I’ve been feeling like I had to organize my compost. At first, I secured a second hand black plastic composting bin. You put stuff in the top, and, in theory, compost comes out this nifty door at the bottom. Only, in actual fact, that is not what happened.
According to the “Humanure” book, which should be read for the wealth of composting information, even if you don’t plan to compost your own poop, it is absolutely not a requirement to turn your compost. There is no point discussing this with any gardener who thinks otherwise. As with people who practice straight line gardening as compared to square foot gardening, some people are entrenched in what they (think they) know. So no. Clearly it’s not necessary to turn compost as evidenced by the fact that when I poured my bucket out today, its contents were steaming. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
Composters feel you must have some sort of a bin. But when I was growing up, we dumped everything on a huge pile, which, magically, stopped growing. I absolutely adored taking food waste and putting it on that pile next to our garage. I expected a mountain with all the stuff I was stealthily scraping off plates (I was a very picky eater) but in fact no mountain ever materialized. This mystified and disappointed me then. Now I think it’s wonderful! It fully demonstrates that compost works all on its own and does not require being dug nor turned nor, in fact, fussed with at all.
Back to my foolish bin. Knowing I didn’t need anything that turned and that I would eventually have compost, I happily added to the top and waited for rich compost to come out the bottom. I took the temperature a few months ago and was disappointed to find only one hot spot; the rest was at air temperature. And when I managed, with much effort, to slide the door at the bottom open, I found it crawling with large scary insects but the stuff did not in any way resemble ripe compost. As I have some fruit trees that will go in the ground in the spring, I really am needing my compost to be ready sooner rather than later.
After a great amount of struggling, interspersed with running away because of the big scary bugs, I managed to lift the compost thing off my heap of compost. Much to my relief (composters do get excited about strange things, don’t we), I did observe some steam rising off the lower parts as the pile slid apart. Most of it was too solid and absolutely disgusting for me to even think of using a pitch fork or in fact anything to muck with it. So I simply used my handy dandy rake to gather up some leaves from around my garden and bury the pile. I have learned from the Humanure book that if compost smells offensive, all that is required is to cover it. They recommend sawdust but I can’t see the logic of spending money and I am not composting poop, so I use what’s readily available: leaves. This works brilliantly. My plan with this pile is to simply leave it a few more weeks and see how it goes. I expect it’s zipping along nicely under its cover. All those bugs tell me good stuff was going on.
Meanwhile, because I need something within a few months, I started a new pile so I can leave my current one undisturbed. I have heard from a few sources that a great way to make a nice pile is to take four pallets and wire them together to make a cube. That is a very large cube! And then, perhaps, a second cube so there are two piles going; one to use and the other in progress. But really? Must compost be contained? And if it were contained in an open structure like this, how would you get the cover material on top which so nicely cuts down the odor?
I am going native. I didn’t have the four pallets so I kept putting off starting my new compost pile. Then time ran out when I had the looming deadline of the spring tree planting so I just started a pile in the back corner of my yard under a tree. Of course it stank the first time I dumped my bucket so I put an extra rake near it. I dump my bucket about once a week, it seems. It takes a few extra minutes to rake some leaves on top of the pile. As I dumped the contents today, I saw lovely steam rise up. I bedded it all down nicely with natural (and free!) yard waste, and with some time and some luck, this pile will mature nicely by the time I need it. Starting a new pile will be a matter of choosing location. I see no reason to do anything other than help it keep its shape. I certainly don’t feel inclined to try to haul things up and over the top of sideways place pallets and especially not yard rakings. And I most certainly don’t intend to go buy sawdust to put on my compost to keep the odor down.
Perhaps large scale operations need neat and tidy bins. But for just our little family, the pile seems the way to go. I can’t wait to be proven right!
By the way, the buckets I am using are brilliant. When I bought the Humanure toilet (as insurance in case, for whatever reason, we ever find ourselves without plumbing, not because I actually intend to use it), it came with four or five lovely large covered plastic buckets. I am using one of these for my compost and it’s much better than the previous container I had which attracted a house full of flies when used on the counter, filled my freezer when placed there, and was just too darned small to be convenient. Plus it required me to keep buying foolish compost liners which may well be biodegradable, but still, they cost money! The buckets I now use hold five gallons. I simply rest the lid on top so it’s very convenient to add to it. The mouth is wide so it’s easy to scrape plates in without missing. The handle is comfortable so I don’t mind lugging it outside when it fills. Brilliant! And we are blessed with occasional warm days even in winter so I am able to keep up with it. But as I have 4, I know I have the option of starting up a second bin if I need to. I could see that happening in the long muggy hot summer or during the rainy season when I won’t want to muck in the mud.