Sustainability: Compost

Sustainability > Compost

Whenever I am asked for sustainabiltity advice, I always say compost. Compost is the answer whether we are looking at your garden, your lawn, or your home. Compost is the answer because it should be the end of your consumer cycle.

Compost works by ways that are chemical, biological, and magical. I tend to just think of the whole process as magical and ignore the science. This is not a science blog and I am not a science teacher. I am a gardener/farmer . . . By the way is there a word for a gardner/farmer? Farmner? Yeah, no . . . Probably not. How about a female farmer? Farm-her? Yeah, I like that.

Kim’s magical compost rules

  • Pick out a spot to be your compost pile/bed. For beginner gardeners I often recommend making it the same size your garden beds will be.
  • Lay down a thick layer of cardboard or twigs.
  • Dirt: Cover that layer with a bit of dirt. Even old potting soil will do, especially if you use the organic potting soil.
  • Food Waste: Fruit, vegetable, grain, egg shell, coffee grounds, tea leaves, etc. NO meat, cheese, oil.
  • Plant Material: weeds, plants removed from your garden or landscaping, wood ashes, shredded paper, grass clippings, and fallen leaves.
  • Animal Bedding: If you keep animals on bedding (and you use organic bedding) this gets added too. For instance: we keep budgies over dirt or scrap paper, that along with their seed hulls and greens goes in the compost. Example: we use a mix of grass clippings and wood shavings for chicken bedding, it goes in the compost when we clean out the chicken house. The rabbit manure gets added once a month when we clean under their hutch. NO dog manure or cat litter please. Human urine is fine — in fact, I often encourage the guys to leave their deposit out there.
  • Other Additions: You can add all natural fabric scraps, unvarnished wood scraps, untreated lumber, grape vines, blackberry brambles, silk dental floss, bamboo toothbrushes (althougth I prefer to use those as plant markers), etc. Basically if it grew and hasn’t been too processed, you can add it to the compost.
  • Cover it: We keep a fresh layer of greens (grass clippings, garden weeds, etc) over the pile at all times. This really helps keep the smell down.
  • Turn it: After the autumn equinox, turn the pile over into a new space. This can mean simply turning into the space next to it, into metal trash cans, or into a new garden bed. This is the compost you will use to feed your gardens. Anything that hasn’t broken down goes back on the bottom of the compost pile for the next year.
  • You will see lots of worms. Try to be gentle with them. They are making their own compost to add to yours.

I am experimenting this summer with something I am calling the composting chickens. We have layered grass clipping about 6-8 inches deep in the main chicken yard. Every morning I go out and rake it all back into a neat pile, hollow out a bowl shape in the center, and add the food scraps from the house. As I am working, the chickens are making happy noises as they look for bugs left behind under the grass clippings I have moved. Then they get really excited and start scratching through the compost/grass clippings. This turns the pile — and scatters it a bit — and they leave behind some poo as they do it. As we finish their yard expansion, I am planning on adding boards around the bottom to keep the compost in and make the whole yard one big compost bed. Due to the size and shape of our little farm, our girls can’t free-range. So a static yard is the best we can do for them. I think this will really add to both their happiness and the job title. In the winter we will add hay bales or straw bales in the place of the grass clippings.

The Septic System:

We have a 22 year old septic system that works perfectly without any intervention. So I am pretty content to leave that system in place. If it ever fails, we will transition to a dry composting toilet. That will mean a separate humanure compost that will not be used around food. That is a whole other project and will require a lot of research.

In the meantime, we practice “Safe Septic.” That means, potty cloths for urine, a bidet and small amount of tp for feces, or a bidet and potty cloth for feces — for the brave at heart, just me so far, no chemical cleaners, no bleach, no regular shampoo, body wash, dish soap, or laundry soap. In my bathroom, I collect the shower water using a bucket and I have another bucket under the sink drain. I use these for flushing urine. Any water left over at the end of the day either waters indoor plants or gets tossed in the compost. This keeps the amount of water entering the septic much lower and allows for better biological breakdown of the feces in the tank. It has also dropped our water bill by 40%. We are pretty frugal with our water usage anyway and this made a huge difference.

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