For the Love of Compost!


“So look, you just throw all the old food and egg shells and stuff onto that pile.  All that becomes dirt!” Shyanne explained excitedly to her confused looking boyfriend.  He lasted through the compost cycle but now she is on to a new boyfriend who she will likely explain the process to.  The kids have been composting since they were really little so they don’t think anything of it.  Furthermore, they grew up being scolded for throwing food in the trash.  Now that the chickens are here, it is easier to compost because they like giving the chickies the food scraps.  I do wonder, if while at other people’s houses, if they look for the compost or if they look in horror as people throw food in the trash or if they couldn’t care less.  19, 17, 16….probably the later idea.  But the lesson has been instilled all the same!  And I do hope their future homes will have a compost heap.

It is not difficult, in fact if it were it may have been nixed from our family routine long ago.  It started when I read that food scraps do not actually decompose at the dump.  Everything is sealed so toxic liquids don’t escape from batteries and such and the food, if ever, takes a century to disappear.  That scared me.  I am not going to go watch and make sure that the information was correct but it inspired me to do something else with the scraps.  We had enough with three kids.  Our grocery bill was as high as two car payments back then with growing kids.  Oftentimes stuff got lost in the back of the fridge.  It was a sad ending for perfectly good kale or leftover soup…long lost and forgotten, lurking, waiting for me to find it.

We had just adopted our greyhound, then much younger, and fenced off a running strip for him at our suburban house, for greyhounds do love to dig….to India, I’m not kidding.  While we were at it, we added raised beds and created quite a nice yard.  (Pity we put all that work into it, we moved shortly after!)  At that point I figured I may as well make my own compost instead of buying the heavy bags of it from Walmart.  We bought an expensive compost holder.  Tall, black, slotted, held three feet of compost.  The mice moved in the bottom, the pile was impossible to turn in that box and I often left the thing with bloody knuckles from hitting the slotted sides after the force of the pile turning left me cussing and carrying on.  It was not long before a pile started next to it.  And it decomposed faster.

We live in Colorado and nothing decomposes that quick because it is so dry here.  I could water the compost pile to “the degree of a squeezed out sponge” (as the books say) and it will be dry in about twenty minutes.  It takes longer here but it does happen.  At this house, Doug got some discarded wooden pallets from the feed store for free, and with a few nails, it became a triple holding compost maker!  We start in the first one.  All coffee grounds (also the ones from nearby coffee shops), and old food the chickies don’t want or I am wary of giving them (moldy canned tomatoes anyone?) and before chickens, I would just throw in leaves, old straw from the garden, torn up newspaper as the “brown” elements.  Now it gets the soiled hay and pine shavings from the chicken coop.  As soon as that one is getting a few feet high, we switch to the next opening and leave the first to do its work for about six months.

Here is the low down.  The almost finished compost goes into the garden in the fall after I have cleaned out the beds.  It finishes its work over the winter and feeds the soil.  Another light layer of compost goes in the spring.  If I had perfectly finished compost, I would be more liberal, but it never is that black gorgeous stuff because I do not water and turn as much as I should.  That all gets added in to the soil and the plants love it.  The chicken coop stuff has to sit for sure for six months so it doesn’t burn the plants.

If you start your compost pile now, no matter where you live, it will be done in August.  Just in time to give the plants some compost tea or a little dusting around the plants.  If the pile smells add more brown (dried grass, leaves, newspaper, hay, etc.) if it isn’t decomposing very fast add green (fresh grass, food scraps).  Add water if it is dry.  Turn it when you think about it.  Become an environmental maven and compost queen of your own garden!   And watch the magic of ordinary stuff turning into dirt.