Things I’ve learned about composting
- This morning, as I turned over the contents of my compost bins, I thought, “Composting really isn’t for the faint of heart.” You really have to be the sort who gets all warm and fuzzy over: Internal heat (which means that the contents are decomposing), mold (ditto), and bugs — but the right kind of bugs. Fruit flies and roaches are troublesome. Armadillidiidae aren’t. Seriously, it makes me grin when I diiiiiiiiiigggg my pitchfork in, and with the application of some shoulder muscles, and some hope that the tines won’t un-attach — again — I turn over some compost, and that good, earthy, rich dirt smell wafts up, and I see a healthy mixture of moist, dark brown almost-soil, with last week’s avocado peels, a hundred crushed egg shells, and last week’s now-moulding grass clippings mixed in.
It’s a true garden nerd who dreams of a better pitchfork. I need one like the one on the right, where the tines are attached through the shaft of the pitchfork. Mine is forever coming apart; it just wasn’t made all that well, which is a shame. But, the reason I have mine, and not the beauty on the right is because that tool is $93 + shipping. I think mine cost less than $30 at Home Depot. My hubby just gave me $100 from a bonus he received… I’m thinking I might just buy a better pitchfork. Maybe this one.
- One needs at least two composting bins. I’m thinking about getting a third, actually. Once a bin is full, you have to keep tending to it — turning the contents over, watering as necessary — until it’s ready, without adding new material. So, what do you do with all your yard trimmings and carrot tops and onion skins?? Add them to the second bin. And what do you do if your second bin is near-full? That’s why I’m considering a third bin.
- I mentioned this before, but the $5 compost bins, which are really repurposed City of Phoenix trash bins have got to be the steal of the century. I walked by the $99 compost tumbler at Costco a couple of nights ago and internally gloated.
- Composting instructions, no matter the source, always instruct the newbie composter about the importance of the proper level of moisture. However, it has taken me the last year+ to really figure out the balance. Too dry: Things just sit, and don’t rot. Too wet: Things just sit, and don’t rot. Also, one needs to turn the compost over to mix in new material and to (I think) introduce oxygen. However, if you turn the compost over too soon, it interrupts the heat-generating composting process, and slows everything down. I’ve found that I need to water and turn about every five days in the hot months, and about every eight-ten days in the winter. And… you need a balance of “brown” to “green” compost materials. Too much “green” (like kitchen veggie trimmings) and the compost attracts flies and starts to stink. Too much “brown” (like shredded newspaper or dried leaves) and there’s not enough fuel for the composting process.
- Like all other lessons learned in the garden, lessons from composting are slow. I mean, when you see the error of your ways, it’s an error that’s been several weeks in the making, then the correction takes several weeks to have its effect. Then, the next time, you’re a little faster on the uptake. Hopefully. 🙂
- My fruit fly trap is now even more low-tech. (I made it when my ill-managed compost bins attracted too many fruit flies, which were finding their way into the house.) I have taken out the funnel, and am now left with a jelly jar about 1/3 full of apple cider vinegar with a small squirt of dish soap in it. It turns out that fruit flies don’t need the funnel. The trap makes my kitchen smell faintly of ACV, but I’m OK with that, especially when fruit flies are now non-existent in my home, except for dead ones. The idea of it is a little gross: On my countertop is a jar of swill and dead flies. If I were crafty and inventive, I’d come up with an attractive cover for it. Maybe I’ll just put my five-year-old on it. Hmm…
- The fruit fly trap was so successful, I thought, “I wonder if I could catch the flies outside, before they decide to visit my kitchen??” So, I got a quart jar, filled it about 1/4 full of water, another 1/4 full of apple cider vinegar, added a squirt of dish soap, and placed it atop a five-gallon bucket, between the compost bins, outside. Within an hour, about 30 fruit flies were dumb enough to drown in the trap. A week or so later… there are a good couple hundred flies in the trap, and almost none in the bins.
- When composting instructions specify that woody trimmings shouldn’t be larger than 1/4″ in diameter, believe it. Too-big twigs have been the bane of my compost, and it’s no fun picking them out. I need to learn that lesson, instead of saying, “I’m sure they’ll break down, this time!”