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  • Marion Gottschlag

Composting for the Newbie

Composting is really in the realms of the Gods, or alchemy. Making nutritious earth out of scraps which in turn feeds your garden and ultimately you…miraculous. Yes, miraculous isn’t normally used to describe composting, but I’m easily impressed and use that word here with wild abandon. So peel those bananas and potatoes and feed your compost. Eat that apple and pear and throw in the cores. Have some coffee and feed it the coffee grounds. Cut your child’s hair, vacuum the carpet and fling it all in with a flourish. You will stop feeding the monstrous landfill and do the earth a favour. The ratio is important when combining these things so that the breakdown is complete, but you don’t need a science degree, just a little knowledge and the proper composter for you.

Your options just keep growing year after year. From a homemade bin in the yard, to a tumbler-type contraption that you can ‘turn’ with a crank, to worms in a bin on a balcony to burying it in your backyard.

Once you’ve decided on the type of composter you need, you can skip to the appropriate heading.

Composter Overview…Connect with your soul mate composter.

Everyone is different.

1) A bin is a bin is a bin. A wooden box with a lid. Nothing fancy, nothing else, just perhaps a few slats at the bottom that can be removed to get at that alchemical black gold. These are best for people with backyards or large balconies.  

2) There are various plastic composters available as well. These are great but require some backyard space to accommodate them. You’ll need a pitch fork, hoe or shovel (or big stick if you are an outdoorsy type) in order to turn the compost, so that it has a chance to ‘cook’. Or you can get a model with a hand crank that lets you play with it, just like a large crank-up toy that churns out earth…eventually.

3) If you’re squeamish, this next option may give you the heebie jeebies. But don’t worry, the worms in this Worm Factory 360 composter are much more interested in working for you than creeping out and parading through your apartment to your bedroom. I promise. They are focused little worker worms that will eat and eat and poop and poop and make your junk scraps useful once again. And when they have had enough, they will simply migrate up to the next tray where there is a feast fit for the worms. Then you simply use the compost, making your gardening friends green with envy (if you mention worms some of them will turn a deeper hue of green, which is always fun to witness.) These are excellent choices for apartments. They work. You don’t.

4) The latest intrigue in this food growing movement is the Bakashi. No, it is not a Japanese cereal, or a relative of the Mukluk. It is a composter that has the power to disappear. Once you bury it, that is. Bury it and forget it like a good dog would. And voila you are amazing. You made supercharged dirt. All by yourself. You. Are. A Superstar.

A basic 101 Art of Composting

Your new composter will come with a ton of instructions and the learning curve isn’t that tough. But for an overview this is the deal. Be brave, dirt under the nails is a good thing. Your compost will only smell if something is off. It can actually smell sweet, believe it or not.

Okay, I’m about to get all science-y on your toned behind, so brace yourself. The miracle making microorganisms will only play in your compost pile if the ratio of Carbon (leaves, etc. ‘brown’ matter) is 25-30 times the Nitrogen (food peelings and ‘green’ matter). In geek speak: it’s C:N Ratio is 25-30 parts Carbon to 1 part Nitrogen. In other words, you gotta mix it up a bit, but don’t get carried away. So more leaves, less food and moisture is the right recipe.

To start, add brown matter to the bottom which includes old leaves and bits of newspaper or hay, then add green matter such as grass and food scraps. Water. Repeat with an identical layer….and again water. Repeat. And again…. Now in order to have it heat up and get cooking, it must not be too wet or too dry.

Don’t put meat, bones, fish or dairy in the mix, otherwise animals will come from miles around to gorge themselves.

And it has to be ‘turned’, this is where your helping hand is needed. So a little care in the wellbeing of the compost will over time result in your very own super nutritious fertilizer.

To harvest, just take it from the bottom and sift out any bits that didn’t decompose, sprinkle on flowers and food alike (food that is growing in your garden that is).

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