Saturday, October 14, 2006

Contemplating Compost

I love compost.

No, really, I do! It's one more step down the path of ecological responsibility. We recycle, we buy as many organic things as we can and we compost. You might even consider it poetic that we turn conventional produce into organic produce by composting. It reduces the amount of trash we put out every week by about 1/3rd, so that's gotta be good, right? Of course, since we actually cook we have lots and lots of kitchen scraps and it's far better for us, the landfill, my plants and the Earth that we compost what we don't eat than if we didn't.

One of the great things about composting is that it takes very little skill or attention. And, if like me, you don't have a chipper/shredder, it forces you to slow down long enough to chop up plant matter to help it break down. It's while doing this that I experience quiet moments of solitude. Very zen.

Just yesterday I moved all of the half-done compost from the first to the second bin. I have a 3 bin system that Eric built for me several years ago. It works like a charm.

Today I planned to start a new pile for the winter and I had all of the ribbon grass and keys of heaven that I had ripped out to work with for the "greens", plus a load of kitchen scraps. While I sat on the grass and worked, I was surrounded by bird song. This is generally when I try to match the sounds to the birds. Northern flickers, finches, downy woodpeckers, robins and black birds trilled around me as I chopped away. Very soothing.

While I was busy chopping away and feeling very connected and earthy (I was covered in soil and leaves), I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. There was a spider crawling up my arm. A big bodied oh my god it's on me! spider.

Zen moment OVER!

I then did the seated dance of spider induced horror and flicked it off. Then I did the heebie jeebie dance in my skin for awhile longer as I checked myself over for yet more unwanted riders. Ack! It's one thing to be in touch with nature. It is entirely a different thing to have nature touching you. Especially nature of the creepy crawly eight legged variety.

Now don't get me wrong, I like spiders just fine. I especially like them from a distance of several feet - nay! several yards! - from my face.


I don't know where it went, but I steeled myself to remain exactly where I was to finish the job. It's not like the spider was going to bite me or anything. Hoo-waaaaa. Shiver. So I kept on chopping and dropping the bits into the white trashcan I had with me to collect the compost bits. I was finishing up when I found the spider again: this time in the bin, trying to crawl out. I chucked more vegetative matter on it and hoped it would stay IN the bin and AWAY from me.

It will be happy in the compost bin, I told myself. Plenty to eat there. Don't make me have to squash you, little bug!

I swear that thing was after me or something.

As a general rule, I don't squish spiders. We have an understanding: if they leave me alone, I leave them alone. If they are in the house, Eric will do the cup and paper removal service. I deliberately maintain a calm demeanor if Caitlin is around, so that she doesn't pick the "bugs are icky" girl thing. We check out worms together, discuss butterflies and grasshoppers and the like. I'll even point out huge spiders to her, so long as they aren't anywhere near me.

After completing the new pile, I emptied out the remains in the third bin and sifted it. Finished compost smells wonderful. It smells a little sweet and very earthy. Like the best soil you've ever been around. Considering there was only 2 inches or so in the bottom of the bin, I was happily surprised when it half filled my wheelbarrow. Roughly 28 quarts worth, if the level in the trashcan is anything to go by (it holds 36 quarts).

In case you were wondering, here's what compost should look like, in each stage.

Starting bin:
Everything is still recognizable. That's lamb's ears, bits of ribbon grass and leaves you can see on top. I stir the greens in with the browns and water it all in. I turn and water it when I remember to (sporadically) and I get finished compost out of it every year.

Almost completed:
A lot of finished compost, with bits of sticks and somewhat undigested plant matter. It will finish breaking down over winter and will be ready for use in the spring. You'd be amazed just how much compost I get out of these bins. At 3' x 3' x 3', it settles until it looks like there's only a foot of the stuff, but after being sifted you get several wheelbarrows full.

Finished and sifted:
I sift it with 1/8" hardware cloth stapled to a rectangular frame that I made to fit over my wheelbarrow. Those white bits are egg shells. I recommend smashing them up as finely as you can. Anything that didn't break down this year gets chucked back into the first pile to undergo the process again. Everything vegetative will eventually break down, it just usually takes awhile. Peach pits, cherry pits, and sticks usually require several turns through the composting process before they are finally broken down beyond recognition.

Pretty cool, huh?

Oh and the spider showed up one last time while I was shovelling compost out of the third bin. It was crawling up out of the second bin. I carefully ignored it and went my own way.

Personally? I think it had a deathwish.


Frog said...

Compost is wonderful. We use our goat waste as an accelerant because we don't have much grass. Mixed with the straw, it's excellent for the garden.

I still dream of having a chipper-shredder to mulch the leaves falling at this time of year. We'd have no issues filling several wheel barrows full if we could mulch all the leaves in the yard.

Woman with a Hatchet said...

I would love to have a chipper-shredder! I think it's about time to start researching one, for myself. It would take so much less time to use one than to cut everything down to size with garden shears!

All that extra time for...gardening!

I keep thinking I'd never use it enough to justify the cost, but I keep needing one, at the very least 4 times a year. Surely my time is worth something?

Thanks for dropping by, Frog!

The Observer said...

Do butterflies freak you out? I went to butterfly pavillion once -- it was a horrifying experience . . .

The Observer said...

I'm not kidding -- they scare me.

Woman with a Hatchet said...

Actually butterflies, like lobsters, don't freak me out unless I look at them far too closely.

"Oooh! Butterflies! How pretty! Hey! It landed on me. Oh...look at the size of that bug body. Holding my sleeve with its creepy legs...Ack! It's just an insect with nice wings! Argh!"

Sorta like that. So I have to repress the creepy insect thought and stick with the pretty bug thought. Lobster is in my "tastes delicious but don't think about how much it resembles a cockroach" category.

Woman with a Hatchet said...

Oh, but the bug room? COMPLETELY freaks me out. Can't look at anything. Freaking GIANT cockroaches, by the DOZENS in cages?! Aieeee!

Caitlin loves it though. So I grit my teeth and don't look at anything too closely. Except the praying mantises. I like them.

Just don't get too close, ladies!

Frog said...


My wife loves the Mantids, but I like the spiders!

Valerie said...

mmmmm... compost...

I hope mine is working. It doesn't seem to be cooking these days, though when I think of all of the kitchen scraps that went in and that I can't see anymore I guess it's done a lot.

It's just cold now. But at least it's wet.

Woman with a Hatchet said...

Stir it up a little to get more air into it and it will probably start up again. If it pretty much all looks like soil, you're done!

Do you have it all in one pile or in two piles?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...