Monday, October 4, 2010

The Final Piece: Composting

Although we all know a garden is never really finished, Rick and I have now completed the final major component of our Bay-Friendly Landscape -- the addition of a compost bin. Now we no longer have to throw our leftover kitchen scraps in the trash -- we are turning them into rich garden compost for my herb and butterfly gardens!

I took one of the Composting workshops offered by the Extension Service recently, and received a free compost bin as well as a thermometer to keep tabs on the temperature of the compost. The workshop was excellent -- I didn't really know much about composting and it definitely allayed my concerns about smells and sanitation. I learned that if your compost bin smells, you are doing something wrong! I also learned that many, many more materials can be composted than I realized, such as dryer lint, coffee filters, shredded newspaper, egg shells, peanut shells, finger- and toenail clippings, even human and pet hair. Imagine my joy at finding a use for all the cat hair around our house!

You cannot compost pet waste, or meats, fats or oils. That's what generates odors, as well as  unwanted critters (such as rats).

The ecological impact of composting is significant. According to the US. Environmental Protection Agency,  yard waste and food scraps together comprise nearly one-quarter of the municipal waste stream. Rick and I have long felt guilty about throwing away vegetable and fruit scraps. Now I just toss them in a compost container on my kitchen counter and then into the bin concealed alongside our detached shed. 

Grass clippings make great, nitrogen-rich compost. But of course we have no grass, so we may need to add blood meal to boost our compost pile's nitrogen content. (You can actually buy blood meal in garden centers.) So far, the pruning and deadheading in our yard has generated quite a bit of yard waste - and I must confess to pilfering some of my neighbor's grass clippings, just to give my compost pile a good starter dose of "green." I don't think the "browns" will be a problem, especially now that autumn is bringing the annual bonanza of falling leaves to our yard.

 We are keeping our compost moist, and turning it every few weeks to keep it aerated. I'll let you know how it goes. This is new to us, so we expect to make a few mistakes. But I can tell you that our compost pile certainly doesn't stink. In fact, it smells sort of earthy -- which I'm thinking is how it should smell.