I took time to harvest compost this week, just in time to augment the beds I was getting ready to plant Fall crops into, and to side dress some of the more hungry summer crops — such as tomatoes and summer squash — as they start to put energy into setting fruit. The product I collected was of exemplary quality, and it was satisfying to know that my rather laid back efforts had paid off so handsomely.
Every house I’ve ever lived in has required some creativity to come up with a composting system that works efficiently. I’m lucky to have a nook in my current back yard that is mostly obscured by bushes. I can fit a compost bin there, as well as an open 4-foot square pile.
There were two composting containers in the yard when I moved into my house. One of them is a small tumbler that you can spin to mix everything and keep it aerated. The second bin is one of those round plastic domes that one can often get from local public works departments for around $30. Both units do a good job of keeping animals out, so they are the first station in the system for fresh food waste.
Each time I add a tub of scraps from the kitchen, I cover it lightly with a handful of shredded leaves. I try to maintain a good carbon:nitrogen ratio just by eye. Any time that I notice the start of some odor, or if things look too wet and gooey, I add more leaves. If the mixture seems dry, and nothing is breaking down, I back off on the leaf component. It’s not scientific, but it works fine, and fits my lifestyle pretty well.
When one bin gets full, I switch to the second one, and when that one gets full, it’s time to do a transfer from the first bin to the open pile. By that time, the material is no longer of interest to neighborhood critters. I’ll layer with more leaves if it doesn’t smell absolutely sweet, dampen the pile, and wait for the magic to happen.
Doing the transfer from bins to the larger pile takes less than half an hour, and happens about twice a year — once about this time of the summer, and again just before winter sets in.