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Compost woes November 18, 2008

Filed under: organic gardening — Thinking Woman @ 9:35 pm
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I am blessed to live in a town where you can actually get some stuff for “free”. (Nothing is really for free; obviously it’s all paid for by my tax dollars, but still, if this stuff is available and I don’t have to pay then I’m getting me some!) The thing I just got for free was a huge pile of what was supposed to be wood chips. I had it in mind to refresh the area in front of my house outside the fence where we park our car. That way, next spring, I would not have to bring down the neighborhood due to my lackadaisical attitude about timely mowing.

What was actually delivered didn’t much resemble wood chips. It is mostly sticks and leaves and it’s bloody hard work to get it moved around. I just put in about two solid hours loading the wheel barrow, dumping it where I wanted it, and raking it out. My girls even helped! I love when they join me in my projects. It feels like the way things are supposed to be. But I digress!

After a few hours of this, I started trying to free up an area at the top of the pile because the whole side was just such a tangled mess. And when I finally got some of the wood chips (ahem – sticks) untangled, steam vapors rose up! At first, I thought it must be due to moisture but when I put my hand there, it really was quite warm. Off I went to get my compost thermometer that came with my composting toilet. I checked the temperature of the spot that was giving off so much steam and slowly it rose all the way to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit! That is right in the top range of cooking along nicely! I was so curious, I checked the temperature in a number of other spots and all were cooking! All were at least 100 degrees Farenheit. The pile had been there for just four days and I believe it was freshly chopped because it was delivered by the truck that did the shredding. So wow! Just a few days and real compost action happening!

According to my thermometer, it was 60 degrees Fahrenheit. And even though I’d already checked the internal temperature of my compost pile, I can not get past the fact that I think I’ve been doing everything right. So off I went to check it again. And guess what? Internal temperature of….wait for it…..yep, that’s right! Sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Crap. I was determined this time to find at least some sign of life in there so I poked until I did manage to find one spot that was all the way up to a whopping 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Oh boy.

So what gives? I have been feeding my pile and learning as I go, adding more different kinds of good stuff. And yet, nada. Zilch. Zippo. What gives? According to the Humanure book and other composting books I’ve read, twigs are not suitable for compost.

So what gives? How come when I do everything right, I get a big pile of garbage, and when a load of four day old sticks shows up, it’s immediately lovely compost?

I am totally rethinking my idea of using the pile for spreading around my parking area. I am considering just leaving it all winter and checking to see if it automagically turns itself into rich compost by spring. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

If you want to tell me what’s going on here, please comment!


Humanure (human manure) November 14, 2008

Filed under: health,organic food,organic gardening,unplugging — Thinking Woman @ 4:56 pm
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I must admit, I am intrigued by the whole concept of composting human manure. I am by no means ready to start doing it, but I am taking steps to adjust to the possibility of ever going through the process.

The Joseph Jenkins composting toilet I bought came with 4 large green buckets with lids. They are the recepticles in which you are intended to eliminate. Well, rather than have these great lids sit around, I decided to use them for composting. The last time I composted on my counter, I had a huge issue with flies. I was using a proper container intended for the purpose of countertop compost collection (say that three times fast) but the flies made the whole thing unbearable so into the freezer it went. But it takes up too much valuable real estate!

The big green bucket thing is working great! I don’t actually know how to put the lid on and it would be too much hassle to do that every time anyway, so the lid just rests on top of the container. Because it’s so large, I am more inclined to throw extra non-food stuff in there, like a bit of junk mail or floor sweepings. I am learning to put more and more stuff in there rather than in the trash and also training my family.

I’m sure Joseph Jenkins would not be proud, but it’s a start! I am getting to practice hauling that large bucket out and deal with cleaning it outside while not actually having to risk splashing human pee and poop all over myself.


What instincts have we lost? November 7, 2008

Filed under: unplugging — Thinking Woman @ 1:50 pm
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It’s amazing to watch how instinctual animals are. I’ve almost always had indoor-only cats. Since we moved to a house with a fenced in yard, we’ve decided (or rather, our cats have forced us to decide) to let our cats out within the yard, so long as they are supervised. As cats are invasive exotics, I’d rather not have them just go loose on the environment. But so long as we’re watching, I can’t see the harm in it.

We’ve been doing this for just a few weeks and so they are still doing new things all the time. Today, I saw my male cat stalk a bird for the first time. I am not pleased about this and will be off to get the noisest bell collars I can find right away, but still, it was interesting. Both cats also have amazing tree climbing skills. Not only to they float up to dizzying heights in the time it takes me to exhale, they both seem to know how to get back down (thank goodness!).

One also loves digging (was he a dog last lifetime) and I’ve seen him pee in a hole and cover it nicely at least once. As he’s had issues with peeing all over the place, I’m hoping he enjoys his outdoor pees and perhaps we can start to think about letting them back into the bedroom. We do miss them and they’ve been locked out for most of his life because of this issue. I’ve never closed my door to cats before so this is really something we’d like to put behind us!

So what instincts do we have that we override in our youth? Are we meant to eat bugs? When I watch other children (not my own), they have a keen interest in handling bugs. And of course other cultures still eat them. Are we missing critical nutrients because of this? Are we meant to dig a little hole and defecate wherever? Probably. Why are we so out of touch with basic interaction with the earth?

I can see the difference in the cats already. I have never seen them move so swiftly! My male cat was so nervous at first, he did a weird high stepping walk over the ground cover. But now, he flows and bounds and bounces. The both fly into the trees. They look fully alive in a way they never have being stuck indoors all these years.

Our composting toilet arrived yesterday. It came with a book which I’d already started reading as it is downloadable as a PDF from the website. Very informative! I am learning so much about composting. Even if I never attempt to compost human excretions, I feel more confident by leaps and bounds about my compost bin. We still have no immediate intention of actually using this toilet, but that could change! We really would like to add a 3rd bathroom but the most logical place is a closet that is about 35″ X 35″; much too small to put in the necessary plumbing according to my research. This toilet would fit with room to spare for the sawdust or whatever material is to be used on top of the excrement. With the addition of the portable bidet I bought, there is no need for hand washing!

So today, we get bell collars for the cats. And I’ll think more about getting closer to nature.


Freezing kitchen compost October 7, 2008

Filed under: organic gardening — Thinking Woman @ 5:53 pm
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When I first started saving up kitchen compost, the container I was using was too small. The next container I tried attracted flies. I found this lovely container called the Max Air Composting Bucket which you line with biodegradable bags. I was assured that flies would not be an issue. They could not have been more wrong; we had fruit flies in every room of our house within a few weeks. I gave up composting completely while we worked on that issue!

Then I started keeping the compost bucket in the freezer and problem solved!