Winter Composting in Olympia

Levi & I took advantage of some splendid weather this weekend to get some work done in the backyard. He practiced shooting things with his arsenal of nerf guns, tried to dig up the apple tree stump, and gathered some sticks for me. I need the sticks to add “loft” to the compost pile so there’s enough air for aerobic decomposition. Anaerobic (no oxygen) composting is, well, not exactly composting. It’s wet and stinky and doesn’t break stuff down very well. Using Levi’s extraordinary stick-breaking skills, I can get enough small twigs to prevent anaerobic conditions in our compost pile.

One of the first things we did when we moved was to buy a biostack composter through the Thurston County Master Gardener Foundation. We picked the Biostack for a number of reasons – it’s black and has double walls, so it stays warm. It has good ventilation. The sections are easily removed to make turning the compost hella easy. There’s a lid to keep out rain and vermin, and we have plenty of both rain & vermin in these parts. Have you met my darling chihuahua? She can tear into compost-bound goods in under 30 seconds. I love that tiny little dog, but for both her good & mine, vermin deterrence is a very important feature in my compost bin.

Anyway, it took less than 10 minutes to set up our new Biostack composting device, and we’ve been steadily adding our kitchen waste, fallen leaves, shredded junk mail and “end of the line” cardboard since September.

Compost is not rocket science. Some people get real science-y about it, and there is certainly plenty to explore and understand and experiment with. You can get compost faster with certain tactics, and you can get higher-quality compost by doing certain things, but mostly, compost is just the natural way of the world. You can make a big pile, never turn it, never stir it, never measure the temperature or balance the ratios of green and brown. They call that cold compost. It can take a couple years to break down, but guess what? It will become beautiful compost, even without your attention and work. Everything that is or was once alive is on its way back to dirt. Active composting just hurries things along.

So, we have a compost bin and about four months of material, and when the winter weather shows even the slightest hint of sunshine, I head out with my shovel and rake to turn the compost. The whole thing gets flipped upside down, and everything from the top of the pile becomes the bottom layer, and the bottommost layer gets tossed on top. I usually rake up a big pile of leaves and sticks (this is where Levi becomes especially important) and add them sporadically through the pile to keep things from getting compacted and gross.

Last time I turned the pile (about 2 or 3 weeks ago), things were not looking so good. There was not much activity, a lot of wet/dry spots, and not enough air. A compost pile works better if it is fluffy and evenly moist. This weekend, however, things were looking a lot better. I saw a lot of worms and insect activity, and the only really compacted area was a pizza box that didn’t get torn into smaller pieces. (Yes, we compost pizza boxes. You can’t recycle them when they have pizza cheese on them and it kills me to throw them in the trash.) Most importantly, the compost is starting to break down and look like dirt. Even though it’s winter, and even though I often neglect the pile, the BioStack is making magic. Can you see how some of it still looks like apples, leaves, and leeks, and some if it looks like dirt?

One of the dogs was at my side the entire time. Cash decided he was very interested in the compost pile. The compost looks nothing like something he’d want to eat, so his motives were unclear. Normally, he is more interested in barking at the pugs in our neighbor’s yard. He sat right next to the bin and stared until I finished. I can’t say that I blame him, though. Compost is like magic. Once you get started, it is addictive. You start scouting out materials for your pile. Compostaholics can be found begging the autumn leaves from their neighbors’ yards. I bought some cheap, old hay from craigslist to add to my pile. I daydream all the time about the future, when we have chickens, and our compost pile is going to be even more awesome. Everything that goes in our compost not only avoids the landfill, but also helps us grow a better garden. Maybe Cash is so stoked on compost because he wants a high-quality garden to dig up this summer… remind me to dog-proof the beds.

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3 Comments

Filed under urban farming, winter

3 responses to “Winter Composting in Olympia

  1. Hi, I am writing a post about Biostack-type composters for Apartment Therapy’s Re-Nest blog and am wondering whether I may use one or two of your photos (with a credit and link to your blog, of course). Please email me if you’d be open to it. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: Worms eat my garbage « krista and jess

  3. Pingback: Now Harvesting: Homegrown Compost | krista and jess

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