People often think that because I'm cheap, I don't really enjoy life. In fact, it's just the opposite. Because I don't need to spend a lot of money to enjoy life, I don't need to spend a lot of time getting a lot of money. But, you do need to know how to get the most enjoyment with the fewest bucks, and that's what this section is about.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rotten Luv:
My Love Affair with Compost
by Jeff Yeager



I fell in love with composting and my bride-to-be at the exact same moment, although not in that order, as I recall it.

But in both cases it was love at first sight. When I met Denise almost 30 years ago, her amazing smile and steel blue eyes immediately captured my attention, as did her T-shirt. On the front it read "A Rind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste." And on the back, you guessed it: "I (heart) Composting."

Today our compost pile - affectionately named "Gomer-the-Pile" - is the steaming envy of organic gardeners throughout our county. Although we've endured our share of well intentioned jokes about having a "rotten marriage," Denise and I love composting and organic gardening, both as a way to save money and get a little exercise while spending time together. And, no, Gomer, like any well constructed and maintained compost pile, doesn't smell one bit, not even during the heat and humidity of a mid-Atlantic July day.

Composting is unquestionably the ultimate act of frugality. Making valuable use of organic material that would otherwise be entombed for eternity in a bio-indestructible plastic garbage bag buried somewhere in a landfill, composting is recycling redux, times two. Compost is super rich decomposed material that contains lots of humus, carbon and nitrogen, and it's black gold when worked into garden soil or around landscape plantings.

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You can buy compost, but the whole point is to transform the leftovers from your kitchen and yard into what Organic Gardening for Dummies aptly calls "the prince of organic matter." Even urban pioneers can compost.

Here's how to get started:

* Build or buy a compost bin: Bins are usually square or round, and of roughly equal height, width and depth (typically three or four feet square/round). Make your own using medium mesh wire fence formed into a cylinder, or use pressure treated lumber for a sturdier bin, leaving an inch between the side boards so the pile can breathe (see mastercomposter.com for detailed instructions and building plans). Lee Valley Tools (leevalley.com) is a great source for readymade bins (usually constructed of heavy duty plastic - urban gardeners should consider their compact Rolling Composter) and related composting supplies like charcoal filtered compost pails, aerating tools, and decay enhancers. If possible, place your bin a shady location.

* Add brown and green (for the richest compost you've ever seen): Rotate thick layers of brown material, like dried leaves, twigs, straw, pine needles, wood chips, and dried grass clippings, with thinner layers of green organic materials such as green grass clippings and leaves, fruit and vegetable trimmings, weeds, and manure (green or otherwise). Never compost animal or dairy products, diseased plant materials or those treated with herbicides, pet/human waste, or weeds that have already gone to seed. Water each layer thoroughly as you go. Think of it as making lasagna, or not.

* Stir, cover, and let cook: After a week or two, mix together the layers using a pitchfork or special aerating tool. Then cover the pile with tarp so that it retains moisture and really starts to cook. The internal temperature of a proper compost pile can average 100 degrees or more than the surrounding air temperature, fast-tracking the decomposition process. Let time and nature do the work. Your compost should be handsomely decayed and ready to use in just two or three months, depending on conditions.

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Now, after all these years of marriage, ours is not without its sore points.

"I love him dearly," my poor wife recently said about life with me, the Ultimate Cheapskate, "but he's so cheap he doesn't leave much of anything for the compost pile. After making soup stock from the veggie trimmings, pickling the watermelon rind, and rubbing the banana peels on the leaves of house plants to prevent aphids, there's nothing left to feed Gomer." She may just have a point.

Some evenings, as I pad out to my compost pile with the plastic kitchen pail chuck-full of potato peels, apple cores, and coffee grounds, I think about that pretty coed with the clever T-shirt that I met nearly three decades ago. It's true; some things do get even better with age.

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(Sidebar)
Other Great Resources to Add to Your Pile

On the web:
oldgrowth.org/compost
compostguide.com
howtocompost.org
compost.org

In print:
The Rodale Book of Composting (Rodale Press)
Let it Rot! (Storey Publishing)
Compost, By Gosh! (Flower Press) - for young composters

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posted by Jeff Yeager at 5:57 AM 1 comments

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