Friday, May 27, 2016

Simple Suggestion #250... Wake up your compost!

Did you know that May is a good time to wake up your compost? Are you saying to yourself, what's that supposed to mean?

Hopefully, the title of this suggestion elicits a few different responses in readers:

1) I don't have compost. Fact is, everyone has material that works for making compost, and it's easy to go from there. If you eat, you create food waste -- kitchen scraps (greens) like fruit and vegetable peels, stalks and leaves, eggshells, apple cores -- anything except bones, meat or greasy stuff (I also avoid large fruit pits/stones just because it takes them so long to break down). If you live in a single family dwelling, you likely also have some yard waste -- grass clippings (though those are better left on the lawn to protect its roots and give it natural nitrogen), plant prunings (skip the weeds and woody branches), and the all important autumn leaves (browns) which provide necessary carbon for breaking everything down and preventing odors.

We human beings all create compostable materials simply because we don't often eat entire plants, and about 29% of Edmonton families use kitchen scraps and the other compostables mentioned above to create black gold for their gardens and lawns. Composting is pretty easy, and here in Edmonton, although most of our organic waste is eventually composted by the City's amazing Waste Management system, it saves a lot of greenhouse gases, energy and money if we do it ourselves. Plus, you'll never find anything better for topdressing your lawn or feeding your plants and soil!

2) I've always wanted to compost. Well, I have great news for you! All you need is an inexpensive compost bin (or you can make your own pile or pit with a bit of chicken wire if you have an out of the way spot for one) and a quick lesson on how to do it. I'll bet there are books in your local library with all sorts of information, or if you live here in Edmonton, you can attend excellent workshops offered by the John Janzen Centre's Compost'S Cool workshops to learn all about composting with some hands-on experience. You might also consider applying for next year's Master Composter/Recycler Program, which I highly recommend! (Applications are accepted year round.) There is also a lot of info on the City of Edmonton's webpage, which you can access by clicking here. Contrary to what you may have heard about composting, if the basic rules are followed, it does not create odors or attract varmints...

3) I have to wake up my compost?? I know, it seems like a weird idea, but if left alone for long periods (like over winter) compost piles become rather dormant and their processes slow to less than a crawl -- because the bacteria and microbes that work in a loose, damp and healthy pile run out of the air they need in order to function properly. Now that we're into Spring, it's time to get those processes revved up again.

I've actually been wanting to write this moodling for weeks already, because I woke up my compost on May 7th. That was the day that I revisited the compost bins that I filled last fall and over winter. I had so much garden waste to compost last October that I filled all three bins almost to the top with layers of green garden waste (chopped stalks, vines and plants), browns (autumn leaves and broken up soils from planter pots) and plenty of water. Over winter, I added my kitchen scraps and more leaves (I keep a few bags close by, as you can see in the first picture).

On May 7th, those three full bins had shrunk to only half full, so I "fluffed" them up by combining them into two full bins, one with the older, more finished materials, and one with the fresher stuff that didn't compost much in winter's cold. I was delighted to see that some of my vermicomposting pets, the red wiggler worms that I also keep in my indoor compost bins, had survived the winter -- that means my compost piles were still warm and working in the coldest months.

As I moved everything around, I added water because compost piles need good moisture in order to function well. Since then, I've used my compost stick (basically a long skinny stick with a bit of a blade at the bottom) to stir up the piles every two weeks or so, just to add some air.

If this sounds like too much work, it's also possible to compost without shovelling, stirring or watering -- basically, you just make a pile with layers of greens and browns and keep adding to it, allowing it all to rot without any interference. Unfortunately, it will take a lot more time and space, and it might attract unwanted critters. I frequently poke around in my compost bins because I want to produce the maximum amount of compost in a season. It's better than the bagged stuff money can buy, maybe because of those red wigglers.

If you have any questions about waking up your compost -- or even starting the composting process, feel free to leave comments and I'll be happy to share more details. As a Master Composter/Recycler volunteer for my city, I love to help people learn how to give back to our earth by feeding the fine layer of soil that supports us all.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

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