Monday, March 19, 2012

Busy Girl's Guide to Composting


Since Matt and I moved to our new house in Austin, we've changed up our composting system. Before I share our new system, I wanted to share our old one because it was super-simple.

I got the old one for free in Baton Rouge back in 2001 when I was doing Teach For America in rural Louisiana. It looked just like a trash can, except it had a big hole at the bottom that opened up to the ground. It was similar to this one. I'm convinced it's the absolute best system for someone who wants to keep as much out of the landfill as possible but a) doesn't care about actually using the compost when it breaks down and b) doesn't have a lot of time. We used this system by collecting our egg shells and fruit and veggie peels throughout the week in a big piece of tupperware in our refrigerator. When it got full, we would take it into the backyard and dump it into our composter. That's it. That's all we ever did. We never added water. Never really added brown material (like leaves and twigs). Never aerated it. We just used it like a permanent trashcan. Because everything was constantly breaking down, it never got full. It just decomposed back into the earth.

I may be giving terrible advice (if I am, please speak up!). Perhaps this strategy only works in warm weather climates. Or maybe it's really bad for the soil to have such a concentrated area of either carbon- or nitrogen-richness (I can't remember which it is). All I know is that I have used this strategy at four different houses, and it has worked well every time. I even used it at an apartment complex by hiding it among all the black trashcans.

With the kind of system I described above, I've found that it's difficult to get the compost out once it's broken down. It's constantly buried beneath new fruit and veggie peels. That's why Matt and I opted for a different system now that we actually want to use it for a garden. We searched high and low for a spinning tumbler that has two compartments. You can fill up one side and then let it sit and finish breaking down while you fill up the other, separate side. Although it was on the pricey side, I think it will be worth it (and thankfully the city of Austin is giving us a $75 rebate). The other option would have been to buy two separate composters, so we could let one sit and biodegrade while we actively used the other one.

The only downside with our new system is that it actually takes work if we want to get good compost out of it. We need to add three parts of brown material to every one part of our normal stuff. First, that's a lot! Second, we don't naturally have brown material (e.g., leaves) to compost. So every time we put in one part of normal material, we have to scrounge around for three times as much other stuff. The suggestion I've heard is to bag your leaves all fall/winter and then use them to sustain you through the spring and summer. But who wants bags and bags of leaves lying around all year long?

We'll have to see how we do with our new system. I do love that it's off the ground to discourage pests, and it's very simple (and even fun) to rotate, which helps the process a lot.

I'll keep you updated!

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Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: Planning my next DIY quilt!



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11 comments:

Vivian Caldwell said...

You are welcome to a bag or two of hay/chicken droppings from the bottom or our henhouse. We have more than we can use.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Thanks, Vivian! I'll talk to Matt about it since he's officially in charge of procuring the browns. At the very least, I want to come see your house! It sounds awesome. I hope all is well...

Mismikado said...

My grandma had composted for decades and has always just used the open heap method since her garden is in the backyard surrounded by a privacy fence. And it has worked great for her because her produce is amazing!

Anonymous said...

I use newspaper (cut in thin strips) to add brown material to my compost. In the fall I also make a pile of leaves in the back of the yard and add those as needed - I don't know if that would work for you, but if you have an inconspicuous/ungrassy spot in the yard you may want to give it a try.

Kylie said...

I've had this type of tumbler composter and it works great. I love you blog Sara, I find it inspirational every day.
Cheers to you.

Anonymous said...

Chickens are also great composters!We feed our chickens our compost whenever we go out to check on them. There is hardly anything they will not eat (and love). We then clean out the chicken run every once and awhile and add the droppings/stray mixture to our compost piles and keep those turning and mixed until done and ready to use. The result is wonderful, rich, and free soil for use in the veggie garden.

Rosie said...

I have this same problem with the too much greens and not enough browns... and all the rain we've had has made it worse.

I have a big pile of papers that I need to shred though and I think that will help.

Kelly said...

I bet you guys could get paper from your schools to use as browns. It needs to be shredded, but that's not so hard.

I have a spinning composter (just one compartment, but the finished product comes out the center, continuously) and I'm terrible about adding enough browns, but it hasn't really been a problem because it all breaks down so much. Just this week I had just recently decided to start getting better about browns - we can do it!

Sara E. Cotner said...

I love the shredded paper idea (we actually have a lot of shredded paper from our secure documents), but are there chemicals in paper that I would not want to be putting into the soil?

Unknown said...

I did some "research" about shredded paper and it seemed safe enough for me to try it. It made a huge difference in our compost since we have little to no accessible natural browns. Too much green can result in a very stinky compost, so whenever I notice a bad odor we add a big bag of shredded paper.

Not So French Girl said...

I have composting worms for vegetable and fruit refuse. I also add coffee grounds, loose tea and non-coloured newsprint. I live in a winter climate, so I was just in my yard doing some spring clean-up today. I wish I could send you all my leaves and twigs and dead plants! I'm debating what do to, how to set up outdoor compost and take advantage of my (small) problem!

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