Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Back to Compost

Located towards the back corner of the house, in a narrow ally way created by the neighbor’s close garage, partially underneath a slowly dripping air conditioner, and placed on top of the cement ground due to no other options of
placement, exists our compost pile.

All of our cut grass goes here. Five gallons at-a-time or more, food scraps combined with ink-less cardboard is also added in. We started it early this spring, creating a layer of sticks, twigs, and leaves dropped by the neighbor’s magnolia tree in front of their garage, and next to and over the beginning of our garden walkway. Food scraps and used soil in old containers were added along with whatever else the magnolia tree continued to drop for us.

To block the compost pile from people who may walk through the alley, we built a framed piece of plywood cut-to-fit using leftover wood from a past project. It is leaning haphazardly against a rusting white cast-iron fence, which originally opens up like a gate giving entrance to the back alley way, or exit from the house. Along the sides of the house and the sides of the neighbor’s garage are used pallets standing up-and-down, keeping the compost off and away from the buildings. Only crumbs occasionally fall through the holes in the pallets.

Presently, I would estimate it at about 6 feet long by 3 feet wide at a depth of 1.5 feet, or 27 cubic feet. The compost pile needs to be a minimum of one cubic yard, preferably 2 cubic yards, in order to heat up and break down organic matter correctly, according to “The American Horticultural Society – Encyclopedia of Gardening.” In cubic yards, we are at approximately 9.

So far any threat of foul odors have not been detectable. Sometimes if I begin filling the 5-gallon bucket with more food scraps than ink-less cardboard the bucket will smell unpleasantly sour once the lid is lifted off. This is always caused by pure laziness, but even the bucket leaves no trace of odor fitted with the proper lid.
According to the encyclopedia, the compost pile should consist of nitrogen-rich material, such as grass clippings and food scraps, and carbon-rich material, such as bark and shredded paper, in a ratio of 1:2.

Each time I add the bucket to the compost pile, I have an abundance of small cardboard pieces on hand to make sure the ratios are eyed correctly. Sometimes I’ll have a separate pile of cut grass placed in front of the compost and will add it in in batches, just to not add too much nitrogen-rich material all at once.
I also turn the pile in stages, always hoping to turn the whole pile every 2 to 3 weeks. Doing this helps speed up the process making sure it breaks down completely, according to the encyclopedia.

At the end of July we will stop adding to what we have and start a new, separate pile towards the far back as we move this one forward. We will cover it with a tarp and turn it often to ensure it is completely broken down when November comes. According to the encyclopedia, the compost matures in about 3 months, taking the first 2 to 3 weeks to heat up appropriately. At the end of the season, we will add it to each garden bed as needed.   

If our estimate of 9 cubic yards is correct we would have enough compost to add 3 inches to each of our 8 by 4 foot beds. According to the encyclopedia, 2 to 4 inches should be added in order to improve soil structure and add nutrients. One bed would take 8 cubic feet, or almost one cubic yard. We would have more than needed. However, we are expecting the compost to shrink as it breaks down.

Every fall compost will be added. As time goes on we will learn how much compost two humans eating 100% plant-based diets can produce in one year. At the end of every July we’ll start a new one.

The long-term goal would be to work with 7, 8 by 4 foot beds. Through crop rotation and planting cover crops, we will focus on building soil fertility by fully sustainable means. That means no running to the store to purchase organically marketed products like we did our first year. Everything we need we will have and produce on-site. Right now we are content with 3.5 beds.

Composting has become part of my daily routine. Upon awakening the body drifts to the coffee pot. A one-gallon freezer bag is kept in the door of the fridge. Inside is a one-gallon decomposable bag purchased from Wegmans which we fill up with coffee grounds and food scraps. We place the decomposable bag inside the freezer bag to re-use the freezer bag multiple times. We then take the decomposable bag right out our front door and dump it into a 5-gallon bucket topped with a layer of small cardboard pieces. However, we do not add the decomposable bag to the compost pile. Instead we place it in the garbage. It just feels right. Once the 5-gallon bucket is full, it is then mixed in the compost pile 30 to 40 feet away.

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