I've always thought compost to be a pretty ordinary subject, maybe because I grew up with composting. Possibly other Baby Boomers did, also, I'm not sure, but back when Organic Gardening was a new magazine, my mother was an enthusiastic subscriber. She liked the idea of taking otherwise wasted household vegetable scraps, potato peelings, coffee grounds, egg shells and anything else that wouldn't attract dogs or 'possoms, and turning them into rich, black soil for her houseplants.
Mom's method back then was to dig two holes in the raspberry patch, each about 2 ft. deep and as wide across. One was for new compost, the other was months old and nearly ready to use. Every day or two she'd take the kitchen waste and put it in the "new" hole and toss in a trowel full of soil and mix it around. Over the years she made a lot of soil using that simple method. (She learned, from this process, that almost anything organic would compost, except for maraschino cherries; they're made by soaking cherries in a solution of sodium metabisulfate, calcium chloride, citric acid, and back then, the addition of Red Dye numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4, all banned now for health reasons. After two years buried in the compost pile, the cherries were as red and firm as the day she had put them there).
But what is old is new and composting is fashionable again. The move toward recycling, coupled with the popularity of growing ones own food in the garden, has sparked lots of enthusiasm for the lowly compost pile.
|Felder's truck garden.|
Here's what Felder Rushing, radio host and author of several garden books said recently (you may recall I posted photos of Felder's pickup truck last August, and his pickup truck garden which he grows on his trips across America and I was on his show last year):
"Composting isn't difficult. Here are the rules: pile up stuff. Let it rot."
It's really that simple although there are things you can do to facilitate the composting process working faster. For example, it's good to add "green" material to your compost, things like grass clippings after you mow. It's also helpful if you turn the compost over from time to time.
Here are some successful compost methods I've seen lately. The first one is simply a long bin in the back yard of a very upscale house in Dallas. This is an easy method because the homeowner simply moves some already composted material over to the new pile every time he adds more leaves, grass clippings or kitchen waste.
|Finished compost is on the left. To the left you can see a pile of kitchen scraps and broken up shrub clippings from the garden.|
And look at the one, below, at the Stonewall School garden project in Dallas. They combine wood chips with theirs and probably use a small garden tractor to turn the soil over, mixing finished compost with lawnmower grass clippings to break down the wood chips.
And the one, below, is in the garden of the famous and amazing Herbfarm Restaurant in Woodinville, WA. Theirs looks efficient for making compost fast.
|Notice this method uses 3 bins: new material, working compost and the finished product.|
In case you can't read the tombstones: Leaves compost in 1-3 months, paper takes 3-5 months; paper milk cartons (shredded) 5 months; cigarette butts 10-20 years. Plastic bags take 50-80 years; aluminum foil 80-100 years and styrofoam never decomposes (neither do plastic water bottles).
So there are several choices for composting. The advantages are many: saving space in landfills, saving the cost of having someone haul away kitchen scraps and leaves; recycling materials that turn in to useful soil for your garden. And it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.
Like Felder says, Pile up some stuff and let it rot. That's the basic idea of composting.
Thanks to our very talented friend, George Hudson, for the use of his always humorous illustrations.
Compost happens, just pile up stuff and let it rot.