Monday, June 2, 2008

Let It Rot! (For composting beginners)

My three bin composting system placed near my garden for easy application and an insider's view of my beautiful rotting mess.

Are you seeking a simple explanation for creating your own compost? I recommend the book "Let It Rot." It treats composting as an art, not a science. It suggests various methods to follow for composting and provides troubleshooting. The troubleshooting is particularly helpful for heavily right-brained thinkers like me. (Place me in the category of those who may be turned off by some long-winded explanations of the chemistry for proper composting. I enjoy experimenting, but not detailed directions or recipes to reach my goals.) Instead, the book suggests things such as, if your compost is too wet, add dry leaves and grass. (AHHHH! I can do that!) I had been "composting" in a large garbage pail for two years. It was smelly and nothing was getting accomplished -- at least nothing useful for the garden. My problem? I needed air holes to promote circulation. Now that I know this I recognize that it is common sense, but I did not have the common sense to figure it out! (I transferred my compost to a new bin in which I could punch holes. After making the proper circulation, my yard smelled for two weeks. Unfortunately, the bins are located near my daughter's play area. The poor little girl did not want to go on her swing. I told her why it smelled and what the problem was and that I was going to fix it. The dear little girl volunteered to help, carrying dried bits to the pail and holding her nose while she dumped them in. Note: Unless you want to put up with the odor for weeks, do not punch holes in a closed container filled with acridic smelling, rotting vegetables!)

Here are some more helpful tips:
- turn your compost often, but not too often, so that you retain the heat necessary for descent composting (Did you even think about needing heat?)
- add some friendly microbes from you friendly neighborhood garden center or a little manure to get the process under way
- keep the pile moist, but not too moist
- good compost doesn't smell! Finished compost should be sweet and earthy
- there are many types of containers or lack thereof for composting (read the book and he'll explain)
- add as much as you can or want - grass clippings, newspaper, veggie leftovers, weeds (Did you know that some people even raid other people's garbage to get more for their compost bin? I'm not at this stage yet and think I'm probably lucky enough to produce enough unwanted organic matter that I will probably never get to this stage.)
-Chop up pieces as much as you can for faster decay. (Again, this makes perfect sense for by increasing surface area you allow the organisms to work on more parts, but I never thought to do it before this book.)
-Though compost is great for the garden, you will generally need to still add fertilizer as compost will not provide enough nutrients alone for your plants.
- Have fun with it. Yes, really, have fun. It is deeply satisfying to see smell my less odiferous compost and to see the newspaper pieces transforming into something else.

Despite not raiding others' garbage, I do feel myself becoming a composting addict. I check the pile everyday and am itching for the end stage when I can get this stuff in the garden. Maybe it is because I finally feel like my science experiment is progressing properly. Good luck and if you are new to composting too, let me know how you are making out.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Let It Rot sounds like my kind of book :) Present composting as an art and I'm right in there, but start getting too technical and scientific and I'm either lost or asleep :)

I've got a HUGE pile of leaves, grass clippings and pulled up sod beside the bin we built this year. I'm layering stuff from that pile with my kitchen scraps and it seems to be going well so far. I was excited to see lots of fat, healthy worms in the pile the last time I turned it.