Not one of my better images, but this milk carton (and others like it) served me very well! Before switching over to an “official” food scrap hold (a plastic jobby that holds “official” BioBag inserts! haha), I always used to use empty milk cartons as my scrap holders (the containers that would sit under my sink and receive kitchen scraps before being emptied into various worm composting systems). Milk cartons (especially the 2 litre size) work well since they are waxed (so resist microbial attack) and can be closed up reasonably well, plus they contain just the right amount of scraps so as to avoid the risk of creating a stink while you wait for the thing to fill up.
Speaking of stink – really, there is no excuse for having a stinky scrap holder when it comes down to it. Aside from having good air flow another really helpful feature is a “false bottom”. Rather than simply letting the scraps sit on the bottom of the container, where they will rot and create a nasty stench, I highly recommend adding a fairly thick layer of shredded, absorbent cardboard. This wicks up excess moisture and prevents those nasty anaerobic conditions from developing down at the bottom.
Written by Compost Guy on April 27th, 2010 with no comments.
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If you’ve read a fair bit about backyard composting you will likely know by now that one of the cardinal rules is “don’t add pet waste to your compost bin”. This advice certainly has merit, at least as far as a regular compost bin goes (i.e. one you add your kitchen waste to, and eventually empty for the garden). After all, these materials can contain various pathogens, and aren’t exactly all that enjoyable to work with.
I should mention that the term “pet waste” is actually far too broad to be used in this context. There are many different types of pets out there, and a lot of them produce waste materials that make for an excellent addition to your compost piles. Really, any of the herbivorous rodents (is there such a thing as a carnivorous rodent – haha?) – such as rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs – will create some quality compost fodder for you. It will be very easy to work with (not wet and smelly) and there won’t be the same risks involved.
I think the ‘no pet waste’ rule is definitely more applicable to carnivorous (or at least omnivorous) animals. Of course, the two most popular pet poop produces that fall into this category would be cats and dogs. Both of these animals produce wastes that are not only unpleasant to work with in general, but they can also contain nasty microbes as well.
Cat waste in particular warrants extra caution, since it can contain a parasitic protozoan called Toxoplasma gondii. This organism is relatively harmless for many people who become infected, but it can be a serious threat for pregnant woman (it can harm the unborn child) or those with compromised immune systems. Just so you know, most cases of Toxoplasmosis actually result from the consumption of raw meat, NOT from contact with cat feces (see http://www.metrokc.gov/HEALTH/prevcont/toxoplas.htm), so there’s no need to get ultra-paranoid about it – unless of course you like your steaks rare!
While I definitely DON’T recommend adding dog and cat waste to your ‘regular’ bins, I do in fact recommend setting up a completely separate system to handle these wastes – after all, why bag it up and send it off to the landfill when you can easily process it yourself and take advantage of the extra source of plant nutrients as well.
A pet waste composter should be set up a good distance away from your other composting systems and vegetable gardens, and as far as possible from the nearest water body (at least a good 100 yards or more). You can start by simply digging a hole in the ground – perhaps 2-3 feet deep and 2 feet across. Once the hole is dug you should add a nice thick layer of shredded cardboard, or some other carbon-rich, absorbent material (coir, shredded paper, aged straw etc) in the bottom. I would also recommend using some sort of enclosure over top. A regular plastic backyard composter will work fine. Aside from leaving you in control of the amount of water added (the last thing you want is to let it get flooded), this will also allow you add a lot more material, and should even help to ward off any curious children/animals.
Now all you have to do is start adding your poop (well, not YOUR poop – although I suppose you could – haha!), along with more bedding material and a sprinkle of water with each deposit. If you leave one of these systems to sit for a couple weeks or so without adding any more fresh waste (you might want to start up a second system), you could also add some composting worms. The worms would help you turn the material into compost much more quickly than would occur by simply letting it sit – but the worms definitely need a buffer zone from the fresh waste materials (hence the suggestion to let the system age for a bit) since it is a little too potent (with ammonia etc) for their tastes.
I wouldn’t personally harvest the compost from these composters – I would more likely try to put them in a strategic location so that surrounding trees/shrubs could take advantage of the rich compost being produced.
