Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's a com-Post!

Ok, Gina, I finally got out to that compost bin last night! Here's all I know:

There are not many things that I love more than passing on a good tip. And this is the best gardening tip I ever got from my friend Sarah, who has a yard around a newly constructed house (which means yucky clay soil) in which everything grows like it's the tropics. For a few years I quizzed her about her fertilizing & feeding habits. I wanted to know how often she watered and how she pruned. But after a while, I finally figured out the difference between her garden and mine: she had been using compost!

At first, composting sounded like a lot of work, and I wasn't terribly interested in having a large bin of rotting food and plants anywhere near my house. My grandpa (who has grown many a garden in his day) told me I was asking for a pest problem. But I decided that if Sarah could do it, I'd give it a try, too. I mean, I didn't notice a horrible smell and an army of mice or raccoons in her yard.

So I bought a bin on-line. That was only after going to every garden and home-improvement store in our area only to be told that they don't sell compost bins. What can I say, it's Central Illinois and we're kinda behind the times down here. This is a listing for my type, but I swear I payed way less than that 3 years ago. I've also seen announcements in the paper these last couple summers about an environmental organization that comes to the Peoria mall one day each summer and sells bins for super-cheap. Also, if you have a big yard, you could just make a pile somewhere and compost that way (although I don't know if that would increase your chances of inviting pests). You could even cut the bottom out of a garbage can, drill holes in the sides and use that. But I do love my bin because of the sliding door on the bottom that allows me to get ready compost out before the stuff at the top of the bin is broken down.

I know there are "recipes" for composting, but if you just follow the general rule of "not too much of any one thing at a time" you should be fine. Here's a link to an on-line list of what things are/are not compostable. For us, our main ingredients are garden waste (like weeds that haven't gone to seed yet, flower stems from flowers that have bloomed and faded, and errant grass that was growing in the wrong place), kitchen scraps (we keep a big bowl in the fridge and dump produce & grain scraps in there until the bowl fills up every few days, then we take it out to the bin...and no, we don't do that in the dead of winter), and dry leaves and grass clippings. Those are basically the 3 categories of stuff that you can compost, and you just have to remember to always bury your kitchen scraps, and stir up the whole mixture every few days. If you do start to notice a smell (normally, it should just kinda smell like dirt) that means you've put too much of one thing in there and you need to break it up with other ingredients.

I think this is our 3rd or 4th year of doing this now, and I've never noticed an ant or mouse near the bin, much less anything scarier. The bin is outside my son's window and we're a family that has the windows open in the summer in all but the very hottest couple weeks of the year, and I have almost never noticed a bad smell wafting into his room. So if you want free, nutritious plant food, or if you just want to produce less garbage (once we started composting our food scraps and recycling all paper trash, we got our family of 4 down to one plastic bag of garbage a week that we set out for collection) this is a really great, and fairly easy way to do it!
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a witt said...

Chris said he thought the bin had to be in the sun... Is that true?

Thanks for this, Nic!

nicole said...

It probably hurries the "cooking" along, but I don't think it's required. Ours is right up against the house, behind a giant evergreen bush, so it gets some sun in the morning. I probably wouldn't put it in a spot that is constantly in deep shade, just because it might get mildew-y and kind of stinky (since it should be kept damp to help with the decomposition), but I don't think it has to be in the blazing sun, either. In fact, you'll probably have to hose it down more often if it's in the sun because it'll dry out faster.

Gina said...

More questions! DO you hose yours down, ever? Two, do you add worms? Three, how long does it take before you can use the compost? Thanks! I just ordered mine, and I already have the scraps going under the sink. :D