Sustainable WNC

The Gateway to Sustainability in Western North Carolina

Archive for May, 2008

Warning: Composting can lead to….

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Warning:composting can lead to….

self-sufficiency, healing the Earth, bike riding, local food, reduced landfill, water conservation, abundance , raising of the water table, growing of plants, healthier and happier children, reparation of the topsoil, reduced consumption of unsustainable self serving corporately pillaged resources, true homeland security, changing consciousness towards service and a greater good, building friends and community, compassion, tolerance, love, peace, joy and other seemingly un-American activities.

When you invite compost onto your life you invite nothing less than transformation on the cellular level.

-What you do with your leftovers is what you do to yourself-
T.Bud Barkslip

Composting 103- The Devotee

I got into a car wreck and my truck was totaled this winter. I have since not owned a vehicle now for 4 months. It’s the first time since I was 18. That’s 28 years! I never would have even considered it possible. My partner has a truck, and though I mostly ride around town to work and such, I find it difficult to move my bees, or more large quantities of organic material with my bike. In order to keep my partner from asking, “when are you going to get your own car?”, all I have to do is periodically get the classifieds out and circle a few promising prospects and leave it on the kitchen table. In the meantime I love not having a car. It has been nothing short of liberation from some of the many yokes of being an American. Such is one of the many transformations in my life since becoming a devotee of my guru- Compost.

My partner leaves town with her truck every week for 3 days so if I need to run errands I borrow it the day before. Now, whenever I use the truck I make sure that when I return it is stuffed full of compostable material. Yesterday, I went on a crusade around town and there was abundance at every turn. A few buckets of coffee at the coffee shop, some recycled cardboard, then many buckets of grain at the local brewery, some veggie scraps at the local coop, and top it off with those wonderful bags of leaves sitting by the side of the road like plump black fruit off the vine. I am a devotee of compost. My heart soars when I come home loaded down. My life has such a deep profound sense of purpose. I am an “Errand Knight”.

Now to construct the Grail Castle of compost.
Locate an underused area that is at least 5′x5′ in your yard, East facing to the sun, preferably shady to hot western sun, is convenient to carry materials from your car, and is in proximity to garden beds. We have ours at the edge of our yard by the driveway so it is an easy unload when I get home. I gather up three pallets. I try to find ones made of oak but that seems to be increasingly difficult. Screw these together in a “u” shape. Like with the suburbanite mouldering pile I line the inside of the pallets with 1/2″ hardware mesh to deter pests starting with laying some down on the ground. If you put these pallets up on a foundation of stone or old cement sidewalk slabs (urbanite), they will last longer, as the bottom wont rot from contact with the soil. It is nice to rig something in the front so you can slide boards horizontally as the pile gets bigger and when you want to empty the bin you subsequently remove the boards for easy access. Then I hinge the screened top and when it is closed and all the boards are stacked in the front it is a sealed bin so no rats can get in or out. I believe that when more of us are doing this in concentrated populations it is important to have good sanitation in respect to our neighbors. The Challis is ready. Now you are ready to make magic.

I start my virgin pile with coarse material like small sticks and brush from a cut tree. Chunks of wood or rocks could suffice. maybe 6″ of this and then 6″ of some high carbon material like leaves or weeds or straw. This will be the bed that absorbs the liquids and keeps the bottom from being anerobically mucky. Now its your turn for Compost Knight Errandry. Get resourceful. Not only are you doing this to improve the soil in your garden but you are keeping waste from hitting the landfill. It is a twofold win. So ask yourself where is there being waste generated. There are businesses being run in this town that care about the Earth and they are open to giving you their food scraps. Then there are others that cant be bothered, but should be anyway. I fully encourage you to approach them and see if they are composting and ask them why they aren’t. Find one of these businesses on the way to your work so you can be regular. Supply them with 5 gallon buckets that you got from the bakery at Ingle’s. Put their name on it and have two sets. One for you and one you can leave for them. Clean them for the restaurant so they don’t get skanky so the health department doesn’t bust their chops over it.

Leaves , grass clippings, garden refuse, bought straw, if you have to, will be your carbon (or brown material) and food scraps and coffee grinds, hair from the barber shop, yourine (yes, your urine is an excellent source of nitrogen and will really add to heating up and breaking down your pile) will be your nitrogen (or green material). Layer these materials like lasagne in 6″ deep layers. I throw in some soil to innoculate the pile with microbes and add minerals. When your pile gets about three feet high and the conditions of warmth and moisture are near ideal, it will heat up. This is an amazing phenomenon. Bring in that material as fast as you can and take a pole and poke holes through the top of the pile to the bottom for air to circulate. You want this to be an aerobic pile. Anerobic-stinky. Aerobic- not stinky. Also, too wet will not serve you, nor will too much green. If it smells like ammonia back off on the green and add more brown. The heat, up to 180 degrees, is caused by thermophillic bacteria and they really break material down fast. !30 degrees for about a day destroys most pathogens and seeds. This is why it is not good to introduce worms until later in the process. After the thermophiles have their party, the the mesophillic bacteria kick in and they are warm to the touch. These guys hang around much longer and I generally don’t like to disturb them. I think flipping compost is completely unneccessary and detrimental to the bacteria. The holes you drove through the heart of your pile will serve to supply air for the aerobic bacteria. In the summer don’t be surprised if you have half a bin of decent compost to add to your garden in a matter of a couple of months.

I can fully understand the need to use this compost as fast as possible as our soils are so damaged and are screaming out for these nutrients. So go ahead and sparingly put out your precious compost. (Trust me, you will no longer take for granted top soil, and what it takes to make it. You will now feel a lament so deep, as it were your own soul (soil) eroding, when you see the degradation of topsoil by money chasing shortsighted developers and farmers who let millions of tons of it wash away every year.) If you can, however, wait. This is the path of the true compost devotee. For a compost pile is like a fine bottle of red wine and haste does not serve the consumer well. It must age. at least a year. Two is even better. This gives the fungus a chance to kick in and these guys are unfathomably sublime and magical. Did you know that in a well established undisturbed forest the micchorizea extend the root systems of the trees 700 to 1000 times! Yes, the fungus acts symbiotically with the tree roots and becomes, in effect, an extension of the trees roots. This is what is being fostered in the maturation of your compost pile. The compost not only becomes a storehouse of nutrients and moisture retention for you plants but also becomes an fungal innoculant for the plants provided you don’t till or plow. Oh, I could go on an on but that is your journey. The journey of the compost devotee.

Last installment-The final movement of my grand opus on composting.