Make your own dirt! Part 3

April 24, 2012 § 11 Comments

I’ve only had a compost bin for six days, but already I’m an expert.  You may not believe this, but I actually checked out a book at the library about compost.  I read it cover-to-cover, and can’t believe that:

A) Someone actually got paid to write a book that is essentially about garbage; and

B) People are waiting in line to check out a garbage-themed book from my local library.

The book is “Compost: The natural way to make food for your garden,” by Ken Thompson.  It’s a great book, but if you buy it, you’ll have to hide it under your bed when people come over, because otherwise they’ll be saying things like, “You actually bought a book about garbage?”   And then you’ll get all defensive, and find yourself defending your purchase of a book that talks about how to recycle your own hair and toenail clippings, when you never considered recycling your hair or toenail clippings at all; but now that you think of it…Hmmm…maybe you could start clipping your toenails over the compost bin.

Since I’m a big compost expert, here are my lessons learned.  And before you start thinking that I have NO EXPERIENCE WHATSOEVER on the very important topic of composting, I’ll remind you that I did indeed read Ken Thompson’s book, and I also visited Dave’s mom many times, and she had a compost pile for many years, and I willingly went outside to throw garbage into her compost pile, and I also flipped it around a few times with a pitchfork.  So, I’m an expert.

Here’s what I know:

Compost piles need just enough water…not too much, and not too little.  Shrubbery clippings have too little water, and kitchen waste has too much.  If your compost pile is mostly kitchen scraps. then you need to add a few shrubbery clippings, shredded paper, or torn-up cardboard to soak up the liquid.

An old plastic coffee can with a lid makes a terrific interim garbage pail.  Keep it in your kitchen sink (lid on), and dump any compostable materials into it as you work.  Once a day, walk it out to the compost bin, and toss the contents into the bin.  On your way back into the house, you can rinse the coffee can out with water.

You don’t need a fancy bin from Walmart.  Materials will compost perfectly well without a store-bought bin.  A mass-produced bin is merely tidier.

Don’t compost animal products.  To do so attracts vermin.  Animal bedding, such as cedar shavings are fine, however.

It takes about 12 months, give or take a few, to break down discarded materials into compost.   If you turn the compost often, the time will be much shorter.  If you never turn the pile ever (that’s probably me), then the time will be much longer.  Dave says his mom’s compost pile took at least a year to break down stubborn things like old newspapers.

A compost pile doesn’t need to be in a fancy enclosed container.  Although it doesn’t look very attractive, you can just lay the material on the ground if you lack a better solution.  Alternatively, you can build a simple wooden enclosure in your back yard, and place your material in there.  When the enclosure gets full, just build another one next to it, and begin filling it.

Some sort of cover for your compost helps the material retain heat and prevents the surface from drying out. Ken Thompson suggests using a few boards, or a piece of old carpet as a lid.

You can add activators to add nitrogen and increase the speed your materials will compost.  Activators include ammonium sulfate, lime, and chicken manure.  Ken Thompson says human urine also works, but I think I’ll avoid that route even though Dave has DARED me to pee on the compost pile.

Paper is a terrific compost item.  Such things as used tissues, shredded bank statements, toilet paper tubes, and cardboard egg cartons are easily composted.

Three parts soft green waste, partnered with one part woody waste makes the ideal compost.


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§ 11 Responses to Make your own dirt! Part 3

  • viveka says:

    Libby … you’re the “man” for this *smile … in all honesty is it easier for Dave to pee on it. By the way do you know that pee also take away the pain if you have been stung by a puffer fish? Very efficient – tried it myself. Also very efficient on some coral burns!

    • Libby says:

      Easy as it is, NO ONE will be peeing in our compost pile, not even Dave, and especially not me (although I do like a good dare). Yes, I hear pee is good for puffer fish stings. Here in our area, we have fire ants, and I hear pee is good for their stings as well. I just use Windex (smells much better than pee).

      • viveka says:

        Libby, you have become a true expert on this !!! Really enjoy following this adventure. One of the ABBA girls – Annifrid – she has been working with household composting for years. Nearly 15 now, I guess it.

      • Libby says:

        Wow – that’s a long time!

  • df says:

    It’s been fun following your composting adventures. The word is thrown around a lot at our place, and we have a battle around pronunciation (my husband, being a Brit, favours ‘com-pawst’ and I tend to say ‘com-pohst’ – my youngest tends to mimic his father, and my oldest says it like I do!). All that aside, we have an homemade ‘bin’ and do the fill-it-up-and-move-on-to-the-next-one thing. We do grow morning glories up the front in the warm months for a wee bit of beautification!

    • Libby says:

      Dave’s mom used to grow morning glories in her compost (er…com-pohst) bin as well! I wish Dave hadn’t taken down that bin. But then again, if he hadn’t, I never would have purchased the compost ball.

      • df says:

        That’s lovely to know – the morning glory solution is obviously a well established one! I think I’d thank Dave in the end, as your compost ball has prompted a love affair with composting that has translated very well onto the blog! It’s a very healthy love affair to have 🙂

      • Libby says:

        Dave says thank you. I had to really hassle him about resurrecting a compost pile for the farm, but he’s finally coming around that it is a good thing. My next step is chickens!

      • df says:

        We’re really trying to gear ourselves up for chickens and as much as I’d like to vow it will be this year, I’m hesitant. I’ll be so keen to follow what you do!

      • Libby says:

        Chickens are another thing that Dave had a bad experience with growing up. He emphatically does NOT want them, and I emphatically do. I suspect he’ll yield eventually. Meanwhile, I’m looking around for good chicken coop plans. I want a nice portable pen, and 6-7 chickens. I’ll probably build a pen this summer.

      • df says:

        Poor Dave sounds as though he had some rough experiences! I think he’ll yield too, from what you’ve revealed of his good character. Very keen to see how you get on with your plans!

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