Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I Soiled Myself

And you can too!

I started the process last September, when I bought a Garden Gourmet composter (because, yeah, I'm too lazy and inept to build one). And now I have all the nutrient-rich soil I want for use in my container gardens, around bushes and plants, or just to fill in the holes that Ethan and Oreo are constantly digging in the backyard.

Getting up and running with composting was a daunting task for me. Mostly because I'd never done it before and I was afraid of the unknown. Would it stink? Would it be difficult to maintain? Would the neighbors or HOA have a problem with it?

Well all my worrying was for naught.

It took me all of 10 minutes to set the thing up (it just pops together - no special tools required). I haven't had a single problem with critters getting into it (other than the soldier fly larvae) and there is no nasty odor coming emanating from it.

It sits in the oh-so-neat-and-tidy trash bin alcove between the air conditioning condenser and the "real" trash can on the side of the house. No one would ever even notice it, since HOA rules require us to have all that crap hidden behind a lattice structure anyhow. In fact, the first four months we had it, my husband thought it was a trash can. Very unobtrusive.

It's also easy to use. I keep a tupperware container under the sink into which I dump all my kitchen scraps. When it's full, I dump it the contents into the composter and then cover it all up with a layer of dried leaves (kept from last year or scavenged from nearby woods). Occasionally, I turn it. But not often. Amazingly enough, it is doing it's organic thing all on its own - turning into nutrient-rich, dark soil. Ain't life grand?

The really amazing thing though? This one simple change has accounted for a HUGE decrease in the amount of waste we send to the landfill! Instead of paying someone to haul our food waste away and then paying to buy dirt for my plants, I'm doing all the work here at home. The only cost was the initial investment of the composter!

There are many different options to choose from. Here's the low-down on the top four:

Basic Bin Composters: Usually sit directly on the ground. Easy to install and use, but difficult to turn and harvest. Might want to get two so that you can fill one for a season, then fill another while you "harvest" the first.

Tumbling Composters: Free-standing unit that looks like a barrel suspended on legs. You put in scraps and use brute force to literally tumble the compost (like a rock tumbler). Easy to use on a day-to-day basis, but can get difficult to tumble when they get full and heavy. And, you don't need to have a yard to set it on, a deck, patio or roof would work just fine.Again, might want to consider having two so you can fill one while harvesting from another.

Electric Composters: Plug-in unit, about the size and look of a small trashcan. They work by using electricity to heat and aerate the compost (although once it's up and running it generates most of its own heat). Easy to use, takes up very little space and you can harvest the compost in as little as two weeks, while continuing to fill it. Theoretically you can install it right in your kitchen. Realistically, they're best suited for the garage or deck. The downside? Price. They start at $299.
Worm Bin Composters: Also called vermicomposter, but that's a mouthful. These are small bins that hold layers of wet newspaper and red worms. The worms eat the food scraps and give back their own special pooptastic dirt which is like black gold for plants. Fun for kids, a great learning tool and quick to break down scraps. However, they require constant monitoring of temperature, moisture and other factors to keep from killing the worms.

Of course, the links I've given are all for commercial items you can buy, but with a little handiwork and some online blueprints, you can build any of these (except maybe the electric one!) at home. But don't fear the composter! It's a lot easier and not nearly as skeevy as you think!

So the task, if you haven't guessed already, is to start composting! To quote a huge, multi-national shoe conglomerate: "Just Do It!".

Already composting? Offer to let your neighbor compost their waste with yours, or offer some of your homemade magic soil to someone who gardens or has outdoor plants. (tip: don't use compost on indoor plants -- you may be sorry when little critters start to hatch!)

Questions about composting? Log onto the Going Green Yahoo Group and ask away. I'm sure you'll find many folks who have the knowledge you need to get started or keep going!


ib mommy said...

What time do you get up, woman? How can you think so early in the morning?

Monday my youngest took her gerbils to her Vet Science class. She was explaining that we put our toilet paper rolls in the gerbil cage for them to chew on then we toss everything in the compost bin. Compost?? What's compost?? She was shocked that no one knew what compost was. Everyone in her class has now been enlightened!

Bobbi said...

Cool! I've always wanted one of those tumble composters, but just can't afford it. I live in a rural subdivision, so I have a small pit dug in a corner of my veggie garden and this is where I dump my kitchen waste. It takes about one year for my compost to look like yours, but it does the trick.

