Friday, September 24, 2010

"our time reduced to an honorable mention"

the song: "All The Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth" The New Pornographers

I post a lot of pretty pictures here. But today let's look at some pictures of dirt. This isn't just any dirt, though. Oh no. This dirt is special because we made it.

 Compost pile.

As you might remember, I just finished planting my fall garden. Before I did that, though, I decided to add some sifted compost from our lovely pile that is pictured above. I sifted for about two hours and in the end had a nice wheelbarrow full of new soil. After a day or two in the sun all the little bugs had disappeared and the soil was ready to spread on the beds. Easy as pie.

Lest you think I am a gardening master, allow me to share some hard truths:

1. My compost pile is low budget. And by low budget, I mean trashy. When I read about how a compost works, I break out in a sweat. It's all so science-y. Our compost is a pile on the ground under some shady trees, very loosely circled with chicken wire. Anyone that knows us can testify...that is one ugly compost bin. 

2. I am a lazy gardener. I get excited about plants that grow food. I get less excited about weeding and fertilizing and all that stuff. More often than not, I jump the gun and run out to buy plants before taking time to check in with my dirt. This is the first time I've actually used my own compost on my garden. First, but not the last.
 My non-DIY sifter.

3. DIY (unfortunately) isn't in my vocabulary. There are great instructions out there for creating your own compost sifter. Homemade sifters look awesome, and if anyone would like to volunteer to build one for me I will cook you dinner. But I am lazy. I also am bad at planning ahead. So instead, the morning I decided to sift compost I went and bought myself a colander with handles. Some people say a colander doesn't work for this job. Granted, I don't know any different, but I think it worked fine.

Magically, our janky compost pile produced the most beautiful, sweet smelling soil I've ever seen. Crazy as it sounds, sifting through this stuff was a pleasure. Don't get me wrong, I still wore gloves. But it wasn't half as bad as I was expecting. There were very few nasty bugs. Amazingly, I didn't encounter any rotting all. It is all decomposing just like it is supposed it. There were no foul smells. The finished product looked like chocolate cake. So apparently whatever we are doing is working.  

 Sifted compost.

Here's how the sift went down. I started with 2 big containers, a colander (or homemade compost sifter, fancy pants), a good pair of gloves, a shovel, and an iPod. That's important, because there is a rhythm to compost sifting. One container will be for the soil, and one will be for your scraps.

First, put on your gloves! Ok, now remove all big pieces that are laying on top of your compost (garden plants, last night's veggie scraps, etc.) and put them in your 'scraps' bucket. Hopefully your compost is already looking sort of like dirt. Chunky dirt with bits of table scraps. Scoop up a shovelfull of compost into your sifter. Now, find yourself a good song and start shaking it over your 'soil' container.  This is a great arm workout and a good opportunity to show off your impeccable sense of rhythm.

In case you're interested, my top sifting songs were Annie's "Heartbeat" and Of Montreal's "The Party's Crashing Us."

  Scraps to go back to the pile.

Once you see mostly large pieces in your sifter, dump the remainder into your "scraps" bin. It doesn't have to be perfect...the scraps will keep working in your compost pile and be ready next time. Repeat the sifting process until you have enough to spread on your garden. Or until your arms get tired. Or until you exhaust your playlist. Dump your scaps back in the bin, and leave the "soil" container in a sunny spot for a day or two to get rid of the bugs. Then freshen up your garden by spreading your new lovely compost soil right on top.

I attribute our successful compost to several things. First, we eat a healthy and varied diet with lots of vegetables. We also drink a lot of coffee. Scraps and grounds go into the compost daily. 

Second, we are religious about composting. I have dug food trash out of my garbage can when no one is looking. Everything that can be composted is composted. Our compost pile never gets bored. 

Finally, the husband deserves a lot of credit. I'm more likely to just throw kitchen scraps on top so I can hurry up and get back to cooking and eating. He turns the compost and adds leaves every now and then. But we don't follow a formula. 

Finished product ready for the garden.

And there it is! My crumbly, sweet soil that is about 100 times more gorgeous than any bagged soil I've ever seen.

The main point of this post is to encourage everyone out there to have a compost. It takes time to get used to it, but after a while sorting out food trash becomes a habit. There is no reason food trash should go into a plastic bag and then into a landfill. It can turn back into dirt and go back to the earth. It doesn't have to be perfect. Even if it's just a pile on the ground, you can still get results. Even if you don't get results, it will decompose times faster than that plastic trash bag.

Here are a few useful links about composting:

Introduction to Composting
Benefits of Composting 
Apartment Composting



  1. i didn't start composting until i moved into a house with a yard this last year. between composting and recycling, i barely fill up a trash bag every week to take out. composting is totally addictive! i don't turn the pile or introduce brown matter, either - the bf does. i just generate food scraps.

  2. This is an excellent post- thanks! I'm sure I can get M on the compost bandwagon once he sees how cool you've made it. :)

  3. ht- Thanks for the comment! Isn't it amazing how little trash you make when you pay attention? And composting IS totally addictive (hence my secretly pulling food out of the trashcan). :)

    JennM- I'm so glad you found this post helpful. And yeah- tell M to get with the program! Ha ha. :)