Friday, June 12, 2009

Composting: Experienced and Exceeding My Expectations

I have missed out on gardening entirely for the last couple of years due to time restrictions or lack of space to do so, but this year I finally got everything together in time.

I started composting more officially a few months before tilling in my garden. I've got a large lawn in the back, so I've obviously been composting since we moved in, but now I've actually set up a bin, which breaks everything down faster and more effectively.

There were four short steel fence posts in my yard because the previous owners had used them to support the crappy picket fence that was in my front yard. Since my neighbor and I agreed to take that down right after I moved in, I kept the steel posts, guessing that they would come in handy down the line.

I drove them into the ground with my sledge in an approximately 5x6 foot rectangle. A few months ago I picked up some free chicken wire that someone posted on Craigslist, so I folded that in half and wrapped it around the posts, using the pre-fabricated tabs on the posts to secure the fence to it.

I have a lot of grass and some other yard waste like leaves and brush to compost. I generally produce as much as you see in the picture below in a two week period during the spring and fall time of year, and in my new bin, it only takes about one week to reduce the pile to a layer only a couple of inches thick.

You can see Abby in the background sniffing around at stuff as Beagles often do. The invisible fence keeps her from getting into my new garden area, which is one of the reasons I chose the specific locations that I did.

The new bin makes it much easier to turn the compost effectively and since more air gets in through the sides, everything breaks down very quickly. I turn it just about every other day and during the cold spring mornings it would steam very actively.

I always knew that compost piles were warm, but I've been studying this recently and have found lots of interesting information about exactly how hot compost can get. I read one article in which a man buried a hot water heater under a 10x10x10 patch of compost and got the water up to 170 degrees. Apparently there are some homes which utilize a compost based heating system and it has been used to heat greenhouses for centuries. Working in my own compost pile really drives this home when I turn it over and the pile is actually hot to the touch.

The heat is caused by bacterial activity from the invisible friends that break down the nitrogen and carbon in all of the items. Everything breaks down most effectively when you have a good balance of nitrogen and carbon, so my pile is usually hottest when I add grass clippings that include a lot of maple leaves from all of the nearby trees.

We recently canceled our curbside trash service because Wal-Mart had a sale on 45 gallon trash cans (of which I purchased six), and I can take the trash to the Olympic Transfer Center for $10 per metric ton myself. Since my truck is a half-ton pickup, it will never cost more than $10. I bought six cans, and we only use about 1/3rd of a can per week, if that, so I'll only have to make the trip ever few months. We've been doing this for two months now and haven't even filled two full cans yet.

I kept the curbside recycling at $5 per month, even though I can recycle items for free at any transfer station. The reason is that in order to recycle at the transfer stations, you have to pre-sort the items and store them until you can make the trip, the $5 per month charge is well worth the time I'll save by simply having the truck come by every two weeks without requiring any sorting or storage.

Anyway, I say this because we have started composting the portion of our trash that can be safely composted to save space in the cans and to keep down the amount of rotting going on in the cans between trips to the transfer station. It's also pretty good for my garden soil, so it's a benefit all around. We keep a small container on the counter in the kitchen, and empty that into a larger plastic bin which we keep on the back porch so that I don't have to walk all the way down to the compost pile every day.

It's been really amazing to see how quickly things will decompose and the impact on my soil quality has been remarkable. I made my initial compost pile on the spot that my garden now sits, and the black, rich soil is hosting some very healthy corn stocks. Since then, I moved my pile to the side of my current garden space, to a location that I plan to till next year when I expand my garden.

At that, I purchased a roto-tiller from my neighbor to help speed up the process. I like doing work manually whenever I can, as many of you know, I split wood with a maul and sledge every year, but my current commute definitely doesn't allow enough time for me to manually and effectively till in a garden, so the addition of a tiller to my compliment of tools has been very handy. I may get to use it for more than gardening, since I have some very packed sections of lawn that could use a good tilling, and it also works great for removing blackberry roots since the tines pulverize the soil and pull everything even remotely solid out of the ground. As a point of the matter, my whole garden area was previously overgrown with blackberries, and the tiller pulled every root out without any problems.

This brings the end of my lunch time to a close, I've had a lot of things to write about recently, but no time to write them in, I hope I can post some more pictures and stories soon.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to blogspot. It is nice to read that you are allowed the space to work in your yard. I will live this joy vicariously through your experiences. One day I will have a yard or some way to tend to fresh vegetables.