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Composting, Made Easy

Urban farming/gardening expert Farmer D of Farmer D organics gives advice about composting.

There comes a day when you stand there in your kitchen, holding a banana peel, and you suddenly realize that the time has finally come to start your home composting system. Maybe it was because of an article you read in a magazine about making your own "black gold" for your new vegetable garden, or a conversation you had at the coffee shop when someone came in to get used coffee grounds for their home compost pile, or a news report you heard about how much "green waste" gets sent to landfills. Maybe you've put it off before because you are worried about smells, rodents or upkeep. 

I know how you feel. I meet customers every day who are easing into living a more sustainable lifestyle one step at a time, and it can be a bit overwhelming (especially because this knowledge skipped generations). I'm going to try to make it easier for you, however, by giving you the simple, straight talk about composting so you can get started with, well, that next banana peel.

1. The "Lazy Gardener" Compost Pile. I'll tell you a simple secret--compost happens. Things in nature decompose. That's just what they do. If you pile up some leaves and plant cuttings in the corner of your yard, they will decompose and you will have compost one day, whether you toss it every week or leave it alone. The difference will be the speed in which it happens, and the way the rest of nature reacts to your compost pile. Hint: If you want to minimize feeding time for other animals at your open compost pile, don't put kitchen scraps in it or be sure to bury them well. If you are overwhelmed by do's and don'ts, just start with this "lazy gardener" compost strategy. You can even bring home coffee grounds from your local coffee shop for this compost pile and feel like a total insider, as easy as that.

2. The Three-Bin System. Okay, so if you discover you like getting some rich compost for your home garden and want to get more (or you're bored with how slowly it's going), consider doing the two or three-section system where you are tossing your compost pile with a pitchfork from one open bin to the next each week or month in order to add air and speed decomposition. If you're starting to think this way, then you may also want to consider your ratios of what's called "browns" to "greens." Browns are things like leaves, wood chips, dead branches, and cardboard. Greens are things like freshly pruned plants and grass clippings. In general, you want there to be maybe 70% browns and 30% greens. Getting the balance right will create conditions for expedited decomposition. Note: If you do include kitchen scraps, you'll get some pretty harsh smells if your browns and greens fall out of balance. If you have a bad impression of composting, it is probably for this reason.  (When in doubt, add more browns.)

3. The Closed Composter. If you want to step it up, consider getting a closed composter that spins. We sell this model both online and at our store, as this is an easy-to-spin, popular choice for home and school gardens. This is the ideal way to compost kitchen scraps. Be very aware of your ratio of browns to greens now, as this will make a world of difference in how "patio pleasant" your composter is. By keeping a well-balanced composter near your kitchen door, composting will suddenly become an easy, everyday part of your routine. You may even want to consider having two closed composters so you can fill the second one for a month while spinning the first one (which you filled the month before) and then you will have a fresh batch of compost at the end of each month. Finished compost smells sweet and is ready to use directly on your garden to enhance your plants' growth and improve your soil.

4. The Worm Bin. Okay, I think you're ready for the worm bin. Worm bins are fun, easy, and productive, and the finished "vermicompost" does wonders for your garden (and boosts germination for certain crops like you wouldn't believe). The problem some people have with worm bins is overfeeding the little guys (red wrigglers, not earthworms, by the way). Yes, they eat half their weight in pounds per day, but it's best if you take it slow and see what that really means before laying out a daily buffet. I almost treat them like pets rather than a trash can.

If you'd like some help figuring out the best compost solution for your gardening needs, come by the Farmer D Organics store on Briarcliff Road by LaVista Road and see what we offer. Oh, and yes, feel free to bring your banana peel.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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