Challenges of Suburban Composting 1

I remember when we first began growing tomatoes 13 years ago. We started by covering a 5x5 grassy space on the northeast side of our backyard. Cardboard squares killed back the grass, and we added leaves, grass clippings and kitchen scraps through the fall and winter. In the spring we put in some tomato plants and were amazed at how well they did.

Over time we've established a pecking order so-to-speak with each gardening task. Nothing official and written out, we just naturally take on certain roles. Some of them just make sense. Learning to work together in this way has allowed us to partner on multiple home and gardening projects while also running our own businesses. When it comes to composting we each have our own ideas and approaches. Ed manages a few piles his way and I do a few smaller piles of my own. Then sometimes we combine them. There are no rules.

Through the years we've dedicated most of our backyard, and more recently the front yard as well, to growing organic vegetables and herbs. We have both in-ground and raised beds and feed multiple compost piles throughout the year. As a grower I've found there literally never is enough good soil to go around and over time it's proven to be my biggest challenge. We keep a modest budget for our garden so buying new soil to replenish old soil is not a sustainable solution for us.

Sadly, we have less fall clean up and yard waste now than we did a few years ago because we lost most of the old silver maple trees that used to canopy our entire street due to age and disease. Many were removed to update old sewer lines and nothing was planted to replace the old trees. This surprising dilemma forced us to look at other ways to increase compost production. In a perfect world our home is it's own little compost factory that directly sustains healthy fruit and vegetable growth without additional fertilizer, herbicide or pesticide.

Ed likes to toss scraps and yard waste into these awesome bins he built in 2017. The fronts of the bins slide out for easy access and, at 4 ft x 4 ft, they each have 172 gallon capacity. These bins sit at the back of our lot on the west side of our garage.

To maximize use of space we planted potatoes in the right bin this year. It seems to be working well so far. I'm looking forward to the harvest and will post updates.

I like to use the plastic store-bought bullet type because, among other things, it keeps flies down since it's sealed. If we have an unusual amount of kitchen scraps or lots of garden cleanup with under- and over-ripe fruit, it's sometimes easier to toss everything into the bullet and seal it up, as opposed to layered composting where you have to cover food scraps with other organic material. It's another step I may not have the energy for depending on the day. I also believe compost cooks quicker and hotter in the bullet than on the ground.

There are other variations of plastic composters and not all of them hold up well so I suggest reading reviews before buying. They run Ours is three years old, sits on the west side of the house through summer and winter and is still in pretty good shape. It has to be on level ground or the bottom of the barrel won't clear and can't be rotated.

The bullet holds forty eight gallons of compost at one time, is difficult to empty and can become too heavy to manage. I find it a good work out and plan on emptying mine in the next few days and will post results. If left unattended for too many days in extreme heat the bottom has collapsed, spilling the contents on the ground. It happened to me a few times last year before I learned to let it sit at an angle with both openings facing to either side instead of up and down.

I used to compost tons of newspaper and magazines until last year when Ed told me he read it has negative effects on the soil. It's on my list of things to research and will update this blog as soon as I have more information. Common sense tells me to keep the high ink and gloss out, but the basic newspaper should be fine. Brown paper is supposed to be safe to use as far as I know.

There are so many ways to compost, and so much information out there, we have to each adapt composting habits to our own situation at the time.

We're limited in space on our standard suburban residential lot so we can only take on so much waste at one time, but I'm ready to handle more. I noticed a 40 gallon plastic garbage container full of fresh corn husks and a few over-ripe potatoes at the grocery store the other day and thought how perfect for composting it would be. I spoke with the produce guy and gave him my card but haven't heard back. I'm seriously considering dumpster diving. Will let you know how it goes.

Recently we've been working on quicker composting techniques which I'll post in the coming weeks. I hope you find our composting experiences helpful. We hope to encourage and inspire more people to compost for the health of the soil and ultimately everything you grow. Composting has the added benefit of keeping garbage out of landfills. Another thing I'm obsessed with.

I would love to hear from people who are passionate about composting. Please feel free to leave a comment! Thanks for reading.



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