Friday, September 21, 2012

Day 62: Vigilant Composting


The Task: To become zealous composters.

The Why:  We've been composting for years.  In fact, Luke loves compost.  As in, he's been at peoples houses and noticed that they were about to throw out a bunch of rotten fruit and asked if he could take it home with him.  Seriously, it's a little embarrassing.  The idea that we can turn kitchen waste into black gold for our garden appeals to our trash-to-treasure hearts.

But honestly, in our own kitchen, we get kinda lazy about it sometimes.  If we fill the compost bin in the middle of meal preparation, we just start throwing the rest of the compost in the garbage. I'm not the kind of avid composter who picks banana peels out of the garbage if my two year old gets confused about what bin it should go in.  Or at least I wasn't, until today.

The Benefits of Composting:
  • It creates good, nutrient dense soil for the garden for free! Hooray!
  • Compost actually helps to detoxify the soil.  That is something our world could use a little more of!
  •  It diverts kitchen waste from landfills. (I used to wonder about this. Doesn't the compost just break down at the landfill?  Does it matter where you put the things that will biodegrade anyways?   But it does matter, because the landfill doesn't create the right conditions for composting. This site explains it far better than I can.)
  • It saves fuel.  Twenty seven percent of the trash being trucked to landfills is food waste and yard scraps. Then that waste gets shoveled around at the landfill.  Imagine what a difference it could make if everyone with a backyard started composting their vegetable scraps instead of throwing them in the trash?
  • It saves money. Where we live we pay a two dollar fee per bag to dispose of garbage.  This is on top of the municipal taxes we pay that fund the garbage disposal site. Less garbage = more money in our pockets.
The How: So, as of today I am the kind of person who picks banana peels out of the trash.  We toss all of our veggie and grain scraps (as well as things like dryer lint, facial tissues, tea bags and coffee grounds) into a pail under the kitchen sink.  Each evening (and sometimes more often!) we take the compost out to the big 3 section compost bin I built a few years ago while Luke was at work and I was looking to overcome my fear of power tools.


We never ever compost meat or dairy or anything cooked in animal fat.  I know many people do, but that just encourages a whole host of other issue, such as slower decomposition and maggots. Ick!  I'm pretty sure that if there were maggots in my compost heap I would have to cry and/or vomit and/or move.  Just kidding.... sort of.

We don't obsess over the ratio of nitrogen rich and carbon rich materials, we just put compost in the bin as it becomes available, give it a little turn with the pitchfork now and then, and it always breaks down beautifully.  We periodically switch which section we throw our scraps in to give another section a chance to break down into happy soil.

The Verdict:  I know that there is nothing glamourous about a heap of rotting produce, but I can't help but love our compost pile.  I can't believe we've been so lackadaisical about it, it's such a beautiful thing!
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38 comments:

  1. I have a few questions for ya- does it work just as well in the winter/cold months? And... on a slightly different topic, do you se disposable or cloth diapers? I have been contemplating getting rid of our trash service and drop the recycle off at the center, but what I am not sure what to do with the diapers... Eeek!!

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    1. It slows down over the winter, but the decomposition creates enough heat to keep the pile from freezing. And we are in the middle of switching from disposable diapers to cloth...so we use some of each until we buy some more cloth diapers.

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    2. Wool diaper covers are easy to make out of thrift store sweaters and receiving blankets make great flat-fold diapers (I get blankets for $0.25 to $0.50 a piece at my local thrift store). Also I've heard it's pretty easy to make fitted diapers out of t-shirts, but I haven't tried that yet.

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    3. I have a tutorial up on how to make doubler/soakers. My frugal little heart loves how cheap they are to make. There are a ton of great ideas floating around there on diapers. :) http://ramblingstump.blogspot.com/2012/04/diy-cloth-diaper-doublers-aka-soakers.html
      We're diapering the 2nd baby with our stash and it's going great....

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  2. I have a few questions for ya- does it work just as well in the winter/cold months? And... on a slightly different topic, do you se disposable or cloth diapers? I have been contemplating getting rid of our trash service and drop the recycle off at the center, but what I am not sure what to do with the diapers... Eeek!!

