the wonderful world of compost!

All right! Let’s go! Compost! It’s waaaaayyyy easier than you think it is, and it actually makes me really happy in a “hard to put words to” kind of way. Starting to compost was one of the first simple (but super impactful) steps that we took when embarking on the Zero-Waste quest, and now that the weather has warmed up the process is really beginning to take shape!

First off we went and bought a compost bin (I think from Home Depot) for like $100. There are fancier ones on the market, and you could *definitely* make a DIY one for a lot cheaper, but that was the option we went with. We also picked up a cute little plastic “under the sink collector”. Very simply, fill the little guy with plant matter (no meat, bones, or dairy) from your kitchen and go dump it in the big one once it gets full.


Now! I always put off composting because I was afraid of it ending up as a horrid stinking mess pile, so I’ve been pleased to see that this hasn’t happened *at all*. The main thing to keep an eye on is balancing the carbon material (wood shavings, dried grass clippings, sawdust, unbleached paper mulch, etc.) and nitrogen material (everything else, lettuce, potatoes, banana peels, coffee grounds, etc.). You need about 2/3 carbon to 1/3 nitrogen, but you can’t really have too much carbon unless you’re going way overboard. Basically if your pile gets sloppy or starts to smell bad (which ours has never done btw, it smells like leaves in the Fall), add some more carbon and give it a stir.

We don’t have a lawn to get grass clippings from but luckily my friend Joey works at a guitar factory where they generate copious amounts of sawdust. I’ve paid him a couple of visits and picked up a garbage bag full each time and we’ve had all the carbon we could use. We recently acquired this plastic bin to keep sawdust in, so next time I’ll bring that with me to avoid having to use a garbage bag.

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One of the really cool ideas that I’ve come across in the Waste-Not world is that in nature “waste is food”. Anything that an organism excretes as waste becomes food for another organism (think of dung beatles, haha!). I like how the “wasted” sawdust from Joey’s work can become food for the bacteria that do my composting, and eventually food for me when the compost gets used in the garden. I think there’s a real lesson here with how we design our consumer goods and the processes we use to create them. Could we hold industry responsible for operating (and co-operating) in such a way that nothing goes to waste in the whole system? Aaaaaanyway, I digress…

The next thing I learned about was aeration. The bacteria and enzymes that do the breaking down work need oxygen, so it’s a good idea to put a pile of sticks in the bottom of the composter to allow air to get up from underneath. It’s also important to give the pile a stir (with a pitchfork or some such implement) when you add to it. I really like doing this, it gives me a chance to see the process working. I’m pretty consistently amazed that there’s black dirt just a few inches down from the top of the pile.

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Over the winter the pile basically just accumulated because it was too cold for the bacteria to work, but now that the weather has warmed up the composting process has kicked in big time. I opened up the bottom of the bin the other day, and there it is, dark brown/black dirt! Probably what we’ll do once we move to the new house (eeeeeeeee!!!) is get another bin and rotate each year. Once the first bin is full, start filling the second one and let the process work away in the first bin largely undisturbed. Once the second bin is full the first one will be fully composted and we can empty it and start the process over. Cass is also stoked to have a third compost bin for neighbours and apartment friends to drop off to!

Here’s one more picture of the finished compost from the bottom of the bin. Zing!

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