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What Is Composting, And How Can I Start?

Daisy's garden is still under a blanket of snow, so she satisfies her gardening itch by blogging at Compost Happens, A Mother's Garden of Verses, and Mid-Century Modern Moms -- that is, when she's not at her day job as an elementary teacher.

Hi, I’m Daisy, and I compost in my backyard.

You could call me an urban composter, although my home city is more suburban in size and style. I have a bin in the backyard, a bucket in the kitchen, and a small pitchfork and shovel in the garage. These are my tools, and this is my story.

I gather more kitchen garbage than I ever thought possible and dump it in the bin. Layered with grass clippings, weeds, and the occasional pile of leaves, the mixture, well, rots. Slowly but surely, it decomposes and becomes again one with the soil. I stir it once in a while with a pitchfork or turn the layers with a shovel, but that’s about all. Compost, as they say, happens. And it often happens not because of my efforts, but regardless of what I do.

My bin is simple. It looks like a large black garbage can, but it has no bottom. The lid is easy for me to take off, but somehow the raccoons haven’t gotten into it. Husband bought it for me several years ago, assuring me that it is made from recycled plastics.

Regular ingredients in my compost include coffee grounds, banana peels, apple cores, potato peelings, and melon rinds. Children prefer not to eat the heel of the bread? Compost. Bag of chips down to the crumbs? Compost. Shucking corn on the cob from the farmer’s market? Put the husks in the compost. Some of my more unusual ingredients have included wax paper covered with cookie crumbs, the paper wrapper from a fast food sandwich, and paper towels used to wipe up a spill. We’ll add small amounts of grass clippings because large layers tend to mildew and not mix well with the rest. The contents of our pet rabbits’ litter boxes can go in the compost on occasion, but again, not too much or it simply won’t decompose completely. In the autumn, the fallen leaves will provide the final top layer before winter sets in and it‘s too cold for the process to work.

There is very little that can’t go in the compost. Eggshells might work in warmer climates; here, they still look like eggshells months later. I use them to fertilize my tomato plants instead. Meat, dairy, and seafood are not good ingredients because they decompose slowly or because the smell will attract wildlife you might rather not host in your backyard.
There are specific "recipes" a home composter can use, but I'm pretty easy about it. If the compost is too dry, I add more wet ingredients (and I use the term ingredients loosely). If it's too wet, I start adding dry ingredients like dried grass clippings. But sometimes the decomposition doesn’t go smoothly.

Imagine the following: Husband added a batch of wet grass clippings after he mowed the lawn last. Usually grass clippings in small amounts work great; the heat of the pile increases, speeding up the process, and the grass itself decomposes quickly. This time, though, the Week of Constant Rain hit the Midwest. The additional moisture made the grass clump together, develop mildew, and stink. The continuous rain made any other dry ingredients that were set aside, well, just as wet as the grass clippings. The result: a very malodorous compost soup.

When this happens, I add the usual kitchen waste and stir what I can to separate the clumps of green and, um, grey-green. If the sun stays out, sometimes there is hope for a few dry stacks from the beyond-bloom daylilies and other past-their-prime perennials. If all else fails, there’s always shredded newspaper.

I was chatting with a teaching colleague, discussing the fast pace of our jobs and how weeding and composting give me such pleasure. An environmental science teacher, she understood completely. She knew that sometimes, we just have to sit back and let nature’s cycles take life at their own speed. In this fast paced, oft-wasteful world, it feels good to take action on a small scale. Composting does that for me.

In our climate (northeastern Wisconsin), composting only works for about half the year. Every spring we spread the previous year’s compost on the garden, and then the whole cycle starts again. No matter how much or how little I work with the contents of my bin, each spring I have a pile of luscious, deep brown compost to mix with my garden soil. Compost, no matter what I do, will happen.

This post is a combination of two posts written previously. My yard and garden are still covered with snow, but I'm ready to spread the spring compost layer as soon as the white stuff melts.

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1 comments:

Sarahlcc♥ said...

I was just wondering about how I should work with my composting this morning. Enjoyable post.