For the past few years, I've been using "compost tea" as a fertilizer for my plants. I have one of those laundry mesh bags (for delicates) and I fill it with compost. Then I put the bag into a covered garbage can filled with water. After about 5 days, the heat from the sun fills the water with the good things from the compost. I remove the bag and dump the contents back in the compost pit, then use the water to feed the garden. Pretty simple and inexpensive.

Heather @ SGF said...

We have a compost pile but it needs some serious work. Thanks for all these ideas!

Burbanmom said...

IB Mommy, HA! There's no WAY I'd be able to think clearly enough to write a whole post at 6 AM! I write them the night before and then just proofread and post them in the morning!

organicneedle said...

I'm a worm wrangler myself. They are great poopers and listeners. And only slightly judgmental. What more could you ask for?

KatieB said...

I am using the pile compost method. I live in a rural area, with no nearby neighbors to complain about the ugliness. I have a wire frame that is about four feet high. I just dump all my compost material into it. I lift the frame off, turn the pile occasionally, and replace the frame. It will take my compost longer than if it was in an enclosed bin, but I am patient.

leslie said...

I did a com-post about 'Dirt' on my blog.

Here is a copy/paste link...

I was a 'pile' composter when I lived in Texas.
Like katieb, I didn't have to worry about neighbors or HOA's, and I devised a relatively convenient compost system.

I dug an area of ground for a garden, about 6 ft. wide 20 feet long, and just piled everything onto it...leaves, grass, weeds, kitchen vegetable garbage, garden waste. I just kept piling and piling, and piling. No turning, just an occasional watering if the summer was dry.
The pile shrunk down on its own over time as it decomposed, compost forming on the bottom of the pile.
In the spring, I dug a same sized piece of ground next to the first pile, and hay forked the small amount of un-decomposed stuff from the top of that pile onto the new bare ground.

What was left in the first spot was great compost, and my vegetable patch ready to plant.

Repeat process until all 6 patches are dug...takes a few years, but then so does compost if you do piles. may have soiled yourself, but I have piles...

heather t said...

Is that an actual photo of your actual compost? It's... so... beautiful...

Mine is a "dump bin" made from scavenged pallets (trust me, this looks better than last year's bin). Even after a year, there are chunks of leaves. This year we had about a bazillion volunteer tomato plants from seeds in the compost - not that that's a bad thing.

Beany said...

No smell? I must be doing something wrong...

It doesn't smell every day, but on the third of fourth day after putting in new food, it smells a bit off. A few months back I thought our sewer pipes had broken...but it was just the worms.

Burbanmom said...

OK, time to 'fess up. That ain't my dirt in the picture. My isn't nearly as dark and has large corn cobs floating in it. But still... it's dirt.

Beany - nope, no smell. BUT, if I don't cover it with leaves (brown matter) everytime I add scraps, then it does get a little funky. I've heard you can add some baking soda to the pile to keep down the funk-factor, though I've never tried it myself.

Burbanmom said...

Orgie, I prefer my worms floating in a bottle o' margarita mix, myself.

gregra&gar said...

Erin, I am sorry that you made composting sound either more trouble or more expensive than it need be. I have made some illustrations on commission from Square Foot Garden demonstrating the theory of composting and photographs of my working compost setup, all are invited to visit.

By the way, if you build your pile in contact with the ground, you can't keep it from being a vermicomposter, they seek it from all over underground like humming birds to sugar water.

Joan said...

My very first post on my new blog was about recently purchased compost bin with a picture. Yesterday the brakes went out on my son's bike & he flattened it. It's been mended as best as possible.

Robj98168 said...

Worm bin composters -they require constant monitoring of temperature, moisture and other factors to keep from killing the worms.
I have never noticed it to be a mojor problem in my worm bin. I mean I put food in there, if the bedding is dry I moisten it up, but I have neveer worried about temperature and such. I keep mine on a north wall outside- the worms seem happy (as happy as you can tell with worms)Between the worm bin, my regular composter and the Yard/Food waste bin- pretty much foodwaste free here!

Kim from Milwaukee said...

I started composting in a plastic garbage can with holes drilled in it. After a year it's looking quite black and ready. I think next year I'll plant sweet potatoes right in the can and see what happens.

daharja said...

I miss my compost bin !

(now that sounds weird. But any gardener will know what I mean...)