Saturday, July 31, 2010

Up To My Ears In Compost!

We love to compost around here. You might even call us composting fools. We can't get enough of the "black gold." Sometimes I feel like we should be the poster family for compost. We currently have four areas devoted to composting in our backyard. What a difference from our non-composting-selves only a year and a half ago! When we started composting in Arlington (read more about that here), I don't think we had any idea how composting would just become second nature to us - to all of us. Our three year old's main job other than helping to clean the bedroom is to take out the compost. Due to our vigilant composting and recycling, the picture below shows the amount of trash our family of 5 generated over a one week period. In contrast, our single next door neighbor more often than not has TWO full trash bins out every week.

One week's worth of trash for our family of five!

We even know gardeners that don't compost! Composting is just such a natural extension of gardening, and helps to bring us to that hallowed closed-loop system you hear so much about these days. You grow the food, to feed your body, and put the food waste products into the compost bin, to make the soil that will feed the food you grow. Perfection! We really started composting as an experiment ("May as well give it a shot!"), but it's quickly become big business around here. I think some people don't compost because when you read some of the manuals (yes, they make manuals!) it can seem very scientific or confusing. Certain percentages of green/brown, etc., etc. We don't follow any special formula. We just throw almost everything into the bin. Garden waste, spoiled fruits or vegetables (no meat or dairy - they attract vermin), straw, hay, leaves, grasses, weeds, sawdust, plain cardboard or shredded paper, chicken poop, and egg shells. We even add a few things some newbies may not have heard of before like dryer lint, ashes from the chimenea, hair (from brushes or haircuts), and even the junk collected out of the vacuum cleaner. Additionally, some grocery chains are starting to print their weekly specials with soy ink on recycled paper - making them completely compostable. I sometimes get their extras at the end of the sale and shred them, place them in the coop as part of the chicken litter, and every few months clean out the coop and add the mess into the compost pile, too.

I figured I'd take you all on a tour of our backyard composting, hopefully spurring some of you who haven't yet tried, or for some reason stopped many years ago and are thinking about beginning again, a nudge. It is truly so easy and is a wonderful (free!) way to make beautiful amendments for your garden beds, container plants, or ornamental landscape beds. You can even put finished compost out on your lawn to help green it up and make it lush. Seeing as we have no front lawn (and the chickens have taken over the small back yard), our compost goes straight to helping produce more food.

Composting for us starts in the kitchen. We've tried out many compost "collectors," but finally settled on an old, large plastic juice jug. It holds about a gallon, and our family routinely fills it up about every two days. It's not pretty, but it gets the job done. We keep it in the fridge so it doesn't start to stink or attract fruit flys.

Kitchen refuse bin

We used to take our kitchen waste and place it straight in an outdoor compost bin. However, now that we have acquired chickens, we're trying out something new. Now this waste goes straight to an area beside the coop. We just throw it right on the ground. The chickens love to scratch through these treats. They eat the vast majority of it. What they don't eat or poop out gets left to decompose. And it does this very quickly. About every other day I go to this area and spend 30 seconds with a rake making it into a pile again. The chickens return to scratch, spreading it out while looking for bugs. My 2 foot wide by 1 foot tall pile gets obliterated in a matter of minutes to just a few inches tall and about 5 feet wide. The chickens have a blast while also reducing our costs for their feed.

Compost by the chicken coop. That bag near the middle is a supposed compostable Sun Chips bag, but it's taking forever - we've had it just over 4 months - probably because the pile doesn't get very hot. In a hotter pile it would decompose much faster, I'm sure.

This small pile sits right next to a much larger pile (3.5' tall x 8' wide) of shredded cedar and hardwood mulch we got for free from a local tree cutting company (note the edge of this pile in the top right of the above photo). I add a bit of this to the "chicken pile" every few days as well. This also decomposes, though slower, and adds some bulk to the kitchen waste.

Free mulch pile slowly decomposing, too.

Note the closeup of the amazing soil being generated between the compost, mulch, and chicken poop.

The last two areas sit on the opposite side of the yard from the coop. This is where we compost larger yard waste (small tree limbs, leaves, dead garden plants, straw, etc - in the wood bin) and other kitchen waste, chicken poop, and the more uncommon vacuum waste, hair, and ashes (in the black plastic bin).

Inside view of wood bin

Inside view of plastic bin. That gross mass in the middle is from the vacuum (ewww!), and yes, to the left of the vacuum mass that does appear to be a beautiful red necklace with a charm attached. I think an older (or younger?) brother has been getting into his sister's jewelry. I need to investigate this!

So that's it, ladies and gentlemen. There is minimal rhyme or reason to our composting madness, yet it indeed turns into compost every single time. It may not happen as quickly as the manuals declare, but it does happen. Don't be afraid. Seriously do it. You'll greatly reduce what you send to the landfill, and you'll potentially save hundreds (thousands?) of dollars over your composting life by not having to go to a big box store to buy it. You won't regret it! -Carrie

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