March 15, 2010

Composting: Basics

Thank you all for your participating in our poll on composting. Looks like many of you want to start composting! I know I am ready to start again. Like I mentioned before, I started to TRY to compost. My hubby wasn't all in it, and would dump the compost in a pile in our pasture area. Chickens and the dogs (yes, our dogs actually DO like veggies) got into the pile spreading it around, therefore leaving me with no pile at all. Hence, no compost.

So, as you have seen lately, I am trying to live more of a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. And I am taking one step at a time! One step at a time helps me make things habit.

Right now, in preparation, I am taking the step of composting.

First, composting is the purposeful act of degradation (breakdown of materials by the environment) of organic matter. So, in composting, you are trying to breakdown materials such as yard waste, some food waste, and (some) animal waste. when these items breakdown, you are left with a usable and actually very HELPFUL material called "compost".

Compost can be used as a healthy alternative to commercial fertilizer, and other synthetic materials. I'm all over that!

So here are some basic steps to start composting (as listed on WikiHow, with some additional info by me):
  • First, you need to select a bin. These can be fashioned from nearly anything, bricks, pallets, concrete blocks, barrels, bins, etc. I am choosing this large container. Basically you need 3-4 "walls" to keep your compost from being spread around.
  • Second, you need to make sure your compost pile is composed of a balanced mixture of the following:
- Green Stuff: (high in Nitrogen) this activates the heat process. Green stuff is young weeds (before seeds develop), manure, grass cuttings, fruits and veggies, fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves, tea bags, veggie plant remains, and plants.
- Brown Stuff: (high in carbon) this is "fiber" for the compost. Brown stuff is autumn weeds, dead plants and weeds, sawdust, cardboard & cardboard tubes, old flowers, old hay & straw, small animal bedding (not domesticated pet).
- Other stuff: (use these things in moderation) Paper towels, paper bags, cotton clothing (torn-up), egg shells, Hair (human & animal).
- Air: This keeps your compost from becoming slimy and stinky. Turning it (with a pitch fork or stick) can help if your compost pile is getting smelly.
- Water: Your compost pile should be as damp as a wrung out sponge. Add water if necessary.
- Soil or Starter Compost: A light sprinkling of the right material can help the cycle along a little more quickly.
  • Third, you want to layer the materials- This will help you to avoid clumps that will not break down correctly. Starting with brown material on the bottom is good. And try keeping your pile 3 parts brown to 1 part green, to half brown and half green.
  • Fourth, turn the pile regularly- This should be once every week or 2. Turning the pile helps encourage the right type of bacterial to grow. Your compost pile should be sweet-smelling, not stinky! (if stinky, you could have too much green material or too much water!)
  • Fifth, add slow rotting materials only if you remember they are SLOW ROTTING- Slow rotting materials are twigs, branches, hedge clippings & wood ash. CAN be added but WILL take longer to break down, especially in shorting growing seasons.
  • Sixth, AVOID composting bread, nuts, pasta & other cooked food. These items don't break down as quickly AND can cause your compost to become slimy!
  • Next, NEVER compost the following: meat, meat scraps, fish, fish bones, plastic or synthetic fibers, oil or fat, pet or human feces, weeds that have gone to seed, diseased plants, disposable diapers, glossy paper and magazines, coal ash and cat liter- for health, hygiene and inability to break down.
  • Lastly, Harvest! Eventually you will find that you have a good layer of compost at the bottom of your bin (at this time or before, you should start another compost pile!).
Another suggestion I have come across is to bury your food scraps, like under lawn clipping or leaves, to keep flies or other animals from feasting on it!

A STEAMING compost is a good thing! So if you look out on a cool morning a see steam rising from your compost pile, you KNOW that it's doing what God created it to do! Break down!

In order to GET INTO composting and to make it a habit, you need to first find a bin! Place the bin in a location that is easy for you and your family to use. Also have a "turning device", something that you will be turning your compost with. You will also want to keep a mini-bin in you home. Some people buy fancy ones that keep the smell down and such, but you can also use something as simple as a plastic milk jug, cut to store your scraps (you will see what I mean in a second!).

What I have, as of this weekend (!), in my home, a milk jug...

... that I cut, to store the waste for a few hours, until I take it outside to empty it.

Outside, I also have a bucket that I can dump my scraps in. It's quick and easy. When the bucket starts to get full, I take it to the larger bin, near my garden. Here ia a pic of what I HOPE to use for my compost bin. It stored a food-grade cleaner at a chicken processing plant close to where we live. I will be (or my strong hubby will be...) cutting off the top.

Now that we have the basics of composting, who's going to start composting??? I will definitely keep you up to date on our composting venture! I can't wait to use good compost on my garden!!!


Megan said...

Great job!! Looks like you have it all figured out! Thanks for the info. Sometime I may start one too!

carrie said...

if by chance you notice odor and don't like it buy some barn lime at rural king. it will not hurt your plants( actually it is good for them) and it will cut any odor. just sprinkle it on the top and as you turn it it will mix in and you can always add a little more if you notice odor!!!

Amy @ Homestead Revival said...

Great post - I'm sorry I missed the poll. I was MIA from my computer most of the weekend.

Amy @ Homestead Revival said...

I forgot to mention... yes, I'm composting this year. It's good on so many levels!

The Proverbs Wife said...

I compost as well. Jut mixed some in with some soil to begin our first crops. I love composting and it gives my children something to manage since I don't want any pets. Makes them feel responsible and such a great learning experience.

Midnite Skys said...

I am using my old trash container because the city now give us huge trash containers on wheels.