[tags]pet waste, dog poop, cat poop, pet waste composting, composting, composter, backyard composting, worm composting, vermicomposting, pathogens, toxoplasmosis, compost bins[/tags]
Written by Compost Guy on May 7th, 2008 with 18 comments.
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For quite some time I’ve been meaning to buy some compostable plastic bags so I can see how quickly they will breakdown in a composting system. I’ve always been really fascinated with the idea of biodegradable plastic in general, and really happy to learn that the technology has continued to improve (I seem to recall that the earliest bioplastics simply decomposed into a zillion plastic fragments rather actually breaking down completely).
Anyway, yesterday I ordered a box of 50 BioBag (R) doggy poop bags and can’t wait till they arrive – I have lots of ideas for different experiments.
I had fun with my “coffee cup challenge“, but I know this will be a lot more interesting!
Stay tuned! More to come.
[tags]biodegradable, biodegradeable, bioplastic, plastic, compost bags, biobag, composting, biopolymer[/tags]
Written by Compost Guy on May 4th, 2008 with no comments.
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For a guy who is mega-passionate about composting I can certainly be a dunce sometimes! Until just a couple of hours ago, I had no clue that ‘International Compost Awareness Week’ (May 4-10) was about to begin. Thankfully, I at least found out BEFORE it started, not after it had passed!
Anyway, I just wanted to write a quick post to let everyone know. In a sense it almost seems like my subconscious knew it was coming up – as you may have noticed, I’ve been pretty active with the composting-related posts on the blog lately (in comparison to my usual posting schedule and range of topics, that is).
Needless to say, I am going to make a real effort to continue the trend, and will keep all my posts this week themed around the topic of composting (and related practices).
If you have been thinking about potentially starting up your own composting system for the first time this year or getting back to a neglected compost pile/bin in your yard, what better time to do so than during International Compost Awareness Week?! There are lots of great composting-related events taking place so be sure to check out your city/regional website to see what’s happening in your area.
Anyway, I’m off to bed so I’ll leave it at that for now, but I’ll write more soon!
[tags]compost, composting, compost awareness, composting council, composting workshops, composting training[/tags]
Written by Compost Guy on May 4th, 2008 with 1 comment.
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An e-mail question from one of my readers yesterday reminded me that it might not be a bad idea to write a quick post about the difference between ‘batch’ and ‘continuous’ composting.
A continuous composting system is one that receives waste materials on an ongoing basis – but not necessarily according to a specific schedule. This is typically the most common and easiest form of composting for the average home owner. You simply start up a compost heap or bin and add your waste materials to it as they become available.
Apart from ‘average joe’ backyard composting, another prime example of this approach is vermicomposting. Technically, you could create a batch vermicomposting system, but if you add too much waste at once there is a good chance the materials will generate too much heat for the worms, among other potential hazards.
One of the major advantages of continuous composting, particularly in the case of vermicomposting, is that you are not limited by scale – your system can be as small or large as you want it to be. As such, you can more easily compost indoors, and utilize waste materials right away, rather than stockpiling them until you have enough for batch composting.
The downside however is that you are essentially mixing fresh materials with those that have already been composted – so it can be more of a chore to separate out the ‘good stuff’. If you are composting with worms, this can be accomplished quite easily by using some sort of ‘continuous flow’ system. Such a system relies on the fact that composting worms will generally move away from their own wastes (worm castings) in the direction of the most recently added waste materials. In stackable bins like the “Worm Chalet” for example, the movement is upwards, whereas in a ‘wedge system’ (moving windrow) movement occurs laterally.
Batch composting simply involves mixing ALL your materials together at once then letting everything sit without adding more materials (aside from water), until it becomes compost. This approach is most applicable on a larger scale, and almost always will involve some variation of ‘hot composting’.
One of the main advantages of this approach is that all materials in the system will finish composting around the same time and there will be no contamination from newer materials. This approach is also very handy when you need to deal with large quantities of waste (whether at one particular time or on an ongoing basis). In comparison to vermicomposting systems, using a batch approach saves a lot of space as well (since materials can simply be mounded upwards) – thus more waste can be composted per given unit of area.
