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The following is part of an ORGANIC JOURNEY GUEST POST SERIES, written by Amy a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.
As Jon and I were talking about what was next in our gardening adventures, we started to talk about what we could plant this fall. We want to keep taking baby steps in growing our own food because it is cheaper and, really, is there anything better than a tomato right off the vine warmed by the summer sun? As we were brainstorming on what to plant, we realized that maybe our best use of time and energy right now would be to start composting. This past spring, we spent a ton of our gardening budget on good soil. I knew enough from nature studies in elementary school to realize that our foods get their nutrients from the soil. So, off we went to buy our dirt (because Georgia red clay isn’t exactly fertile ground for a garden!). It felt absolutely absurd to me to buy dirt, but buy it we did. As our garden grows bigger, we need more soil, and I absolutely refuse to keep spending money on dirt. So, time to learn about easy, cost effective ways to fertilize the good dirt we’ve got by composting so we can have free, nutrient rich soil.
I have fond memories of leaving the burbs and going to the farm to visit my grandparents when I was a child. Playing in the hay bales and learning to cut the grass on the huge riding lawn mower were almost as fun as eating Grandma’s homemade lemon meringue pie! In the back of my mind, I have this vague memory of an old gallon ice cream bucket under the sink where we put food scraps for composting and Granddaddy’s composting area (I think it was just a little area surrounded by some cement blocks.) Why is it that, as an adult now, the whole process just seems so complicated? I want to get back to the simplicity. So here’s what we are going to do.
Step One: Choose your method
There are many ways that you can have great compost at the end of the day. You can stockpile your food scraps and yard waste and fill one compost bin all at once (layering the food scraps and dried yard waste) in a big batch pile. The benefits of this method are that you will wind up with ready to use compost much faster. The hard part is that you have to do some serious pre-planning and weekly maintenance to make it work. Another method is to use worms. It is called vermicomposting. My sister does this and it works for her. She told me that you can even do this in your house with smaller batches, but honestly, I’m not a big fan of worms AND I’m trying to keep this uber simple, like my Granddaddy. We are going to do the add as you go method. Every day or two, we are going to add a layer of food scraps to our pile and then cover it with a layer of dried yard waste or newspaper. Yes, this method takes the longest to break down (up to 8 months), but it is doable and requires the least amount of maintenance. Sign me up!
Step Two: Find your space and containers
When you start researching how to compost, it seems like there are a million options to help things decompose. Too many choices, if you ask me, and don’t get me started on how many different kinds of composting bins you have to choose from!! Jon googled pallet composting bins and saw enough images to figure out how to make something that would work for us. You can often find pallets for free from Craigslist or from just asking at your local businesses. If you are less inclined to build it yourself, you can purchase all different kinds of composting bins from your local hardware store.
You are also going to want to find a container to put your food scraps in. There are expensive buckets custom made for this purpose (I saw some that were $50!), or you can just use an old ice cream bucket with a lid! The key is to have a lid of some sort or you are going to have some serious stink to contend with in your kitchen. Also make sure that whatever you choose to use can be rinsed out.
We are putting our compost bin in our backyard towards the back. Flies and rodents can be a problem, so as we learn how to do this well, I’d rather have those things further away from my house than close. Figure out where it works for you though!
Step Three: Learn what to compost
I thought this would be hard to figure out, but it’s really rather simple. Food scraps are great with the exception of any meats (including fish) and dairy products including bones and fat. You don’t want to try to compost oils or fats because they will turn rancid and smell awful. As far as yard waste, use your common sense. You don’t want to compost invasive weeds, but everything else is pretty good to go, as long as it isn’t super soggy. Here is an amazing list of what you can and can’t compost from Home Composting Made Easy that I’ll be printing out until we get it under our belts. (This website is an excellent resource for all of your detailed composting questions. It certainly has helped me.)
I’m hoping that come springtime, we will have some amazing compost ready to fertilize our garden and help us have the best garden yet at a lower cost to our family.
How about you? Do you compost? What tips can you give us that have made it work for your family? I am eager to learn from those who have been doing this longer than a week!!