Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lessons in Composting

A misty, damp day today, overcast and wet feeling, but we have still had NO RAIN since the beginning of October, other than a scant quarter inch November 1. It's been over 5 weeks now and the ground is powder dry.

The faucets are turned off so it is impossible to get trees and shrubs well watered going in to winter. We need a soaker so badly right now, before the ground freezes hard.

Meanwhile, I've been thinking about some lessons I have learned in composting. It's taken a couple years, but here's what I have discovered:

1. The pile must be turned. Frequently. Often. 

When we began throwing garden debris and grass clippings behind the spruce berm, I did not intend to have a "system". I had read that if you just put green and brown material in a pile, it will eventually break down, although much slower than if you turn and mix the material.

So that's what we did -- just dumped the stuff there and waited for nature to take its time. Big branches, loads of grass clippings, whole discarded container plants, etc.

But it does not break down at all. The problem is the heavy, wet grass clippings which weigh everything down and form impenetrable mats of unaerobic slime.

It just didn't decompose even a bit. I had thought leaving large branches and brush in there would be enough to aerate the grass and leaves, but it doesn't.

I have learned that I need to be out there with the pitchfork all the time. It is not enough to get at the pile a couple times during the season. It needs to be aerated every week, religiously. In hot weather. In cold weather before it freezes. Frequently.

It is hard exercise (which I can certainly use) but as I keep at it each week now, I am discovering it gets easier. I need to set a reminder note like I do for filling the hummer feeder -- I need to be reminded to get out to the pile and pitchfork it every week!

Just do it.

2. The compost tumbler needs to be nearby.  Right at the back door.

We keep a green plastic tumbler for kitchen scraps, but had put it out in back of the spruce berm, out of sight and where it wouldn't be smelled.

But of course I couldn't get to it across the snowy yard in winter, it was too far to go on a hot day, and not seeing it nearby just put it out of mind. Kitchen scraps went in the garbage.

I tried a staging system, putting scraps in a little stainless steel container under the sink and then emptying that every once in a while but somehow that was two stages too many.

Finally, this year I moved the ugly tumbler next to the deck, and surprisingly, it doesn't look too awful there. Or smell. You don't actually see it from any of the seating areas on the deck or patio. It's on the east side, away from the main entrances to the patio and deck where we usually come and go.

Now I make a few quick steps outside, toss the scraps in, and I'm back in the kitchen in a second. Easy. I add the small brown materials from my potting bench (dried stalks and flower heads from containers, etc.) as I am working around the patio.

It's not a "trip out back to the compost bin" anymore, it's just another few steps in the process of cooking or cleaning up or puttering at the bench.