One disadvantage of this approach is the fact that you need to stockpile waste materials until you have enough for the next batch – obviously not a big deal if you do have a sizable waste stream at your disposal, but a little more inconvenient if it takes you awhile to obtain enough for a decent sized compost heap. You also generally need to pay more attention to the C:N ratio and overall properties of the materials in your mixture, proportioning them more carefully so as to obtain the results you desire.
So which one of these approaches is better?
It totally depends on what you are trying to accomplish and how much waste material you can get a hold of. I like continuous composting because it is so easily adapted to different situations, and because I don’t have a massive amount of waste to deal with (and even if I did, I’d likely just set up more worm composting systems).
By the way, there is no reason you can’t combine the two approaches. ‘Pre-composting’ large quantities of material before adding them to a vermicomposting system is actually a great way to speed up the composting process, while also getting rid of weed seeds (and possibly pathogens) – so it’s a ‘win win’ situation!
[tags]composting, compost, vermicomposting, worm composting, vermicompost, worm castings, continuous flow, compost bin, compost heap, compost pile, worm bin[/tags]
Written by Compost Guy on April 29th, 2008 with no comments.
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Now that yard and garden season is here again, I’m sure many people are interested in getting their backyard compost bins and heaps up and running once more. If you piled up lots of organic matter in the fall you may be surprised to find that it has broken down a fair bit during the winter. This material can be used as a great mulch for your gardens, or can simply be combined with new material and turned into really nice compost.
If you are fairly casual with your composting efforts – not overly concerned with the speed of the process or amounts of material produced – simply starting to add kitchen scraps to your bin once again may be just fine for you. If on the other hand you are keen to really kick your composting activities into overdrive so that you can produce lots a compost for your garden, then more effort (and attention to detail) will likely be required.
The first thing you’ll obviously want to do is open up your system and have a look so you can get a feel for what you are working with. Better yet, remove the composter entirely (assuming you even use one) so that you can really get a good look at any materials that may be left over in the bin. What’s there? Is it dry or wet? How does it smell? Is there a lot of bulky plants materials (perhaps woody waste)?
These are the sorts of questions to keep in mind as you scope out the situation.
I’d recommend that you start by chopping up as much of the bulky/woody materials as you can – the more surface area you create for decomposers, the more quickly this stuff is going to break down. Next assess the water-holding capacity of your current mix – if you have lots of dried up leaves and debris and little in the way of humus (the dark, earthy smelling stuff) you should add some materials that will help maintain moisture levels in the system (something that is very important). Something like coconut coir is an excellent choice since it can absorb a lot of water and is more environmentally responsible than peat moss. The downside is that it can be somewhat expensive. Shredded cardboard is a free alternative, and while it can’t hold as much water as coir, it has the added bonus of improving air flow in the bin (it acts as a bulking agent). Some other great materials to consider are finished compost, well-aged manure, or partially decomposed straw or leaves.
Next you need to add some new materials to your system. Hopefully you will either A) Have some yard wastes (such as fall leaves) left over from last year, or B) Have some materials from spring clean up to add to your compost bin. Raking the thatch (dead grass) and leftover leaves out of your lawn can be an easy way to get yourself a decent amount of excellent composting fodder. Weeding your gardens and/or cutting the lawn should provide you with some nice green wastes as well. Even if you use a mulching mower, why not just use the bag for the first cut of the year? Grass clippings, if mixed well with the rest of your materials will provide you with a nice boost of nitrogen and will definitely help to get your heap ‘a’ hoppin!
Kitchen waste is another valuable ‘green’ waste and should help to keep your heap moist as well. As is the case with the grass clippings, just make sure you spread these materials out – too much in one area will likely just create a smelly anaerobic mess.
Once your materials are mixed (better yet, while you are mixing them) use a watering can to add some water to the mix. You don’t need to totally soak everything – keep in mind the often-cited “damp sponge” recommendation. If you are adding (or have already) composting worms you might want to add a little more water since they will help to move/aerate everything and they also really love wet conditions.