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  3. Do you think you could do a tutorial of sorts on how you built your compost frame? We just have a big bucket and it doesn't work very well!

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    1. I second this! We don't have a compost heap yet and have very little land-space to put it in. We're thinking the back of the driveway.

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    2. Hi guys. It would be tricky to write a tutorial since that was years ago and I don't need a new one! But I can tell you that I built it using the instructions in a book called "Crockett's Victory Garden" and that there are similar instructions here: http://www.uaex.edu/Other_Areas/publications/PDF/FSA-6033.pdf

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  4. Do you think you could do a tutorial of sorts on how you built your compost frame? We just have a big bucket and it doesn't work very well!

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  5. Do you think you could do a tutorial of sorts on how you built your compost frame? We just have a big bucket and it doesn't work very well!

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  6. In Sicily we are required to separate all our "organic" trash from our regular trash and they pick it up twice a week. I like to think of our whole town's waste becoming useful compost! Because Elliott and I are really committed to helping this recycling/composting program as much as we can, we've been as vigilant as possible for a long time. It's a lot for our friends to get used to, though, because we are also required to separate all our paper, glass, cans, and plastic, and there are different trash cans hidden all over our kitchen. :-)

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    1. Hi Becca! Europe is way ahead of us in it's recycling and composting efforts...probably out of necessity because we have so much space in North America we just take it for granted and create another dump site! I read that in Germany you can only throw away one tiny bag of garbage each week...I think that's fabulous!

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    2. I am from Germany and our garbage is only collected every other week and it is tiny and spendy. My husband almost cried this morning because we forgot to put it out in time... Our degradables are collected for free, in town people can't have compost heaps and the degradables are used to make bio-gas (type of energy)The company that uses the waste pays for collecting it, as they make money with it. Also the neighbouring business-buildings are able to use the heat created in the process, unfortunately just the ones close by as they haven't figured out how transport it further... and the compost end product can be purchased really cheap...
      The garbage doesn't have to be large as we also seperate plastics/tincans, paper and glass.

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  7. I'm lucky that where we live, the community (in fact, the whole of Sweden) really encourages you to recycle, and to compost. For us in this city it's super easy. You get free special paper bags and each kitchen has this special metal thingie under the sink to hold the paper bag. I can leave it for up to 3 days and it will not smell at all.
    Then I take the bag, bring it to the garbage chute, just turn a special knob on the garbage chute, and down it goes.
    Our city uses compost to fuel bio gas busses.
    My goal is to try to deal with all of the recyclables faster. When it's chock full under the sink with empty packages of all kinds, I'm tempted to just chuck it all in the regular bin.
    It's a bit of a walk to get the recyclables to the recycling station, so I always put it off.
    Kelly, with tea bags, do you get the kinds with no metal staple, or do you take the staple off?
    Ieva

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    1. The tea bags we buy don't have staples.

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    2. OK, thanks! Ieva

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  8. Does it smell outside? Our homes are kind of close together so I was wondering if this would bother my neighbors
    Thank you
    Heather

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    1. Compost shouldn't smell unpleasant. If it does, you can fix that by adding more high carbon materials, such as leaves or branches or even newspaper or torn up cardboard. But that has never been an issue for us.

      Make sure you never put any meat or dairy in your compost. THAT will stink.

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  9. We are compost vigilantes as well but I never knew you could put in the dryer lint....thanks! We never put in animal by-products because of the bears and other wildlife....it attracks wildlife as well. I love your posts!!

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  10. I was SO excited when we moved and could begin composting (we had no yard before).
    That and obsessive recycling has SERIOUSLY decreased our trash output to only half a can a week (In a house of 7 people).

    I am to the point now where when I am at someone's house eating I feel awkward not knowing what to do with scraps.. It feels weird to just throw them away! Maybe I'll have to be like your husband and bring a doggy bag to bring them home :) haha!

    God bless!


    Our Front Porch View: The Story of a Young Family's Pursuit to Fulfill a Simpler Life
    www.ourfrontporchview.blogspot.com

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  11. This is so exciting! Can you tell me more about composting? We have a lovely veg patch, but composting has always been too bizarre for me to attempt to try. And I feel like it would just be extra icky and smelly. Help!

