Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Compost that Cooks

Toronto is enjoying its rainiest year on record. We even out-rained Vancouver. Take that Vancouver! Now some have expressed frustration and even disappointment over the rain. But really, it’s weather. Weather. Beyond our control. Besides, rain makes a gardener happy. And Jane and I have been very happy this year.

As you know, our focus this summer is to maintain a healthy edible garden. We zeroed in on the soil, mixing in plenty of compost and manure last autumn, and lots of compost and quality organic triple mix in the spring. It’s certainly has made a big difference over our efforts last year.

Happily, compost is something we can create right at home with the added benefit of diverting about a third of our household waste. Imagine if everyone did that. Imagine if everyone had access to a private or community garden? Compost is an essential ingredient to healthy soil. Not only does it provide great nourishment, it helps hold moisture and acts as mulch, which limits weed growth.

Jane and I have been doing a marvelous job feeding our outdoor composter with vegetable and fruit waste, grass clippings and carbon elements, such as shredded newspaper, dried leaves and straw. But the composter isn’t cook’n. And it should actually produce heat if done properly – and not smell.

My approach has been to act first and ask questions later. After consulting with The Organic Gardener’s Home Reference, the Composting Council of Canada and Ecoholic, I’ve learned the following:

The recommended size of the structure to ensure optimal breakdown time is 3’ x 3’ x 3’. You can buy a plastic composter with these dimensions or create your own. For tips on the latter click here. Make sure the compost has cover as sunlight kills the good bacteria that composts the material.

Materials should be equal part layers of green plant material (nitrogen) and dry or ‘brown’ plant material (carbon).

Green plant material – grass and leafy clippings, vegetable & fruit kitchen waste, old flowers, weeds (with no ripe seeds), egg shells, tea leaves and coffee grounds.

Brown material – autumn leaves, straw, dry wood chunks (cut up well), sawdust, shredded white paper and newspaper, paper bags, cardboard boxes and egg cartons.

Avoid using – meat, carnivorous animal manure, ash and charcoal, diseased plants, cat feces and litter, dairy, plastics, old TVs (even new ones) anything from this guy, etc.

To build a pile…
  • Lay down a layer of twigs for drainage.
  • Then add a layer (up to 10 cm) of green and then brown (or vice versa) followed by a thin layer of soil and repeat.
  • Keep the pile moist. It should feel like a sponge – moist but not soggy. If it’s too wet it will rot and if it’s too dry it will take a million years to compost.
  • Stir every week to keep aerated so that bacteria get the oxygen they need.
  • Add a compost activator, which can be purchased at your local eco or health store.
  • Ensure that the materials you add are cut up well to speed up the composting process.
  • Also, avoid huge layers of green or brown.
  • Add a variety of materials to ensure a better pH balance.

For those who live in apartments, find out about vermicomposting by clicking here.

In the News

Northern oil riches raise fears
Its return of the ole Klondike Days – black gold to fulfill world demand for three whole years. Several countries are making claims to arctic oil now that the ice is melting – one of them is Russia which seems hell bent to do whatever it wants to reinstate its position in the world. That power comes from its supply of fossil fuel. We can look forward to some crazy geopolitics in the next few years. Hang on to your hats.

Court Rejects E.P.A. Limits on Emissions Rules
This is actually good news.

Risking the Galápagos
Eco-tourism’s dark side.

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