Speaking of composting worms, I do highly recommend adding some ‘Red Wiggler’ worms (Eisenia fetida) to your system if you are looking for a way to speed up the composting process in a typical backyard composter. The compost they help you produce is outstanding stuff for your garden and can actually provide major benefits in much smaller amounts that most ‘regular’ composts. One thing to keep in mind though – don’t bother adding them if you are making a giant hot composting heap, since you’ll just end up killing them or at least forcing them to evacuate the system. Worm composting is better as a ‘continuous’ process (I’m going to write about ‘continuous vs batch’ composting in my next post), whereby smaller quantities of wastes are added on a more regular basis.
In case you are wondering what I did with my own backyard composter this spring…
When I first opened it up I found lots of dry, bulky plant wastes that I had jammed in last fall during my garden clean-up activities. I had been a tad lazy with in the fall since I expected to simply end up using the material as fodder for my winter composting bin. When I opened up the trap door in the bottom, things look a lot better – materials seemed to be broken down quite nicely (thanks to the activity of my composting worms) and there was ample moisture.
I didn’t end up chopping up the bulky materials (which I should have), but I did add leaves and well-aged manure to the bin to help fill in the spaces and to improve the moisture retention. I next gave the bin a healthy sprinkling of water to ensure moist conditions in the upper reaches of the composting mass. I was happy to see that a lot of Red Worms managed to survive the winter (remember this is my regular, non-insulated bin), but I decided to add a lot of new worms anyway just to make sure there is a good population of them in there.
That’s pretty much it. Now it will simply be a matter of adding more waste materials, maintaining moist conditions in the bin and of course starting to remove some of the compost from the bottom.
As you can see, it’s not too difficult to get your bin back in shape this spring!
[tags]compost, composting, compost bin, composter, compost pile, worm composting, vermicomposting, yard waste, spring clean-up, fall leaves, thatch, manure[/tags]
Written by Compost Guy on April 28th, 2008 with no comments.
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Last weekend I finally got myself out to the backyard to dismantle my winter composting insulation wall. It was funny to see the composter reduced back to its original dimensions – it looked so small and naked. I’m definitely glad I removed the wall though – this will allow for more air exchange and just keeps things looking a little more neat and tidy. (I’ll admit it – the winter composter was a wee bit of an eyesore).
I also want to allow another batch of compost bin tomatoes to thrive this year. They were an unexpected treat last year, and I think I may even purposely plant some this time around.
I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to do with the frame that was used as the outer wall of the winter bin. I’d prefer not to dismantle it since it is rather fragile and may not go back together when I need it next winter. I’m thinking about making it into a simple hot composter – but I will definitely need to secure a large quantity of waste material in order to do so.
When I was out to the bin again this week I checked on the status of the bokashi waste that I had added to the bin a little while ago. I was quite surprised to see that it was almost completely broken down. The worms were loving it, but it seems to have ended up creating a little ‘hot pocket’ in the bin, thus sending them off to cooler regions. I’m really looking forward to adding more of the material from the new buckets I’ve been filling inside. I actually had so much surplus kitchen scraps waiting for a home that i was able to fill one bucket right off the bat. So it is now probably getting close to being ready for the composter (or garden).
Anyway, that’s all for now. Have a great weekend, everyone! With the warm weather now seemingly here to stay (and my gardening activities getting started soon) you can be sure I will have much more to say in coming weeks.
[tags]composter, compost bin, composting, worm bin, worm composter, compost, bokashi, hot composting[/tags]
Written by Compost Guy on April 25th, 2008 with no comments.
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True story…and it relates to the importance of composting (among other things) in my life.
My wedding ring has always been a little too big for my finger. I guess it didn’t seem that way when we first purchased our rings, but for whatever reason, as soon as we were married it suddenly felt loose on my finger. My wife encouraged me to get it resized, but me being me, I always brushed it off as something that wasn’t really vitally important – after all, the ring stayed on my finger just fine. It was simply a little loose, that’s all.
You can probably see where this is going.
Of course, it did indeed eventually fall off without me realizing it – not once, but TWICE!
