Friday, August 08, 2008 11:33 AM
Going Green - Composting at Home
Growing up in upstate New York, I was fortunate to live on 20 beautiful acres. Much of the property was wooded provided me with hours of tree climbing, exploring and make believe fun, Several acres were dedicated to grazing land for my beloved horses and the rest comprised lush expansive lawns, my mother's gorgeous formal flower beds and my father's enormous vegetable garden. My parents were, apparently, well ahead of their time as all gardening was done organically, without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Careful attention was paid to placing complimentary plants next to one another to deter bugs and other munching pests from invading the gardens. Flowering plants were mixed in with the veggies to attract essential pollinating bees and birds. With over 3 acres of lawn to mow and dozens of deciduous trees dropping leaves every Fall, we were never at a loss for organic waste. This, mixed with the old hay and stale manure collected from the stables and paddock and left to "cook" in the sun, created the compost that fed our vegetable and flower beds all summer. We had several large compost piles which were turned and rotated occassionally but basically left to do their thing until we came, once in the Fall and again in the early Spring, to harvest some of the dark, rich soil that we spread and rototilled into the gardens.
Somehow, I have managed to make it to 41 years without ever trying my own hand at composting. In my younger years, I was a serial apartment dweller with no garden in which to use a homemade fertilizer. Later, as a homeowner several times over, working and raising my children pushed any serious gardening effort to the back burner. Recently, in a move toward spending more time with my children after school, I have scaled my responsibilities to the company way back. We have moved into a new house on a large lot across the highway, giving me now both the time and the space to try my hand at gardening. I haven't seen too many home vegetable gardens here which I think can be attributed to the transiency of this area and the poor soil quality. The thought of having to jackhammer into the limestone that surrounds our house just to dig in a garden bed is none too appealing. Obviously, raised beds and containers are the way to go and purchasing good soil, what they call "tiera negra" or black earth, is going to be a necessary evil to get started. In order to replenish the soil with the nutrients required to propagate good, healthy vegetable plants, fruit trees and herbs, I have started a small compost project on the side of the house where I plan to put a small kitchen garden.
While I lean toward the obsessive/cumpulsive with many of my "projects", I am trying to make this composting effort as easy as possible. Restricted by where I live, I can't rush out and buy the latest and greatest, state of the art composting container. There will be no new-fangled tumbling, rotating plastic bins for me. Instead, I have a scratched a shallow trench in the ground, filled it with whatever dirt I could scavenge and will use a combination of some sturdy wooden crates that I begged off of the local produce markets and black plastic garden bags. While the list of items that may be composted is quite extensive, I am being somewhat selective in what I add to the "pile". In case you have never looked, there is a plethora of excellent information about home and apartment composting available on the world wide web and I had no trouble getting started.
What's my process?
I keep a pretty blue bowl on my counter top with a lid (not airtight) covering it.
When I clean up after dinner, I empty the bowl into the compost crate, taking care to be sure I am depositing both "brown" and "green" items into the pile.
While my parents surely paid no attention to such scientific details, maintaining a balance of "brown" and "green" (items that provide carbon and nitrogen respectively) insures that the micro-organisms that feed on the discarded scraps will thrive and work their magic most effectively. A well balanced compost pile will also smell less which is important in a suburban/urban environment where compost may need to be in close proximity to homes and recreation spaces.
What am I composting?
raw vegetable peelings and waste
raw fruit peelings and waste
coffee grinds and filters
used tea bags
paper towel/TP tubes
scrap printer paper
In an effort to keep away dogs and other carnivorously inclined pests and prevent unpleasant odors, I am choosing not to compost any meat items or anything that has been cooked in oils or butter. We have three dogs and a cat who are more than happy to help dispose of table scraps. As Rob and I are on a diet composed mainly of fruits, vegetables and grains, the pile seems to be growing quite quickly. I can also say that with the composting and recycling we do, the amount of actual trash we put out has decreased considerably. Even Edgar, our gardener, has gotten into the act and is now composting all of our yard waste in a large, black plastic bag with holes cut in it. It will be interesting to see what kind of results we achieve and at what rate for each method. I'm going to keep a photo journal as we go along, documenting my gardening attempts, seeing what grows well in this region and what does not. Maybe this will inspire some of you to start up your own kitchen garden too.
Hey, a girl can dream, right?