Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lazy Composting

Chris & I have gotten numerous questions regarding our little wine-barrel composting bin. I'm sure it's mostly because of the fact that it is a wine-barrel, whatever.  It works.  What is compost, you ask?  It's only the best thing that can happen to both gardens & landfills.

Anyways, we aren't hardcore composters.  In fact, we're pretty lazy about it.  I think "composting" seems like it would be a big, stinky, messy deal and I want to debunk that myth once & for all.

If composting was difficult, we wouldn't do it.

The very first thing you need to do is pick a place in your yard to set up your compost bin and decide what kind of compost bin you want to use.

The ideal location for a composting bin has a maximum amount of sun throughout the day.  Don't worry if you live in a cloudy climate or have a shaded yard.  Full sun/heat just speeds up the composting process; it will happen regardless (okay, maybe not in the winter in certain Tundra-like areas).

Now that you have your location, it's time to look at your compost bin options:

1 - EASIEST - compost pile - This is the easiest possible way to compost.  You can just pick a part of your yard and start throwing your kitchen cast-offs there.

Pros - easy, no prep
Cons - kids, dogs, ROUS, it can spread if you aren't careful (much like that pile of laundry that seems to grow on its own!)

2 - Easy -chicken wire & stakes compost bin - This is a simple, low cost way to set up a specific bin. It requires little in the way of prep and can be modified to whatever size/shape you need.

Pros - inexpensive, contained, simple to build, easy to move
Cons - not that attractive, doesn't always stay together well (especially if you only do a half-ass job putting it together - so this may just be a problem for people like me)

If you are more of a carpenter, you can also build an easy wooden pallet compost bin.

3 - COOL - stationary wine barrel compost bin - This is what we currently have. It's cute.  It's a conversation piece.  All we did was remove the bottom so it would be open on both ends & drill holes in the sides to allow for air circulation.  It cost us about $50.

Pros - very contained, people like it, holds in heat pretty well, has a lid if you want to cover it
Cons - requires some hole drilling, harder to turn the compost, requires finding a wine barrel (I recommend going to the source - your local winery!)

4 - highfalutin' composting bins -

Pros - composting happens much more quickly, often portable, can be used on a deck or balcony with ease
Cons - did you see the price tag?

If you're curious, there are also worm-composting bins.

Now that you've set up your compost bin, the next step is to start feeding it your kitchen scraps:

Rule 1 - Avoid meats & oils.  Meat products will eventually compost, but they are also more likely to smell and attract ROUS.  This is usually frowned up by HOAs.  *We do add egg shells to our compost bin.

Rule 2 - Try to keep a balanced mix of "brown" (dry) and "green" (wet, fresh) scraps.  If your compost starts to smell rotten (and you aren't adding meat scraps), the culprit may be that it's too wet.  Add some "brown" matter (we often add shredded paper) to help restore balance.  Now, we are lazy so we rarely remember to do this and we have never had a stink issue.

Rule 3 - (especially if you plan to use your compost in this decade) Turn (mix up/stir) your compost every once in a while. You can use a pitchfork or a shovel.  We (by "we" I mean Chris) uses a garden auger.  We rarely turn our compost and we have yet to fill up our wine barrel compost bin.  It seems to stay about half-full these days because the composting happens faster than we can add our kitchen scraps.

Now, there is a lot more technical information you can research if you would like to control the pH, minerals, etc of your compost for whatever specific plants you are planning to fertilize with it.  That's way beyond what I care to learn.  I just like looking at the pretty black dirt. Okay, I also like trying to guess what mystery plants are growing in our compost bin (this is a direct result of us not turning our compost very often).

For more information, How To is a great resource.  You may also want to check out Home Composting Made Easy & Composting 101. Your local extension service should also have information.

Do you compost? Why did you start or what's keeping you from composting?  Do you have an composting tips or tricks to share?

Let's BEE Friends
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