running water is an incredible thing we take for granted all the time. It’s quicker and easier to toss the kitchen scraps into a large bowl or countertop composter than it is to put it down the disposal, and it saves money, too.
Keeping as much out of the landfills as possible is equally important, perhaps more so. Some years back, I heard an interview with a scientist who had gone excavating in a landfill to see what was decomposing, and what wasn’t. The subject of the interview was ostensibly biodegradable plastics, but what I found fascinating was that he had found a banana peel at the ten-year level which was virtually untouched.
His point was this: “If yummy, completely natural substances like a banana peel aren’t being digested, what the heck is going to eat plastic?” Generally, food does break down faster than the peel this scientist found – just not in landfills. Here’s an interesting article about how long trash takes to break down.
Landfills are not healthy compost piles; do your part to keep as much out as possible! Between recycling and composting, we only generate approximately one 90-gallon bin of landfill-bound trash each month. I compare this with our neighbors, who have overflowing bins every week, and to be completely honest… I do feel a little sense of superiority. Still, overshadowing that bit of pride is the happy knowledge we’re doing our part.
Here’s a photo of the contents of our household compost bin:
You can see egg shells, tea bags, paper tea packets, cabbage, potatoes, boiled soup bones, fruit which tragically went bad before we ate it, dog hair, brown paper bags, some yard waste, and a lot more. I do occasionally put bones, whey, kefir, and other animal-product-based stuff into our pile, and I have yet to have trouble with pests or bad odors (knock on wood.)
Do you have a photo of your compost pile or bin? We’d love to see it! Please feel free to share in the comments, along with tips, tricks, or questions. No compost pile? How about a photo of your garden? No garden? Heck, post a photo of your pets. 😉