Gumshoe Gardening: Composting 101

This post begins a series called Gumshoe Gardening — today’s topic? Composting. If the words “Compost Tea” terrify you, you’re not alone.  I read those words today and was horrified, until I realized that people do not drink compost tea — they pour it on their plants.  Compost tea is made by steeping a bag of compost in water for several weeks; the liquid can then be used as a fertilizer for plants.  Let’s back up, though.  I’ve never made compost tea, I don’t have any compost I could use to make it, and, actually, I’m not even sure how composting works.  Hence, this post.

My only experience with composting so far has been an attempt my parents made about ten years ago.  They wrapped some metal screening around two trees that were close together to create a container, et voilà: a compost bin.  They told my sister Rachel and I that we could begin putting the rabbit poop we cleaned up in the bin.  In theory, we were also supposed to include food waste, but the kitchen was far away from the site and it became almost exclusively a rabbit poop dumping ground.

Since my “yard” has no trees, I will be exploring what some refer to as “urban composting.”  And maybe, eventually, I will try it out for myself.  For now, I’ve done some research, and here’s what I found.  Experienced composters, feel free to correct anything!

Basic Composting Vocab Lesson:

  • Organic Matter is generally anything living or once-living, from lettuce to a 100% cotton t-shirt to Kieran.  For composting, please use once-living organisms.
  • Microorganisms a.ka. Microbes are very tiny living things — organisms that can only be seen under a microscope.  In the realm of composting, most of the microbes we are concerned about are bacteria and fungi.  For an awesome (and cute) breakdown of compost consumers and the jobs they do, visit this site.
  • Compost is decomposed organic matter — usually with the assistance of microbes.  Everything that dies decomposes.  As one gardener said, we call it compost when we put it in a bin and watch it.
  • Compost Bin is a sturdy container that will hold compost.  It is quite helpful if this container is not, itself, biodegradable.  Plastic and metal work well.  Size depends on the household — some households use a great big trash can; a couple can probably use a much smaller container.
  • Compostables vary depending on the type of composting.  Industrial composting can handle decomposing many materials that household composting cannot because those facilities can get much hotter and produce more pressure.  This is why, for example, I would not want to compost Kieran. (Among other reasons.)  Household compostables should generally include only plant waste, since animal waste can attract animals.  And it’s gross. To maintain a good balance of microbes, compost bins should include a 40/60 or 50/50 ratio of green (wet) and brown (dry) ingredients.
  • Green/Wet ingredients: Just how it sounds. Includes fruit and vegetable scraps, used tea leaves, and grass clippings.
  • Brown/Dry ingredients: Also how it sounds.  Includes coffee grounds, nut shells, dead yard waste like leaves, pine cones and pine needles, and paper.
  • Aeration: Mixing air into compost. This can be done in various high-tech ways; most people just stir.

Urban composting is just composting in the city.  It’s not much different than “regular” composting, except that it is on a smaller scale because many urban dwellers like myself have access to fewer compostables.  For instance, we don’t have a yard from which to gather yard waste.

My gardening goals until next time?

  1. Find a compost bin and put stuff in it.
  2. Research and report on container gardening; possibly go to a gardening center and ask questions.
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2 Comments to “Gumshoe Gardening: Composting 101”

  1. Hey Brynna, my recommendation would be the EarthMachine compost bin. They are easy to set-up and use, though they’re sort of big, so you have to find a good place to put it. Good luck!

    http://www.oregonmetro.gov/index.cfm/go/by.web/id=557

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