Thursday, March 8, 2012

Composting: Have We Really Become That Pretentious?

Until last fall, whenever I heard people talk about composting, one of two things came to my mind. Either they were farmers, or they were pretentious hipsters who wanted everyone to think they were green even though they secretly loved styrofoam.

While we do have a garden, it's not like we have a tiller or a tractor or anything; it's modest in size. I didn't really think we needed to compost. Plus isn't that kind of a pain in the butt to mess with all the time? When DH suggested it, I thought it would be a hassle to do and envisioned a stinky pile with a 2-year-old playing in it.

When we first started to discuss it, DH and I argued about the process considerably. I told him we should follow the directions in a handy book I got at the library and photocopied about 4 pertinent pages out of:

He said our neighbors at the end of the block also compost for their garden (hence, why he thought we should), and they just chuck it all in a pile, so that's what he wanted to do. My biggest gripes about DH's plan in the beginning were that #1: It would stink and our neighbors would hate us; and #2: In addition to the curious toddler, animals would be digging through it. And I don't just mean squirrels. We don't have a fenced in backyard, and there are two large parks near our house that have deer and coyotes. I didn't want to encourage them to hang out in our neighborhood.

However, since he was the one doing most of the work, we used his method. (I think it will end up working, it's just taking a little longer than I think it needed to if we'd done it my way, ahem.)

We have 3 raised garden beds:
The one closest to you in the photo is the one he decided to use for the composting. Basically we started to put grass clippings, raked leaves and table scraps in there (plus random stuff like dryer lint and coffee grounds that I didn't know you could compost before I read that book!) in no particular order or fashion starting around November.

Since it was winter, we knew there wouldn't be any progress for awhile since it has to be fairly warm for the waste to start decomposing. But then a funny thing happened; we sort of skipped winter this year in Kansas. So a couple of weeks ago, we decided to really start trying to get it going. The book says that if you water and turn it every few days, it can compost in about 6 weeks. Which would be perfect timing for the garden. DH even bought a bottle of some liquid compost starter that has bacterial and fungal cultures that are supposed to help move along the process.

Turning it basically means mixing it up so the stuff on the bottom gets moved to the top and air and water circulate through to aid in the decomposition. We only have a shovel, but I think we will have to get one of the twisting digging things (that's the technical name, of course) that are mentioned in the book if we don't buy a rotating bin next year like the one pinned below (which our friends have and would be my preference once I have a job again, and we can spend money). 

Or the one that Carrie from The Sweetest reviewed on my fave review site, This Blogger Makes Fun Of Stuff. I can't say that our chosen compost process has totally worked (I just turned it today and discovered some rather large food particles that I thought would be gone by now), but I do think in general, it's going ok. Surprisingly, not much foraging (by the child or the animals). There was a little in the beginning, but it seemed like smaller animals; maybe a raccoon had gotten in, but most likely squirrels and rabbits were the biggest culprits. And it really doesn't smell at all. The book says if you do it right, it shouldn't, so that's encouraging, I guess.
So even if it turns out that this process doesn't result in the end-product in six weeks, based on how it looks so far, I definitely think it will happen eventually. And it's completely worth it even if we miss our start date. Not only because we can use it later, of course, but even if we weren't gardening with it and just spreading it on the lawn, we have reduced our trash output considerably. 
(Excuse me a minute while I put on my skinny jeans, pretentious TOMS and big glasses.) I can honestly say that once we potty train Baby R this spring, I bet only a quarter of our regular trash barrel will be filled each week. We cut it by a third when we started recycling (maybe even by half) and have cut out another 1/4 to 1/3 by composting. Granted, we have small children who waste a lot of food regardless of how hard I try to avoid that by making them eat leftovers later or finishing it off myself. (I draw the line at cookies dipped in Ranch.) So our trash quantities may be affected in different percentages than the average person's. Still, even if it's less than that, it's a positive step for the environment.

Do you compost? Have you considered composting? If so, are you wanting to use it for a specific project timeline or just start it up? If you're only wanting to do it for the sake of doing it, I say go with DH's "just chuck it" approach. If you want some organization to it, grab that book at the library for some tips.  Good luck!
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