Thursday, September 27, 2012

One Man's Trash...

A few people have been asking me for gardening tips recently. My thumbs are not green and I have very limited experience, but I do love to try new things. Being the end of the summer, the best advice I have has little to do with seeds or lighting. It's about dirt. Well, composting really. So here I go.

"Gross! Keep my garbage?"

"I don't have time for that."

"I don't want something stinking up my backyard (or garage). What if animals get into it? Or the neighbors complain?"

"What in the world would I do with compost!?"

Don't close the window yet. You just might change your mind.

Composting is much easier than you would think. It provides some of the yummiest dirt possible for your herbs, veggies or just the pansies around your mailbox. And it is free. In fact, it is better than free. Composting drastically reduces the garbage we send to the landfills. Sitting at the dump, these things would decompose anaerobically and produce methane. In your composter, they produce carbon dioxide, and we can all agree with that! Not to mention it helps your plants form natural defenses against pests and diseases. How cool!

But I don't want a pile of mess in my backyard, you say. That's too much work, you say. It's too stinky, you say.

I have come to dispel the myths, to encourage you to give it a try. For $4, you can't go wrong! Try it for a week and see how much non-garbage you can create!

Here are just a few of the things you can save from filling your plastic garbage bag:

-Fruit and veggie leftovers (peels, cores, ends, and anything old or wilted)
-Egg shells
-Any bread products (old bread, pasta, rice, crackers, etc as long as they are cupcakes or danishes or lasagna)
-Coffee grounds (including filter) and tea bags (remove staple if applicable)
-Nut shells (except walnuts)
-Cardboard (cereal boxes, paper towel rolls, etc) and other papers if you don't have recycling

Around the House
-Hair from your brush (or Fido's)
-Dryer lint
-The stuff in your dustpan or vacuum bag

-Grass clippings (dried or green)
-Hedge trimmings
-Dead plants (unless diseased)
-Pine needles

Can you imagine what would happen to our garbage cans if we really composted all of this stuff (and everything else I didn't mention!)?? It would need therapy!

Poor neglected garbage can.

Oh well. For the sake of my children and my children's children, I am willing to risk it. It is my garbage, to be fair. And just because it gets hauled off every week doesn't mean it isn't there.

So let's go! It will be easier than you think. If you hate it, I am sure your kids can find a million things to do with a big paint bucket!

Step One: Cut a hole in the--

Nope, sorry. Wrong tutorial. (That was for you, Mom.)

Step One: Obtain a 5 gallon paint bucket in a rustic and completely inconspicuous shade of orange so it will blend in nicely with your hedges or your patio furniture or your kid's bounce house.

There are some options here, so see the notes at the bottom.

Step Two: Put a layer of paper or leaves at the bottom.

It just makes you feel like you have a nice fresh biodegradable start.

Step Three: Start collecting rubbish!

I use an old yogurt container to collect during the day and then every other day or so I empty it into the big bin. You could have more than one going under your sink and just dump it every week if you wanted. I fill mine pretty fast. But even if you just committed to throwing banana peels and apple cores and your kid's left over bagel in, you would be making a difference!

Step Four: Get some "brown."

No need to go into the science of it all, but for all the living-ish types of things, you need some dead stuff too. It is technically a carbon-nitrogen thing, but I said I wouldn't spare you the science. This is where the leaves, lint, cardboard, etc., come in.  You don't need much. But if you have much throw some more in! Just keep some around so you can add it now and then. We don't technically have our own trees, so one of Nathan's jobs is to gather leaves from our front walk and put them in this old flour bag. Great way to keep a toddler busy!

Step Five: Dump your garbage and sprinkle with leaves.

Do this roughly each time you add kitchen waste so that you keep a pretty good balance. You are not going to ruin it. Relax.

Step Six: Add a little dirt.

Wait a minute! I thought we were making dirt. Why am I adding dirt to make dirt?

Well, think of it like a good sourdough bread. Or if you don't think about sourdough, think about it as what it! The compost needs some microbes to feast on the stuff and digest it and make it into the delicious humus (that's humus, not hummus) that will make your little seeds and sunflowers sing come spring. 

So add it. About a 1/2 cup to a cup. Then give it a stir and you are done! Lid on and you are composting! The goodies will reduce in volume substantially over time, which is why you don't need anything huge. And if you are really committed and fill it up, just splurge and get another. Like wine and men, the compost in the first bin will only get better with time.

Now for some of subtle nuances that will make it yours.

As I mentioned before, the big paint bin is not the only way to do it. We do it that way now that we live in a little town home. Before, we used a secluded corner of the yard. You could also use a garbage can. Or a big terra cotta planter. Or a true composter. But we went with something cheap and easy. Four bucks and Home Depot.

You can also drill holes in it and "plant" it in the ground. This would give it access to all the wonderful things living in the ground, some water, etc. I prefer to keep mine dryer, not to mention the fact that our back yard is brick.

But I do love the wiggly worms and all they add to compost. They act as an accelerant, working on your compost much fast than if left to simply decompose. So when you go out to get that cup of dirt, dig a little deeper and pull out a few of these bad boys. They will think they have died and gone to heaven!

So that's that! Put your bin in the closet, the garage, on the back steps or in the laundry room. And love how slowly the trash can fills because you are returning dust to dust.

A few things NOT to compost:

-meat, fat, bones, dairy (highly debatable, but I don't risk it)
-cat or dog droppings (because of the food you give them)
-ashes/coals (also debatable, but they can be toxic to some plants so why risk it?)
-magazines or highly glossy or colored "paper"
-anything that IS NOT biodegradable or IS toxic (duh)
-ivy, kudzu or the like