Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Composting is fun

My mom's house in Texas was nestled on a woody, juniper-filled hillside in a upscale neighborhood in NW Austin, only marginally "landscaped" above and below the house. The deck extended over a scruffy lawn (no sun, of course), so from the deck, it was easy to throw the odd banana peel or lettuce leaf into the scrubby forest.

She wasn't a gardener, so there was no need to create compost, but I think it appealed to her thrifty ways and sense of environmentalism. Her mother was a gardener, though, so maybe she had composted back when the vegetable garden was a source of food for a good bit of the winter, after canning. I still remember being impressed by the jars of canned beans and tomatoes in Grandma's cellar and the vegetable gardens and berry patches that she had when I was a child.

Even before I was a gardener, I enjoyed putting our vegetable and fruit scraps in a compost heap, being environmentally-inclined myself. We had established one within one of our shrub borders in our first house in Georgia, so we didn't have to toss vegetable scraps in the trash. When we moved to Clemson, our neighbor asked if he could have the compost -- "solid gold" of course, for those of us who want to add nutrients and organic matter to their gardens. We said, of course you can have the compost, but it certainly got me thinking more about it.

Here in SC, I set up a simple wire-bin compost system, and we started throwing more things into it-- all of our kitchen vegetable trimmings, but also the results of our weed-pulling efforts, spent vegetables from the garden, etc. It's now grown to a 3-bin system, especially after we moved in against the fence, post garden shed. I've also added a garage-can composter to hopefully 'cook' any weed seeds left in the compost, so have tried to ramp it up to being efficient.

Essentially, what we're doing is cold composting -- turning is somewhat of a chore in these bins, since they're surrounded by hay bales to prevent Mocha (our dog) from foraging for nasty spoiled bits, so it's a bit of a reach to "turn" the compost, as recommended by many 'experts.'

In one of my programs, a participant said that she blended up all of her compostable materials, eggshells included, to speed up composting. A lovely idea, if you have a spare blender and the initiative to do it. Do I need to admit that eggshell bits are part of the compost I spread on the vegetable garden?

But it's great to see that pail of compost go out almost every day, and see how small the trash bag is each week, since we also recycle everything we can! There are all sorts of attractive compost pails that coordinate with kitchen decor. This one is a Turkish copper pail from Gardeners Supply. Quite nice, and certainly a lot better than an open plastic container!

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