Thursday, January 12, 2012

Black gold

I struck black gold in the backyard today!  No, not oil, but compost, rich and dark.  I turned the compost pile today and screened out 20 gallons of wonderfully rich, friable compost which will go into the new beds for the Ein Shemer apple and the bulbs.  Since my garden is organic and my soil has lots of clay, I use homemade compost to enrich it, and as a bonus it reduces the amount of trash going to the landfill.  I keep a bowl on the kitchen island for all of the compostible scraps; banana peels, apple cores, veggie peels and even eggshells and coffee grounds.  If you go to Starbucks at the right time, especially just after the morning or lunch rushes or at closing, you can get used coffee grounds free for the taking.  I also add all the lawn clippings and plant trimmings, so nothing goes to waste.  There are numerous commercial composters on the market or you can make your own; plans are plentiful on the Internet.  I started with one made of plastic garden fencing like the type used for trellising plants, but the dogs kept digging at the bottom, so I had to find an alternative.  I was on the City's website when I found out they offered composters for $5.  They're made from damaged black plastic trash cans with the bottom cut off and several 2"-3" holes drilled in the sides for air circulation.  Better yet, they could drop one off and add the $5 to my next month's bill.  The composter holds about 35-40 gallons of raw materials and since they're lidded, they're fairly animal proof.  I say fairly, since I found a gecko inside mine today when I was screening out the compost, but they do keep the bigger critters out.

The process of making compost is fairly simple, first you add organic material and then some soil or compost starter to add the beneficial bacteria and fungi that do all the work of turning trash into compost and continue layering until the composter is full without pushing down on the contents.  Water the compost pile often enough to keep it moist to keep the bacteria and fungi happy.  Too dry and it'll take forever to make compost and too wet and you'll end up with a slimy, foul smelling mess.  The compost pile needs to be turned occasionally, depending on how often you add material, but a good rule of thumb is at least once or twice a month.  Turning mixes up the materials, allowing air to circulate and speeds up the process.  Composting generates quite a bit of heat within the pile, which kills off most seeds and pathogens in the raw material so that you don't have to worry about weeds springing from your compost.

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