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  12. We have taken recycling to the extreme, and now we want to do the same with composting. My dad has offered to make us a big composting bin and we've got the perfect spot. Do you cover it during the winter?

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    1. No, we don't cover it in the winter.

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  13. Thanks so much for re-inspiring me to be more vigilant about my composting. I have a little bin under the sink and I empty it into a rubbermad type bin in the backyard (with holes).
    I know now that I just need to get another bin and start a new one so that my original one has time to turn into compost. I usually just go outisde and roll it around every couple of weeks. I still haven't actually used any compost. What am I waiting for?

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  15. This may sound like a silly question, but what do you DO with all the compost that you make? I don't think my little garden would need all of the compost I might make.

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    1. As far as I'm concerned, you can't have too much compost. Growing veggies uses a lot of soil nutrients, so it's great to be able to put them back every year. But if you DO have too much I am certain you could find a neighbour or friend who would be happy to come over with a shovel and cart some away!

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  16. Yes! We have one of those black tubular composters for our little back yard. Sometimes we have way too much green stuff (corn on the cob, anyone?) though, and it gets smelly, so occasionally I will toss the 'greens' in the garbage to make it work better. My husband thinks it's gross when I go through the hairbrushes and pull out all the hair to put in the composter.

    We pay per bag, too, and we have found it makes an enormous difference! We are putting out our can (2 big garbage bags?) once every two to three weeks instead of every week. I believe your stat about how much space it takes up at the landfill.

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  17. After reading all the comments I feel a bit spoilt here in Adelaide, Australia. We put out a 240 litre garbage bin for collection every week, and then a 400 litre bin for recycling (paper, cans, bottles, certain plastics etc) every second week and every other week a 400 litre bin for green waste (grass cuttings, weeds, branches and anything compostable). It's all free.

    We compost though, using the 3 bin system (am not as handy as you are though - we bought our bins at the local hardware store) and the soil is just beautiful. Worms don't like citrus peels or onions so if you're trying to attract them leave these scraps out. We also leave out meat and dairy, and just put it in our green waste bin.

    The thing I have found about composting, is that if you ever have food scraps you end up throwing out (eg celery wilting at bottom of fridge, kid's uneaten broccoli) you don't feel guilty because it's not going in the bin, it's going into the compost heap to do some good :-)

    (sorry for long comment)

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  18. We tried composting a few years ago but it attracted rats and mice! our 2 cats loved it but i HATED it even though i started saving a lot on cat food. We might start again when we move. Is it the meat scraps that attract rodents? I was told by friends and a few website all compost attracts rodents. Do you not have that problem?

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  19. We compost, but are a little lazy in the winter. The compost bin is all the way at the other end of the yard. (not really THAT far).

    To reply about the rats, we have never had that issue but have attracted raccoons and bluejays. I have heard that citrus rats are attracted if you add citrus and live in a warm climate like Florida.

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  20. Have you noticed any more rats? My father in law talks about composting, leaving pet food outside and having pets defecate in the yard will draw them.

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  21. I just discovered your blog a few days ago. I have read "The Man Who Quit Money" and "Not Buying It" and am exploring simple living. I too believe that having/getting/spending/doing more than you need gets in the way of quality time with God.
    You keep on doing what you're doing and blogging all about it. You encourage me. Thanks.

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  22. Hi! Could you explore perhaps traveling with less? My husband and I are facing a long road trip with a 2 year old in 3 days and simplicity in packing is a challenge!

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  23. Thank you for the reminder to compost more! I was floored when I read that you compost your dryer lint. I'm preparing to build my first hugelkultur bed this fall, and I'm trying to build up as big of a stash of compostable materials as possible. I need a bigger compost bucket for the kitchen!

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  24. You make composting seem like an attainable goal! I've always been nervous about doing it. My parents did it when I was a child and I remember having to take the food items out to the compost bin and it stunk. I remember we'd put almost anything in there. That's probably why! I'd love to read a post about more details of how to start composting.

    http://mederomoments.blogspot.com

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  25. How would we implement inside collection (what kinds of containers, plastic bags ...) in going the way of restaurant composting grand rapids mi?

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