More compost than you know what to do with?


"Luke, I am your compost bin..." "NO!! thats impossible!"

“Do you ever find that you have more compost than you know what to do with?’ My colleague Lindsey asked me this one winter day a few years ago. I tried to keep my cool, tried not to frighten her as I thought about how to get this bounty of excess compost into my pick-up truck.  Lindsey and her family are vegetarians, and they don’t garden. They keep a compost pile for environmental reasons.  I am not a vegetarian, I do garden, and I can never get enough. 

            “Too much compost eh? Well, I could take some off your hands…” I didn’t quite rub my hands together and laugh evilly, but it was close. In talking to her, it turned out she didn’t have too much, it is just that her bin is small, and decomposition had slowed down in the winter, but she and her family were still producing potato peels, apple cores and other vegetable matter.  I advised her to move the bin to a new location, spread the half-finished compost under her trees, and put the new material into the bin in the new location.    

            I have two compost piles, and never enough compost for my desires. I spread it on my vegetables, around my flowers and shrubs and herbs. The rough, chunky unfinished stuff becomes mulch. The finished stuff, the compost you read about in garden books, goes into my containers mixed in with potting soil, and it goes in the holes for new plantings, to add humus to the soil and give plants a jumpstart. People say I have a green thumb- I owe it all to compost.

            One of my bins is black plastic- I bought it from the city a few years ago. It looks like Darth Vader is buried up to his neck in my yard. (link to compost bin?) It would look cool, if that were the look I was going for. It isn’t, so I try to hide it behind a tree.(link to self)  The black plastic helps the bin heat up, speeding decomposition.  In the summer, at the height of weed season, I can stuff the bin full, hose it down and put the lid on. In a week, when I have another trash barrel full of weeds, there is already room for it.  The bacteria and fungi in the bin have eaten up the organic matter so quickly that it breaks down by half in only a week.  It’s amazing, even if it is a little gross.

            My second bin is enormous. The design is my brother’s invention- two plastic lattice panels wired together into a circle five feet in diameter and four feet tall.  If you read the same books I do, you know that a compost bin has to be at least 3 feet in all dimensions in order to heat up enough to kill weed seeds.  My lattice bin holds about 2 cubic yards, and heats up so effectively that I have never been able to fill it. I can add bag after bag of leaves in the fall, barrel after barrel of weeds in the summer, and it just continuously boils down. 

            On a  sunny day in the spring, I  spread out the finished compost, move the bins and start over.  This is the only work I do with my compost bins- some people do turn theirs, but I am not one of those people.  For a peek into another world of largescale compost production, see One Straw’s posts at htt[:/onestraw.wordpress.com .  If you have a yard cart that the trash trucks pick up, you probably pull weeds and rake leaves and then wheel that material to the curb. I just wheel my material to my bins and dump it.  The difference is, I get to keep the free compost.

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