Hippie School for Habitat Stewards is over for the session, and I'm back with a renewed interest and vigor in all things eco. It was refreshing to sit in a room and talk about the environment in real, hands on ways, without having brands and goods thrown in my face. Changing the world, one reused object at a time? For real??
Around our house we don't take the garbage to the street for pick up every week. Between the two of us, we don't really have that much actual trash, the rest goes into recycling (which also doesn't go to the street for pick up until it's absolutely full.) I don't know if this will truly make a difference, but I have a sneaking suspicion that cutting the idling time on those big garbage trucks could add up quickly, saving a good bit of gas.
What does this have to do with habitat and working on keeping our world green? Well, the same philosophy goes for yard waste, right? Some cities do implement a municipal composting program, but why ship your leaves off to break down when you're just going to purchase more dirt come planting time? Simply delineating an area of your space for building dirt and throwing vegetative waste on it can change your landscape; think of how thankful your houseplants will be when you can offer them a tall drink of compost tea.
Live in an apartment? There are many kitchen composters on the market, but why not take a small lidded trash can or 5 gallon bucket, drill some holes in it and keep it on the patio? Put a lipped dish under it, and it will collect the extra liquids and you have yourself a super-charged apartment sized drink of nutrients for your favorite growing greenery.
Composting is essentially the transformation of vegetation back into dirt. I'm sure a lot of you already compost, but a little positive reinforcement never hurts. For the noncomposters out there (if you've read this far), with all the talk of scientific balance and the problematic smells that are too often associated with composting, I thought I'd present an easy way to get back to the basics of it, so you can start cooking up some nutrients. Obviously there are tons of ways to make dirt happen. Some people compost directly on the area they'll cultivate later (plastic sheet mulching and lasagna method), some compost in a pile, others in a cage or stand still bin, and still others in a tumbler bin.
The lasagna method is simple: a layer of thick cardboard or wet newspaper (5 sheets thick), a layer of compost or manure, and a layer of loose organic material on top. At that point some people will solarize the concoction to help it cook down into rich compost a little faster, but it will work either way. Nature takes her course.
I use a plastic heavy-duty trash can with holes drilled in the top, bottom, and sides and stir it up and sometimes just tumble it around the yard. My cost was less than $15, but to keep the smell away (plastic holds moisture) I have to maintain the green to brown ratio in check. Most experienced composters suggest a 2:1 ratio of carbon based to nitrogen based goods.
While in Hippie School, though, we talked compost, and I was surprisingly reinvigorated by the simple technique that was presented. A homemade wire cage, some alfalfa meal pellets from a feed supply store, and a heavy supply of leaves and you're all set for a hot batch of compost. Things you'll need: 12.5' heavy duty wire caging material (you'll find it in the fencing section of the hardware store), Lots of leaves (perhaps from your neighbors' yards, if you can't get enough from your own; we like to bike around with a trailer on one bike and pick up bags at the street), Alfalfa meal pellets (rabbit food, find it at a farm supply/hardware store. It's much cheaper there than pet stores, actually almost half the price) which is a super quick and effective method of infusing your leaves (browns/carbons) with nitrogen (greens), and a quick and easy water source.
Form a cylinder out if the wire, using the raw end to "tie" the ends together. This will form a bin just over 1 cubic meter, which will make 1" of compost for approximately 100 square feet.
Next add a foot of leaves to the bottom. Sprinkle the leaves with alfalfa pellets. Add water to make the pile moist, but not soggy, and mix it all together.
Repeat the process until your bin is full.
Mix every couple weeks (don't get too anxious, you know, watched pot blah blah blah) and wait for the magic of nutrient rich compost to happen!
*Keep it moist but not soggy. The wire cage will help in this, but at the same time, make sure it doesn't dry out, either. A dry heap will attract ants; it will also keep microbial activity down, which is what's making your waste into compost.
*Turn, turn, turn. Get a pitchfork and take some aggression out on your heap, stir it like stew, shake it like...well, you know. But get some air in there every once in a while and it will keep some of the yucky smells at bay.
*Make sure you bury your food scraps--this will keep flies from laying their eggs in your bin and should aid in keeping rodents away.
*Don't put your bin near a water source and keep it away from storm drains. All that nitrogen in stream water can turn into an ugly algae bloom and kill the little fishies.
The examples below of composters and supplies are all from Green Culture. They certainly aren't necessary to get the job done, just a great example of some of the products available in the world of composting.
1. Natural Cedar Bin -- $172; 2. Heavy Duty Pitch Fork $35.77; 3. Compost Starter, 4 lb box -- $14.65; 4. Stainless Steel Counter Top Compost Keeper -- $63.65; 5. Compact Compost Tumbler -- $332.22; 6. Soil Circle Compost cage, similar to what my municipality sells (just ignore that bad Photoshopping job they did, okay?) -- $39.15
Really diggin this dirt stuff? Become a Master Composter!
Renee Garner has a passion to make things grow, although her brownish thumb wants her to believe otherwise. When mud pies aren't on the menu, you can find her doodling the days away at Wolfie and the Sneak.