The Picky Composter

Written by: Julie

Alright.  I compost, I’m not a professional but I have been involved with it my whole life.  Composting also goes hand in hand with our zero waste life style.  Check out that article here: https://2lanternsifbysea.com/2018/02/16/my-road-to-zero-waste/ There is an art to composting, but I try not to think too much into it.

The quality of soil is a very important aspect of growing healthy fruit bearing plants.  Plants will grow in just about anything but not as well as they will if they have nutritious soil.  Soil is pretty darn expensive, so why not make your own!?  It takes a bit of time so if you want to start a garden tomorrow you’ll need to shell out the cash.  Remember you get what you pay for, even though it’s just dirt.

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photo: zucchini larger than my 12 lbs. poodle!

We started composting with the Garden Tower Project because I was desperate to start composting and we lived in an apartment on the 3rd floor.  I often try to live the saying, “If there’s a will there’s a way”.  So I bought red wiggler worms from the internet and was so happy to have pet worms!  The worms eat the rotting food that is dumped in the middle of the bin, squirm off into the soil and poop.  The worm poop or “castings” is an amazing fertilizer for your plants.  Of course there is another art to this called “Vermicomposting” or “Vermiculture” but again I try not to think too much into it.  Another benefit to the worms is when the water goes through the Garden Tower it drains at the bottom into the drawer.  The water that drains is called “ Worm Tea”, yum worm poopie water, this is also a fantastic fertilizer.  I either dump it back in the top or dump it into another plant.  I met a worm farmer, he said the worms also need some dead leaves, so every once in a while I toss a couple in that I pick up from our yard.  Ok, enough about the worms.

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photo: new red wiggler worm pets!

Now we have a tumbler barrel composter and the Garden Tower.  The tumbler barrel is great too! Look on our home page under “All The Goods” in “Zero Waste” for both of these products. But honestly you can start to compost in anything or anywhere!  No special equipment necessary!  You can simply designate a spot in your yard to dump your food.  There are tons of ideas on Pinterest!

The tumbler barrel is nice because it works quicker then a traditional open pile.  The heat from the sun warms up the content and helps it break down quicker.  Also no shoveling, it just requires a couple spins after you put food in it.  It has two chambers for different levels of broken down food.  When one side gets full, put food in the other side and it will work its magic on the untouched side.  Simply dump or scoop it out when you think it’s done.  We put the finished product into an open box my husband made.  In the box it is able to air out and mix with other more refined composted soil. Then I scoop it out of there when I need some. The tumbler seems to take 8-12 weeks to breakdown enough to empty it into our open box, depending on how hot it is.

So what do I put in the compost?  I like to think by eating a balanced diet I will achieve a balance of carbon and nitrogen in my compost bin.  But you really need…. 4 ingredients;

Air (oxygen), Water (hydrogen), Green stuff (nitrogen) and Brown stuff (carbon).  Which is also what us humans are mostly made up of! How ironic!

Green stuff is full of nitrogen.  Most things are actually the color green or what makes me think of something fresh like fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, fresh leaves, plant clippings and seaweed (if available).  Coffee grounds, tea bags and manure may throw you off, they are also nitrogen rich items.  Dog poop is not recommended for compost that is used for growing vegetables. There are other ways to compost dog poop though. 

Brown stuff is rich in carbon.  Items like egg shells, newspaper, shredded paper, paper towels, napkins, paperboard egg cartons, dried leaves, hay, pine needles and other small yard waste, saw dust, dried flowers, bread or grain, corn cobs, hair, even dryer lint.  Basically dead stuff but no animal products!

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photo: our actual Garden Tower

I am picky about what I put in because I try to keep it as organic as possible.  I don’t add newspaper because I’m afraid of harmful chemicals used during processing and same with any other paper product.  If something is white it probably has been bleached or if it has ink on it that may not be good either.

I don’t add bread because I read someplace that yeast isn’t good.  I rarely put hair, sometimes my dogs hair but my husband says he sees big clumps still in the finished product. That means it takes a really long time to break down.  We also don’t put cooked food because it usually has some kind of oil in it.

I used to add dryer lint but I learned about toxic microfibers or “micro-plastic” from our clothes. Synthetic clothing like polyester, nylon, acrylic etc. are made out of different kinds of plastic.  When we wash our clothes little pieces of the threads break off and go into the water.  They are so tiny they get through our water treatment systems and end up in rivers and oceans.  Making their way into fish and marine life which eventually ends up back into us if we eat fish.  Scary right!? Learn more about that here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/20/microfibers-plastic-pollution-oceans-patagonia-synthetic-clothes-microbeads  Those particles are also in dryer lint.  I don’t want it getting back into the earth directly and especially around the food I grow, so needless to say my dryer lint goes to the trash can or we save it for fire starters.

Also think about grass clippings and other yard waste.  CAUTION REAL TALK….How much toxic chemicals have you or your landscaping company put on the grass? Have you used weed killer? All that is EXTREMELY toxic and the last place you want harsh chemicals is in your home grown veggies or anywhere else, really!  Think twice about using chemicals on and around your yard because it WILL get into your garden and in your home.  YIKES!  I used to think beautiful green grass was so nice!  Don’t be fooled by looks.  I’m willing to bet most are full of toxic chemicals that are causing more health problems then we can point fingers.  Seriously, IT’S JUST GRASS, somehow having nice grass turned into a status thing.  And oh no, a weed!  You want to grow something nice? Plant vegetables that produce food. That is extra nice! END RANT

So think twice before you throw anything and everything into your compost bin.  Ask yourself what the item was exposed to before it got to you or what you put on it.  You don’t want to do all the work of composting for your finished product to be toxic.

You are to decide what to put in your compost bin, but there are some things you really shouldn’t.  Pet poop, cat litter, meat or fish scraps, dairy products, fat or oil, dead animals, treated lumber, sand, charcoal ash, diseased plants and weeds with seeds should be left out.

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photo: 2 healthy tomato plants growing in an old fire pit

Composting is a great way to get involved with the Earth, reduce waste and help your plants get more nutrition. It is also a nice family activity.  My kids love to compost and garden.  From putting scraps in the bin to filling a pot to sprout a seed they found in a fruit we ate.  It makes sense to them.  They are learning how things grow and how the Earth needs us to give back.

Do you put or leave out anything I didn’t mention? Do you have no idea how to get started composting? I would love to hear about it and possibly help you out. Leave a comment! Thanks!

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2 thoughts on “The Picky Composter

  1. After reading this I feel like I can compost! You broke this down in such an easy to use method and answered so many questions I had in my mind. Honestly, when I hear about composting it seems very overwhelming (what do I put it? What shouldn’t I? Why?) and it makes me hesitate but now I feel like I get it. It also explains why your tomatoes are freaking delicious (worm poop all day)!!

    -Christa

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