Thursday, March 31, 2011

Composting 101

the final product
So as I mentioned in my post here, one of the ways we reduce our trash in our house is by composting.  Not only does it reduce the amount of trash we have but it also really helps our small family garden that we use to grow all sorts of tasty things during the year.  I wanted to share our experiences over the last two years that we have been composting in unscientific terms, so here it goes:

How did we get started?  We were visiting with the hub's grandparents and discussing their wild success with their tomato plants and the hub's grandpa mentioned that he had a secret in his soil - which he proceeded to refer to as "black gold."  That reference made me curious so I asked him to explain further and I got a good lesson in composting and the benefits it has in gardening.  Needless to say (I should mention that I can be a bit impulsive at times) - We bought a composting bin the next week at Lowes, I did some research, and we got started.  We set up the bin in an inconspicuous location in our garden and started with some bits of cardboard, kitchen scraps (vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, and coffee grounds), and old potting soil from old pots, and just kept piling on from there.

What can you compost?  LOTS of STUFF!!!  We regularly compost our coffee grounds (including the filters as we use unbleached filters), vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, leaves, unfertilized grass clippings, weeds, dead plants and flowers, and small pieces of plain cardboard.  It is important to keep a balance of those items that are considered "brown items" and those that are considered "green items."  We steer clear of any animal by-products (other than the egg, shrimp, or crab shells) and any grass or weeds that have been treated with fertilizer or other chemicals.  Also, pine straw, pine cones, and large branches are not recommended as they seem to have a hard time breaking down at the same speed as everything else.

the sealed container we keep on our counter for kitchen scraps
What is the time commitment?  No more than a few minutes per week and thats really only to take the scraps we have collected while preparing our meals out to the compost bin and then use the pitch fork to mix everything around to make sure the compost bin is getting enough air to keep it healthy.  You also want to monitor your pile to make sure it doesn't dry out.  It should be about as moist as wrung out sponge but if you notice it looks dry, just spray some water in it or add green items which hold a lot more moisture than the brown items.  If you notice its too moist, just add some more browns to help absorb the excess moisture.

Does it smell?  Surprisingly enough it doesn't!  As long as you have the right blend of greens and browns, it doesn't smell like much more than dirt.  The composting action does make the material inside of it hot, so you may notice during the cooler months some steam coming from the top.  That's just the compost decomposing and generating heat so don't worry, it won't catch on fire or anything crazy like that.

How long does it take to make dirt?  This can vary depending on how "hot" your compost pile is.  It took ours about 8 months to get dirt but we also started ours in the fall so a good part of that time was in the winter which slows the process a little bit.  The finished compost settles at the bottom so our bin has doors at the bottom that we simply pull out when we are ready to use the compost.

our compost bin
Our experience with composting has been a great one and it really reduces the amount of trash we throw away.  We keep our kitchen scraps in a sealed container on our counter top (unless company is coming over and then we stow it away under the sink) and run it out to the compost bin about twice a week.  The soil the bin makes is rich with natural nutrients and fertilizers and is a welcome addition to our garden.  Trust me when I tell you that it is pretty amazing to put a bunch of vegetable and fruit scraps (I have even put in watermelon and cantaloupe rinds) in the bin one day and see them beyond recognition two weeks later and with no rotting smell.  As the pile decomposes it shrinks quite a bit so we are never surprised when the bin we fill to the top is only a third of the way full several weeks later as things start to break down.

Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions ( or click here for another great online resource about composting which also provides all of the scientific reasons it works (there is a lot of good information on the web too).



Mrs. C said...

I've always wanted to do something like this! Thanks for sharing.

Cheryl E. said...

Wow, you go girl! I think its a great idea and would love to do it but I just know myself and know I wouldnt follow through.

Traci said...

That's kind of cool. My husband and I were just talking tonight about growing a garden this year.

Beach Bum & Baby said...

SO awesome girl!!! Love it!! We should look for a mini bin for my back yard! :)

Natalie said...

I am thinking about starting one of these...we built a raised square foot garden last year, so we could definitely use it for our garden this year! :) Also I will let you know when I post about cloth diapers...probably in the next week or so and we can link up! You really need to try the pocket cloth are missing out!

Laura said...

I was planning on composting this year, but turns out we are going to be moving and I'm not sure we will be able to take something like that with us. I don't think I could do the countertop thing...I get grossed out pretty easily lol.

One of my goals is to get a little more green this year though. I plan on doing a post about that soon. I saw you cloth diapered...I do the same and love it. I have a couple posts on that!

Classy Fab Sarah said...

I actually started a compost bin in the fall but due to the freeeezing temps it hasn't done much into now. I actually need to give it a good stir today!

Michelle said...

Hey girl! I'm so glad you started blogging. Ms. Beach Bum & Baby made sure to tell me so I would follow you. ;)

Anyways...thank you for this post! My husband and I have been talking about composting and, so far, we haven't. Not sure why, but there are no more excuses. I mean, we produce some serious kitchen trash so why not, right??

We were going to make our own bin, but I like that your bin opens from the bottom which makes sense since you said the good stuff is on the bottom. I'll keep you posted on our progress. I'm all for anything to keep our garden has bountiful (and as organic) as possible!