Now Harvesting: Homegrown Compost

Our household composts enthusiastically, to say the least. I know I’ve written about this a few times in the past. I have become the sort of girl who waxes poetic about compost but, honestly, how could I not? It’s the whole cycle of life happening at once, dust to dust, and I feel like I would be amiss not to admire it. From the kitchen to the compost harvest, it is amazing to see our yard waste and potato peels become a rich, living soil amendment. While I’m not as scientific as some people about my compost pile, I do try to balance the greens and browns, monitor the rate of decay and activity, turn it regularly, and maintain sufficient mass and moisture. It’s really not a lot of work, and after a few months it became habitual. Someday I would like to become scientific about it, get a thermometer and do some testing to see how my homegrown compost measures up. I am happy enough now to divert the waste stream into the garden beds.

As long as I can flip a compost pile I will be refining my compost process. I expect that the chicken population will change the compost process dramatically. Please ignore the curtain of ivy, my mortal enemy. This is my current compost facility.

I have 2 biostack compost bins. Usually one is actively receiving scraps and actively being turned, and the other is resting. The amount of time it takes to complete one bin’s cycle depends on weather and how much we’re cooking at home. Two Rules of Thumb: 1. You don’t produce a lot of compost if you go to restaurants 2. Everything breaks down faster in the summer. This compost system is more than adequate for our family of three vegetarians who cook at home pretty often and the waste from our .20 acre yard. We haven’t had problems with pests (knock on wood!) despite the rural character of our neighborhood. The gray tubs in the background are the worm compost bins. Hillary asked about the worm bins recently, and I do owe an update on them. I harvested all the castings last fall and I have to admit that I have neglected them since then. The worm population was low and we just weren’t producing enough scraps to feed the worms and the pile. There’s a high likelihood that the worm bins have, well, ceased to be worm bins. I hope to re-start the worm composting in April, though. We produce more kitchen scraps in the summer. It’s the nature of eating from the garden instead of cans and the freezer.

This is all experimental, so be I try to be gentle with myself and use my failures as learning experiences.

This weekend I was ripping up & replanting one of the flower beds that came with the house. “Flower bed” is probably too kind of a description for these areas. Mostly they grow weeds, columbines, and a few irises. The soil is terrible in those flower beds – about 1″ of rotting leaves on top of I don’t know how many feet of sand and sawdust and gravel. How did this happen? I have no idea, I’m new here. I turned over the bed, and it quickly became clear that I needed to harvest my precious compost for this bed.

Three full wheelbarrows later, the “flower” bed looks a lot better, although there are no more flowers there. I planted several chunks of rhubarb as a border along the back of the bed. We’re still undecided about the front half of the bed. I’m leaning toward a perennial herb bed because I would like for this to be a low-effort area. Or maybe I’ll put in some more strawberries mixed with Calendula and pint-sized sunflowers? I’m addicted to planting strawberries. Because a .20 acre lot is the perfect size for 75 strawberry plants, isn’t it? There’s no such thing as too many strawberries or too much strawberry jam or too many bags of strawberries in the freezer.

When Krista came home from work, she found me in the yard, elbow-deep in a rhubarb hole. She commented on the quality of the compost we’d made in, “This is some good-looking compost.” It’s hard to believe we’ve almost been married for three years and the romance is still alive.

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5 Comments

Filed under garden, urban farming

5 responses to “Now Harvesting: Homegrown Compost

  1. caitlin

    wow, your compost is NICE. I struggle with how to deal with compost in the winter here in pgh. I want to add to it, but it is pretty frozen. I think my system needs a little overhaul, or I should switch to a basement-area worm bin system, which I had a long long time ago (but also had a small pest problem with eventually).

    • Thanks! i am pretty pleased with it. I didn’t even have to shake it through a screen, although I was willing to. I put a lot of sticks and branches in there to create “loft” and I thought they wouldn’t breakdown, but most of them actually did. It’s a rotten miracle.

      Even when the ground is frozen, my compost usually doesn’t freeze solid and I can still get into it to add to it. You could put a big stick in the middle and use it like a lever in the winter to pry off the frozen top? Or yeah, you could switch to worm composting indoors during the tundra months. You probably produce less scraps (less yard waste, less produce) in the winter, right? So maybe a worm bin would be enough. Worm castings are very nice, too.

  2. Love this post! How long does it take your family to fill a bin?

    • I don’t think we have ever filled one all the way to the top. Usually I switch over to the other because I have enough mass and the composting reactions are starting to take over. At that point, the bin’s usually 3/4 full and I can get compost faster if I let it finish rather than keep adding new stuff. I think I switch back and forth about every six months, although I would like for it to be faster (compost greed).

      We also compost all of our shredded junk mail (can’t be recycled) and cardboard that can’t be recycled (pizza boxes) so I think that helps boost the mass. And it’s a convenient source of “brown” material in the winter.

  3. ariel ariel

    I would just like to say that at my old house, the worm bin had been neglected for over a year, including a mean hard Brooklyn winter. We opened it up, expecting worm tragedy – but no! Those worms kept on keeping on. Which is to say, I hope your worms made it.

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