Sunday, January 9, 2011
Composting is Hot in Corvallis right now. There are classes in How To Compost, delivered by Composting Gurus. They describe how to build the three bin system, complete with a cover, how to layer brown and green materials, what kitchen scraps can and cannot be thrown into the system—no fats, no meats, no oils, no cheeses….There are restaurants that are buying compostable plates and bowls and cutlery, probably because there is a business in town experimenting with these wares—they had a huge compost pile out at Sunbow this summer, experimenting with how long it would take for the stuff to break down. (the plates are gone in a few weeks, the cutlery sticks around for months.) You can even compost in your yard waste cans!
When I first met Mark, he was living in an apartment on Belmont street in Portland, furnished with a futon on the floor, a folding table, and an old couch left by a previous tenant. He was not planning on staying and wanted to travel light, but, while he was in Portland, he wanted to raise some red wiggler worms, which eat your food scraps. After consulting Worms Eat My Garbage, he bought a tub, drilled some holes in the bottom for drainage, ordered a pound of worms, and set up the bin in his kitchen. The bin quickly filled up with food scraps layered with newspaper, just like the book said. The worms migrated from food source to food source, clearly preferring easy to digest stuff like oatmeal scraps and damp bread to orange rinds and greens. After a few weeks, they laid egg sacks and a new generation began. It was pretty cool to watch. However, it was also the ideal conditions for fruit flies and I came over one day to find him vacuuming the flies out of the air in desperation. He moved soon after and set the bin on the back patio, where the worms continued to munch his table scraps for two more years.
Five years later, we bought our house and placed the compost ring back by the fence, near the garden and away from the house (in my last rental, it lived under the bedroom window…). That was fine until the rains began and I stepped into about six inches of ice cold water in the dark one evening. I moved it the next day. In the spring, we built a traditional, recommended compost bin, three sections, each about two and a half feet square, out of scrap wood and wire. The idea was, one section held the new material, the next was used to turn the scraps into to increase aerobic activity (no smell), and the last held finished mulch, waiting to be used. We laid slabs of the old sidewalk in front of it to keep down the mud. It worked. I could stand on the frame to use the compost turning tool, which made my neighbor rather nervous whenever he saw me from his driveway, especially as the wood began to rot and it was less stable. But, it was a pain. It was never quite big enough to heat up. The wires caught on the pitchfork. The chickens loved it, but they were constantly tossing the material two or three feet out of the bin. We had a resident rat.
This summer, the three bins finally collapsed. I was on top of one of them when they began to go, but survived. We considered our options… rebuilding larger bins? Those stackable frames like Paul has in his back yard? Purchase a black plastic container, so the rat couldn’t get in? “I like the hoop system, “ I suggested. ”It’s simple.“ We went to Robnett’s and bought enough wire to create a hoop three feet around along with some clips to hold it shut. Mark dumped all of the compost that was strewn around by the chickens, along with some cardboard and old rotten wood, into it. We added some bruised and wormy apples for moisture. Three days later, the pile was hot. A week later, Mark opened it up, moved it over to the open patch, and turned the reduced and steaming pile in. The chickens gathered around and ate the bugs left behind. Simple. Efficient. Neat. Cheap! What’s not to like. So that is our system right now. We do a little kitchen presort—carrot tops and old apples to the bunny, dead bread to the chicken coop, but most of the scraps are either thrown on the bare ground where the wire will be soon, so the chickens (as well as possum and probably rat) can eat them. Masses of veggie garden plants and cuttings are thrown into the bin, with scraps—including cheese—and whatever I rustle up from the side of the road. Flower garden trimmings are mulched in place (i.e. dropped into other garden bed where they came from…). It is simple. It works. And I don’t risk my neck balancing on rotting wood to turn it in the winter….