From the Publisher
Composting for a New Generation: Latest Techniques for the Bin and Beyond
The Expected and Unexpected Benefits of Composting
Imagine taking materials that many people view as garbage and transforming them into something useful. When you compost, you create something that will amend your soil and improve your garden. You create something that has the ability to bind heavy metals so your plants won’t absorb them. You create something that reduces your need for fertilizers and pesticides. Best of all, creating this special something requires no electricity, and you can make all the tools you need yourself.
The Science of Composting
If maintained correctly, your backyard compost bin contains an entire food web with billions of organisms working together to decompose your food scraps into rich, beautiful compost. You do not need to have an extensive knowledge of the science behind composting to compost well, but this is a fascinating world. Come, geek out with me, and let’s throw a little party to learn how composting works.
At its most basic, what you can compost in your backyard boils down to this question: did it come from a plant? If the answer is yes, then most likely you can compost it in your backyard. As with all things, there are exceptions to this rule. Some materials take longer to decompose than others, and some materials, such as food scraps, require special treatment. You will find that different methods of composting handle special materials with varying levels of success.
Maintaining Your Compost Bin
In the broad spectrum of people who compost, you will find a range of drastically varied behaviors. On one end are the fanatic active composters who turn their bin every other day and seek out more compost fodder for an ever-increasing harvest. On the other end of the spectrum live the lazy, just-let-it-rot composters who are content to allow Mother Nature to do her thing. Of course, most of us fall somewhere in between the two extremes, and how much time you put into the maintenance of your compost will vary accordingly.
In-Vessel Composting Techniques
Composting is much like cooking soup. You can make soup thousands of different ways using many different recipes and end up with unique yet delicious results each time. In the same way, no two compost piles are identical, yet each will yield a beneficial amendment for your soil. Backyard composters have harnessed human ingenuity to produce numerous creative variations. Let’s break down the different styles so that you can decide what is right for you and your home.
Many urban and suburban composters choose to compost in a contained bin since it offers the benefits of holding all your organics in a nice controlled package. However, if you have a little more space or some creativity, you can choose to integrate your composting efforts into your garden or landscaping. Once you escape the confines of your bin, you are free to compost as much material as you want. Let’s check out a few tried-and-true techniques.
Imagine if you could keep hundreds, even thousands, of pets in your home that would happily live in a container small enough to fit under your sink. Now imagine that these pets were useful for more than just cuddling. They eat your table scraps without a fuss, and their poop, rather than being a gross byproduct, is actually one of the best soil amendments in the world.
Harvesting and Using Your Finished Compost
After a few months (or a few weeks for you hot composters), you will inevitably want to harvest your brown gold. We could become philosophical and say that composting, like life, is more about the journey and not the destination and that your months of work tending to your compost pile, adding food scraps and leaves, checking moisture levels, and aerating when needed were the true joys of a backyard composter. But that would be absurd.
Let’s Do It: Pit Composting
Dig a pit at least 1 foot deep
Fill the bottom of the pit with 4 to 6 inches of food scraps and leaves
Fill the rest of the pit with soil. If you want, mark the location with a popsicle stick. Wait six months to a year before planting over the top.
|Gather remaining brown leaves in your yard to add to the pile.||Bury food scraps under leaves.||Gather falling leaves for compost. Construct extra leaf bins or piles if needed.||The pile goes dormant.|
|Aerate compost at least monthly.||Aerate compost at least monthly.||Aerate compost at least monthly.||Do not aerate or turn.|
|Harvest in late spring if you need compost for starting seeds or new beds.||Find alternative sources of carbon-rich brown material if your leaves run out. Shredded newspaper or cardboard work well.||Harvest compost to make room for the buildup of winter materials.||Continue adding food scraps and burying them under leaves.|
|Ensure that spring rains do not overwater the compost pile.||Water the pile if hot weather dries it out.||Add old plant trimmings to the pile.||Insulate the pile if you desire an active pile throughout the winter.|
|Add spring weeds, old potting soil, and last year’s plants to the pile.||Grasscycle (see Chapter 6) when possible, or add your cut grass to your compost.||Visit your local coffee shop and ask for their spent coffee grounds to incorporate into your leaf piles.||Chop material into smaller pieces to allow for easier decomposition.|
|Start a hot composting pile if you need finished compost in a hurry.||Turn or mix materials in the pile at least once over the summer.||Consider not adding food scraps for a few weeks before harvesting compost. Place them in the freezer and add them to your bin after harvest.||Enjoy a nice mug of hot cocoa|