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Composting for a Sustainable Future

One of my 2016 resolutions this year was to compost year round. In our part of New England, winter months are normally frigid and to be honest, the last thing I want to do is run up the hill with a bucket of peels, rinds and other vegetable matter every day. This always leads me to a gloomy feeling of guilt in the blah winter months as I scrape my peels and rinds into the trash knowing full well I’m adding to an already overburdened waste system what could otherwise be becoming beautiful dark compost I could use in my gardens.

Deciding to take the bull by the horns, I bought a 2-gallon metal trash can with a lid. This size can isn’t too large to carry easily but is still large enough to hold one to two weeks’ worth of compostable matter. I’ve placed this on my porch which keeps the odors out of the house and the lid keeps the wild beasties (and neighbor’s dog) out of the can. I also keep a bucket of chopped straw next to the can so that I can layer the materials which will help them break down faster once placed in my compost bin at the end of the week or two weeks depending on the weather.

Once I did this, I took advantage of the bizarre warm winter weather we’ve had and built myself a double pallet compost bin using seven pallets. Each bin has a pallet on the floor, which allows better air circulation and thus faster composting. Each bottom is surrounded by pallets on three sides which are screwed together with a couple of screws and the front of each bin is left open for easy additions and eventual stirring. The two bins share a center pallet which simplifies everything. For a really basic pallet you can visit “How to Build a Compost Bin from Wood Pallets” by Cathy Cromell, on Composting for Dummies. Her method is very basic and I still suggest adding a bottom pallet to get proper air circulation but there’s no question if you have your material together, this bin can be put together in well under 20 minutes.

When building a bin and choosing a site, you want to remember that compost requires mixed compostable elements, moisture, warmth and good air circulation. If you compost in a heap rather than a bin, you can achieve better air circulation by either heaping on a pallet loosely covered in twigs and small branches (to keep the materials from falling through) and/or by heaping around pvc drainage pipes (the type that have holes in them.) You can place the pipe vertically (one or two) in the center or evenly spaced, then surround the pipe with the composting material. You may have to prop the pipes up at first until enough material builds up to support them.

By composting in a bin with sides like I do, it allows the compost to retain more heat. That thermal energy actually speeds up the breakdown of the materials you add. Likewise, your compost needs adequate moisture. This means in very dry months you ought to add a bit of water either with a hose or watering can. Do not soak or drench the material as excessive moisture will drown many of the beneficial bacteria and detritivores (detritus eaters) who are busy helping you make compost. I have my bin on the north-west side of an old apple tree at the very edge of its canopy. This allows for some rain, partial shade in the hottest months of the year, but adequate sunlight exposure during the winter months which should give the bins a spring jump-start.

If you want to speed up your composting make sure your additions are diverse and spaced out. Layer your food waste between broken down twigs, wood chips, shredded leaves, straw, garden clipping (remove seed heads!) and other non- food items. Do not allow coffee grounds to be concentrated in any spot as they are very acidic and can deter beneficials. Don’t forget you can also compost egg shells, paper towel and toilet paper tubes, soy-printed newspapers, natural coffee filters and tea bags. Remember; the more diverse your compost, the more diverse the nutrient content. Now no more excuses, go get started!

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