A Composting Lifestyle

I had meant to get this post up last spring but forgot.  It goes into more detail about my composting methods than the previous one.  Better late than never, so here it is now. 

I used to regard composting as a cumbersome task, but eventually I got the hang of it, and now it’s become a natural part of my weekly routine.  After you’ve been composting for a while and you’ve established an efficient system, it really isn’t that inconvenient.  Even if I lived in an apartment and didn’t need ammendments for my own garden, I would still save my kitchen scraps and give my compost to someone who did have a garden because it’s the right thing to do.   

When you think that kitchen scraps and yard debris account for around 25% of the trash we add to our American landfills, you can understand the necessity for composting. These substances, when in the landfill, produce ozone damaging methane which is about 20 times more potent that carbon dioxide.  If you support sustainability, then composting is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to do your bit to decrease greenhouse gases and care for our planet.  It’s a way of giving back to the earth what we’ve take from her.  

 This last summer I’ve organized a different area in my back yard for composting, but I still continue to incorporate the following basic steps: 

I keep a little bucket on my kitchen counter where I throw my kitchen scraps: all veggies, fruits, eggshells, and coffee grounds with filters.  Nothing fancy.  Light and easy to clean.  No lid.  If you have a problem with fruit flies or ants, keep it in the fridge. If you want something that doesn’t clash with your décor there are plenty of pretty kitchen scrap buckets on the market.

When my kitchen counter bucket is full I empty it into the large bucket outside my kitchen door.  It can take anywhere from a week or two to fill the entire bucket unless I get scraps from my relatives, and then it goes faster. When it’s raining and cold outside, I don’t want to have to go out into my yard each time my kitchen counter bucket fills up, so a bucket outside my back door is perfect. In warm weather the scraps will start decomposing fast and they can get pretty slimy and stinky, but I think that helps the compost pile start decomposing faster. As long as you add layers of dirt, leaves, grass, coffee grounds or other garden debris to the pile, and it gets air and water, the slimy contents from your bucket will quickly freshen up. 

When my outside bucket is full I take it to an area of my yard where I have a current compost pile started.  I’ll dump the bucket of scraps on top, chop them up a bit with a shovel, and then layer with some dirt, leaves, grass or garden debris.  If I have coffee grounds available in a bucket, I’ll add that to the pile as well.  After that I’ll spray on some water if I think it needs it.  Each time I have a bucket full of kitchen scraps I’ll repeat the process and eventually the pile will get big enough that it starts to heat up.  I’ve read that it needs to be a good 3 feet wide and a couple feet deep before it really heats up, and I’ve found this to be true.  Small piles never quite heat up, but they still decompose fine within 6 - 8 months or so, and they still attract worms.  A friend of mine recommended covering the pile with black plastic to help it heat up, but I’m not sure if this really helps or not.  One thing it does help with, however, is that it keeps out the chickens if they’re allowed to roam.  Otherwise, they’ll get into the pile immediately to look for worms and start messing it up and eating rancid items that could make them sick. 

Some directions say to start the compost pile on twigs to help with drainage, have the sides higher than the middle so moisture will reach the middle when watered, and to mix the pile every week or so to add air. 

I got lazy last winter and let my big pile out back sit for over 3 months without stirring it, and it still decomposed well, and the worms were proof that something good was going on in there.  Yes, it was a bit too wet and slightly smelly, but the worms were what I was going for the most, and I got what I wanted.  

One thing I would absolutely recommend with regards to leaves is that they should ideally be shredded up first with the lawn mower before adding them to the pile. Large leaves seem to be the items that take the longest to decompose.

What I like about this method with the smaller piles is that it’s cheap (no building bins, buying containers, or fencing them in), it’s simple & convenient, and I can have several piles going at once in different areas of my yard that are at different stages of decomposition.

In my next composting post I’ll show some photos of my current situation where I’m really trying to following the rules.  I am looking forward to seeing the results of a compost pile done according to the book!!!

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