Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fall Compost Cookin'

The contents of our small composting bin on September 29, 2012.
These past two weekends, between coaching seasons, have been highly productive ones at home. In addition to raking the yards and getting the leaves to the curb just in time for municipal pick-up, I've also been able to begin winterizing a number of different garden projects. One of the more extensive projects my family and I have worked on over the past six(!) years is continuing to compost our kitchen waste and garden clippings, using two different composting "pits." There is a larger homemade one at the back of our yard behind the shed, and a smaller one we started last summer (pictured to the left).

Our small garden composting
bin prior to fall clean-up (11/06/12).
Composting, converting household organic waste into a soil amendment, contributes nutrients to in garden soil while also improving its structure. Because "more than half of the municipal solid waste collected in 2009 was compostable," according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data, composting also reduces the amount of landfill waste. In our family's case, especially when our kids were younger, it also provides an opportunity to teach a little science and sustainability.

Over the years, composting has become much less a task we have added to our "things to do in the garden" list and much more something we habitually do, much like trimming bushes or cutting the grass.

Though less a function of winterizing and more a role of ongoing maintenance, one of the jobs I tasked myself with last weekend was turning over the contents of the compost bin and evaluating the balance of "ingredients" to ensure that the contents of the bin will be usable in the spring. Turning the contents over is something I do regularly, as is adding "browns," and the fall is a perfect time to also add some of the many leaves which find their way into our yard.

September was the last time, prior to last weekend, that I had done any "work" with the bin. As you can see from the image at the top of the post, there was quite a bit of recent kitchen waste on the surface of the contents, including a number (supposedly) decomposable bags used in our counter top composter. Because there was "too much green and too little brown," I opted to mix in some compost bricks to amend the contents slightly in an effort to maintain a level of balance among ingredients.

Preparing Coconut Coir with rain barrel water.
My wife ordered a number of supplies to assist in maintaining our composting , including the aforementioned and bags and Coconut Coir bricks. These prepared contents of these compressed bricks replace peat moss and help to "cook" the contents of the composter.To prepare the brick for addition into the bin, I generally use rainwater (from our rainwater barrel) . Each brick can hold up to 10 times its volume in water.

Almost ready for addition to "the mix."
After mixing the contents of the small bucket well, the next step is easy: simply dump it in the composter and mix it up...

September 29, 2012, before.
About a month-and-a-half later, I returned to the composting bin to inspect its contents. As you can see from the image below, a number of houseplants and bags of household kitchen waste had found their way to the bin. Additionally, some the vegetables from our garden that had fallen from the plant and been sampled by neighborhood critters were also added periodically.

November 9, 2012.
After raking the leaves from the garden (which is sectioned off by a small white wire fence so that our dog can't get in and go to the potty), I added some leaves and more tomatoes that never made it to harvest.

November 9, 2012.
Once an appropriate amount of leaves have been added, I then turn over the contents of the bin with a pitch fork to aerate and better combine the cooking "ingredients." I generally also pull out any sticks or compostable bags that don't appear to be decomposing. I'm not sure this is necessary, they just tend to stick into the pitchfork and make a relatively easy task unnecessarily frustrating.

November 9, 2012.
Before winter really settles in, I'll likely repeat the steps once or twice, especially as long as there remain leaves on the trees to rake up. Much like cutting the grass or raking the leaves, there is something very rewarding about composting, a feeling which will be further experienced in the spring when we have some fresh useable compost to add to our small garden. Though its something of a "slow cooker" I have come to greatly enjoy the process of cooking compost.

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