Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall Compost

Today I am mulching the garden with this year's compost. I have many books and articles that give long, complicated instructions for composting, exhorting me to achieve the texture of a wet sponge, to layer exact amounts of brown and green material, and to adhere to precise turning schedules. One leaflet even recommends purchasing a special thermometer to take the temperature at the center of the pile. I do not have the time for this hands-on management approach -- apparently you get rapid results and rich, coffeeground-like material within weeks. I do have patience, so I am a slow, cold composter. Usually I end up with a mostly-broken-down melange that I can then use as my over-winter mulch. It has always broken down well by spring time.

I now have two bins and as winter sets in, I'll empty them on to my garden and then cram both of them full of fall debris. My longest relationship is with a black recycled plastic square bin composter. It is partially buried and was advertised as rodent-proof, and over three years this seems to be the case. My new acquisition is a tumbler composter....results pending. Apparently things work quickly in the barrel if I add some ridiculously expensive "compost activator" from the garden supply company. My guess is that I can toss some semi-broken down junk from my other pile, like a sourdough starter, and let nature take its course.

The tumbler is clearly appealing to a toddler: my little one is ecstatic about his new chore of turning the compost ferris-wheel style morning and night. It is more unsightly than the square bin. I am pondering the best placement for the tumbler, as it also has a large footprint with the metallic support frame. The square composter sits next to the back of the house, and with an exuberant border of (well-fed) dusty millers, it actually pleases the eye, the dark black setting off the beautiful silvery foliage.

Of course, the inevitable project is vermiculture. Thus far I have resisted the worm bin, mostly because my current composting scheme works for me. The appeal I can see is not having to schlep out to the compost bin with kitchen scraps on cold winter nights. I know, I know, you can keep stuff in the freezer and dump it as a batch. But there's no space in my freezer -- it's filled with chicken stock and tomato sauce. I could keep a large plastic bin under the sink. But that inevitably stinks -- and makes my green-by-convenience husband rethink his commitment to composting. And if I am filling a large plastic bin under the sink, why not throw some worms in? It would control the stink according to the evangelical worm literature. Okay. Maybe I have just talked myself into it. But now I suspect it is too cold to get worms shipped to me via the mail. Off to find a local source...

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