Thursday, August 22, 2013

Being a big girl and making some dirt

I read American Wasteland about two months ago now.  At the time, I had great intentions to write a comprehensive review of it and perhaps talk more in-depth about one or two of the points mentioned: People who don't like leftovers! Growing up in an age of want vs. plenty!  The increasing size of fruit!  But, I don't know, life got in the way.  I chose to sleep.  I went through a bit of a mid-life crisis, etc.  However, the topic is too important to completely ignore and deserves some air time here.

When I read books like this one, I wonder what I can really do.  I get angry and frustrated because the whole system is broken.  What should be a synergistic system with animals providing nutrients for the soil, which then in turn, produces hearty and robust plants is instead broken up piecemeal.  We have animals in feed lots producing a whole lot of manure that then has to be transported........somewhere.  We have nutrient depleted soils that we throw chemical fertilizers at to increase yield.  We produce way more than we can eat and the rest gets tossed.....but tossed in landfills where the waste just creates a whole lot of methane gas which increases global warming.  The whole picture?  One gigantic mess.  And really?  What can I really do about it?

Compost.  I can put on my big girl panties and find a way to compost.   

Composting is really the easiest and simplest way to start making a difference.  By composting, I reduce my trash in half easily.  I also take the items that are biodegradable and let them actually biodegrade.  (Because as much as I try to convince myself to the contrary--they can't break down buried in a landfill.)  Because, I am letting them biodegrade aerobically, there is no methane produced.  And bonus! I get to use the end product to enrich my non-existent soil instead of spending money buying bags of it at the store.

I have known for years that I should be composting, but I always got bogged down on the details.  I didn't have a big enough yard for a compost pit.  I thought about worm composting, but I questioned my ability to keep the worms alive for a long haul.  (I am trying to make a permanent change here, not dabbling in some hobby.)  There was also the question as to where we would put the worms.  Indoor composters are incredibly expensive.  Outdoor tumbler composters are problematic because you have to stop feeding the compost at some point so that it can finish the process, and I really wanted a continual source for my kitchen scraps.  Once you have decided on a system, there is the concern about smells and keeping your "greens" and "browns" aligned in some sort of magical, mystical ratio.

Too many variables!  Too many unknowns!  I can't bring myself to make a decision!

However, after reading the book, I mentally shook myself and decided I was over-thinking the whole process.  After all, how hard can it be to make dirt?

I came across a couple of blogs (example 1, example 2) which described using large Tupperware containers as compost bins.  It seemed a perfect solution.  I already had large Tupperware bins from our once-a-year cow purchase collecting dust, so I could try it out without any additional cost.  Also, using bins meant that when one was full and "aging," I could continue to compost by using a second bin. So, I made the plunge. 

My compost bins on top of a wooden slab which is in turn on top of a concrete slab. The bins have holes drilled on the bottom to let water drain and along the top 2 inches (for airflow).

The full bin.  Going to let this sit for a bit to ripen and do its composty thing.  (And I call myself a scientist.)

The new bin with fresh scraps and clippings.

The soil aerator comes in handy to mix up the compost once the bin gets too heavy to shake.

Our very small back yard and garden.  Veggie plot to the right and herb garden to the left. 
So, I took these pictures about a month ago.  We are actually on our third bin.  The first bin has been dumped in the garden, the second bin (the "new" one in the above photo) is "resting," and we have started a fresh one. 

Regarding smells: with the first bin, I was really good with adding dry material (shredded paper) every time I added scraps, and I had no issues with smells.  The compost just smelled like dirt, maybe like some old vegetables, but nothing rank.  I got a bit complacent with the second bin--not adding dry material every single time.  It was stinkier and wetter.  However, all that meant is that we added a lot more dry material to it plus some soil and started a new bin for the fresh stuff.  No harm done.

We go through a lot of produce here and are averaging a bin a month.  It is nice to know that all of that is going back into our garden and soil and not to some landfill.  I also like that we can do this pretty much year round with minimal effort on our part.  


Melanie said...

Good for you!

I didn't rate American Wasteland all that high on Goodreads, but it really has been one of the most impactful books I've read this year. I had always assumed that throwing away organic material didn't matter since it would just biodegrade anyway. I had no idea that putting vegetable scraps in the trash was bad!

I don't have a yard to use compost in, but I've tried to reduce waste by freezing vegetable scraps and then using them to make vegetable stock.

Carol said...

Good for you! And I like this post because it makes composting sound so do-able. I'm still in the stage you were previously: composting sounds like a great idea, but still sounds so intimidating. I might just have to try the bins. (although around here we freeze for half the year)

RFamily said...

I am totally impressed and intrigued, bc you do make this sound do-able. So it will be able to continue in the winter with freezing temps?

Kari said...

Ok, I guess I need to read this book! We've composted in the past, but don't here because of a lack of yard (living in an RV does that) and because we have bears (living in Alaska does that). So I wonder if there's a middle ground that would work for us? We have a tiny patch of space where we could set up a small system like yours, but not sure what to do about the bear problem. Do you think the odors were minor enough when you added lots of dry materials that it wouldn't attract bears? Maybe I'll look around the internet to see what other people in bear-prone places do...


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