Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Composting 101

So I attended a composting workshop tonight put on by my local recycling organization, Eureka Recycling. Aside from the constant struggle to keep my 4-year-old from bursting out with loud exclamations like: "Composting? Huh?" or when they took out the book of 'creatures' that like to live in compost, "CREATURES! What creatures??!!!" or trying to ignore his rambling around the room with his matchbox car making car noises, I think it was pretty much worth the time. The whole thing took about an hour during which we got a useful 4 page handout with tips on composting, an Earth Machine compost bin for only $45, and got to hear the two instructors' experiences with composting and ask whatever burning questions we had.

Before attending the workshop I knew you needed to include browns/dry (leaves, paper, etc), greens/wet (this would basically be the food waste), water and you better stir the pile once in a while if you don't want it to stink. But I was really nervous about how many leaves I need to try to scrounge up at the end of May to get this compost thing started. I mean, I did put a few in my garden beds last fall, but they are scarce now people! And the thing is, they were really hesitant to tell us exactly how much of the good ol' brown stuff we should put into our bins starting out. The rule of thumb we got was: try it out. If it's not working try to add some more browns, or stir the pile, or make sure it's got some moisture. Hmmm. I actually really like rules. I like to know how things work - exactly not approximately. So while this should have felt like a reassuring thing to me it was not. I'll try to be an easy-going-trial-and-error type with this composting thing but in all honesty that's asking an awful lot of this city girl!

In a nutshell, here's what I learned tonight about composting:
1. It's not a precise science (no matter how much I want it to be). It's more of a 'try it out and see what works with your pile' kinda thing.
2. It's not supposed to be smelly. If it stinks something's wrong.
3. In the city of St Paul, you must put your compost bin at least 5ft from your property line. I don't get that one at all. My neighbors can have their farm smelling dog kennel right on our property line, but my sweet smelling compost must allow for some space. This messes with my idea of where I was going to put the bin. Hmmm....
4. OK for compost: fruit scraps, veggie scraps, coffee grounds & filter, paper towels & napkins, pizza boxes (if not too greasy), cardboard egg cartons, egg shells, tea bags, rice/pasta/bread (without a lot of fat), dryer lint, hair, yard stuff except for nasty weeds & weed seeds that you don't want to grow in your compost or later in your garden when you use the compost. Am I missing any? Oh and when in doubt, try it out. You'll know whether it's composting or not.
5. Not OK for compost: meats, oils or fats (includes mayo and peanut butter), bones, cat litter, dairy products, sauces, and the weed thing I kinda mentioned above. I should point out that the reasoning behind most of these 'not OK' items is that they attract animals to your compost bin. The last thing you want is a rabbit den or bunch of baby snakes in your bin the next time you go to stir it up!
6. I should not stress about the proper way to compost. Have I said this enough yet? It's OK to stir it a lot, stir it a little, whatever. Most important thing: if it stinks change something about what you're doing. Add more browns, more moisture or stir the dang thing.

Next on my list is some way to teach my 4-year-old what goes in the garbage vs. what goes in the compost container. I found a couple of graphics (gotta love Google Images) - what do you think of this one (courtesy of Shropshire Master Composters)? It's not entirely complete but I think it'll be helpful to him to see this on the garbage can lid for a while as a reminder. Personally, I love the graphic on the Earth Machine Website under How to Compost. Maybe I'll put that one up as a reminder to myself for a while too!

Lastly, I simply must share this great document recently published by Eureka Recycling: Recycling, Composting and Greenhouse Gas Reductions in Minnesota. Did you know that "A typical household in the Twin Cities area throws away over 10 pounds of household compostable material every week?" Ten POUNDS! Shocking! This is enough to get me started with composting despite it's lack of conformity to my perfectionist tendencies. And apparently if we recycled and composted everything that we should be, only 22% of what Minnesotans are currently throwing in the trash would remain there. So let's get on it shall we?!!

1 comment:

  1. Just signed up to your blog, based on this post alone, and found several others I liked. Thanks!

    One thought occurred to me as I read this: our local compost expert (he keeps 3 piles going in rotation and breeds his own redworms to accelerate decomposition) tells us that the heat of a properly decomposing compost pile will kill any seeds. So as long as you're rotating the pile regularly and each clump gets a chance in the middle, there's nothing to worry about.

    Anyway, looking forward to keeping up with you.