Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Easy Composting

My family and I visited some friends’ house the other day for lunch. Our kids played together, we jammed on the piano and guitar, had a few glasses of wine, talked theology and gardening… it was great. They’re our kind of folks.

At one point, I noticed all the debris left over from lunch: watermelon rinds, half-finished plates of food, limp salad, etc., and I asked if they had a compost pile. The husband answered, “Yeah… we have one of those tumbler types but I’m ashamed to say we don’t really use it much…” 

We walked out to the backyard and he showed me a well-built hand-cranked plastic composter.

“It just doesn’t work all that well. I’m not sure how people get perfect compost from these things.”
You know… I’m not sure either.
For years I’ve built compost piles, making gigantic mounds of organic matter, watering and turning it occasionally, then later sifting out the good stuff for use in the garden.
Look at that poor sap.
It’s a lot of work, so I understand the desire to solve the hassle of composting through science and design.
Unfortunately, I’ve yet to meet with a compost tumbler I find worth the trouble.
You might ask “Trouble? They’re trouble? Like… how?”
I’ll tell you how.
Blurry photos just don’t capture the grandeur of this bin.
A few years ago I built a 55-gallon compost tumbler for my wife because she wanted an easier way to make compost for her square foot gardens.
See it on the left?
What a marvel of ingenuity!
A leap forward for upcycling!
It’s a high-capacity composter for cheapskates!
The problem was… it really wasn’t all that easy to turn. It was also not big enough to “cook” down properly, meaning that the kitchen scraps sat in there in a big clump without breaking down.
This is a common problem even in the nice composters you buy from nice stores. It’s not just a problem that arises in redneck 55-gallon drum composters.
Another problem that arises in compost tumblers: incomplete compost creation. That is, unless you have two of them… at some point you need to quit dumping in your food scraps for a month or two so you can let the compost break down completely. You also need to mist the contents with a hose and crank regularly.
How many of you are willing to do all that for a couple of buckets of compost?
As a final indignity, decent compost tumblers are expensive.
Yes, we should compost all of our food scraps. But the “easy” methods are a pain. (If you’re the owner of a compost tumbler manufacturer and want to prove me wrong, I’m not adverse to trying out your model. Send me one and I’ll review it; however, I’m not easy to impress. If it works amazingly, I’ll recant. Maybe.)
The real silliness in this drive to make compost is that nature makes compost all the time without tumblers, cranks, bins, sifters, pitchforks or thermometers.
Do you know how nature makes compost? I’ll give you a minute to answer.
Ready? Oh… not yet. Okay.
Time’s up.
Here’s how nature makes compost: she throws things on the ground.
That’s it. Throwing things on the ground. Easy, right? Just throw things on the ground.
I know, it’s revolutionary. But it works.
Obviously, if you’re trying to collect and distribute compost to individual plants, or make it and keep it in big bags, etc., just throwing stuff on the ground makes it tough to collect the finished compost.
Of course, why would you need to collect the finished compost? Nature doesn’t. She just lets organic matter rot where it falls.
With that in mind, here’s my new favorite method of easy composting: 
(CLICK HERE to keep reading over at The Prepper Project)



At July 29, 2014 at 7:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have two large barrel composters that my dad made. Stuff breaks down in ours for sure, but there is a lot of additional work involved. We do food scraps and garden waste in them, and have separate huge ongoing piles of leaves and larger yard stuff. We then dump the barrels and the stuff from the animal yard and dad mixes it all by tractor. Add some ash from the burn pile and we're good to go. It works, but very labor intensive. If dad wasn't retired, I have a feeling we wouldn't do it that way!
--Ivy Mae

At July 29, 2014 at 8:16 AM , Blogger jean said...

Our chickens do the composting for us. We just throw the scraps into our "compost" hole and the chickens go in and do all the composting until it's all broken down over time. When we prune, the twigs, leaves and branches get thrown down on the ground around the trees, the chickens come along and dig, scratch, peck, the rains come along, too, and pack things down, the chickens compost it some more, adding their very own fertilizer, and before we know it, the trees have more food to grow on. Works great!

At July 29, 2014 at 8:36 AM , Blogger dfr2010 said...

We are moving from mostly-easy to very-easy ... last year we had designated compost piles. This year, we didn't move the fallen leaves too far, just into two rectangular beds in the ground and we dump our compost can on top of those beds-to-be. The really big pile in the back will probably need another year of breaking down (started last year) and that is where squash remains, dead animals, and buckets of urine go. We had some volunteer acorn squash plants take hold this year, but the local wildlife got to the squash long before it ripened. The first year of planting will be peas and green beans for these composting-in-place beds for good measure.

At July 29, 2014 at 8:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops--meant to add that one huge advantage of the barrels is that our dogs and other various critters can't get to the rotting food. --Ivy Mae

At July 29, 2014 at 3:42 PM , Blogger Austin said...

I've had great success with "Food Digester" composting in Central Florida. It is basically a metal trash can 1/2+ in the ground with holes in the side/bottom below ground. You throw food scraps in and various organisms make their way in to feed/break down to rich compost. It works much faster than the barrels I've tried, it is low maintenance and its rodent & dog proof. See this article for details and drawing: http://seattletilth.org/learn/resources-1/compost/HomemadeFoodDigester.pdf

The soil is sandy where I live so I put it much farther in the ground than it shows.


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