The first time was back in January. In a crazy stroke of luck, I saw it lying at the bottom end of my driveway the next morning (I still didn’t realize I had lost it)! Needless to say, I thanked my lucky stars and thought perhaps that it was a sign – of what, I wasn’t sure.
For some reason, I still resisted getting it resized – I guess I didn’t feel like spending the money until I was absolutely sure it was necessary. I also worried that it would end up being too tight. After all – it WAS winter. Surely my fingers would expand once the warm weather arrived again.
So I continued to tempt fate…
In February I managed to lose the ring AGAIN! This time the outlook was much more grim. I didn’t realize it was gone for quite some time, and when I finally did realize it, I had just arrived home from a series of errands all over town. Naturally, I assumed that it had fallen at some point along the way – I even thought I could remember hearing an odd sound just after mailing a letter. Kinda like the sound a ring would make as it slides down into a mailbox.
I tried to retrace my steps to see if I could find it, but with no luck. I even phoned the post office to see if they could check the mail bag – unfortunately by that time it was on its way to a much larger postal depot. He said he would do what he could, but warned me the chances of recovering it were slim. I tried various other possibilities, including searching all over the house and property, but still no luck!
It was a major loss for me, and I was both saddened and embarassed (after all, my wife had asked me repeatedly to get it resized). A wedding ring is not just something you can go out and replace. It has major significance (to me, anyway), and a new ring just wouldn’t cut it (unless of course we renewed vows or something like that).
One last possibility was that it had fallen on the lawn as I was bringing in groceries (on that fateful errand day). We had a major snow storm soon afterwards, so I thought it might simply be buried under the snow. Weirder things have happened – I DID find it on my driveway the last time, after all.
Life continued on and I tried not to think about it too much. Part of me still held onto the hope that by some slim chance the ring had indeed fallen off on the lawn, and that I would find it once the snow melted away.
Once the warm weather finally arrived I started feeling somewhat excited, but also quite apprehensive – if the ring wasn’t on the lawn it likely meant that it was gone for good. When all the snow on the front lawn finally disappeared this week I started spending some time trying to find it, but without any luck.
Oh well – bad things sometimes happen to good people, right?
Then…something I’d almost describe as ‘magical’ happened. I finally visited my winter compost bin! I even made it a family event, as mentioned in my last post.
Funny coincidence…I had not opened up the bin since mid February – around the same time the ring went missing.
There is a special pair of gloves that I always put on any time I’m going out to dig around in the composter. Yesterday was the first time I have put them on since February.
Whadya know – after feeling something strange in the bottom of one of the fingers I turned it upside down to try and shake it out, which of course resulted in me coming face to face with my long lost wedding ring, lying on the ground at my feet!
It’s safe to say this experience has taught me several valuable lessons. Clearly, I need to:
A) Listen to my wife more often, B) Be more careful and aware, and C) NEVER EVER neglect my compost bin AGAIN!!!!
Written by Compost Guy on April 9th, 2008 with 9 comments.
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Well, after what seemed like a very long winter, spring finally arrived in fine style last week with lots of sunshine and temperatures much closer to (and even higher than) seasonal norms. Virtually all the snow is gone, and the ground even seems to be drying out a fair bit.
I just KNEW that I needed to get back into the swing of things with my outdoor composting efforts this week. As I mentioned recently, my ‘Winter Composting Extravaganza’ (season two) fell by the wayside back in February, and my winter bin literally hasn’t been opened since then. Apart from marking the end of my winter composting run, there is even more significance in this – something I’m going to write about in my next post.
In what could almost be considered a spring composter opening ceremony, my wife, my 7 month old daughter and I all ventured out to the backyard to enjoy the warm weather and dump a bunch of kitchen scraps (which have been piling up inside) into the bins. Interestingly enough, it looked like there was a fairly major reduction in volume of materials inside the winterized bin, and temperatures in the composting mass seemed to be in the 10 C (50 F) range. When I dug down into the material I was happy to see lots of red worms and springtails – a pretty good indication that the bin never froze solid. Whoohoo!
My other backyard bin however was still frozen solid for the most part, although when I opened up the compost door at the bottom I saw lots of lively composting worms and no indication of freezing.
I dumped all remaining bokashi fermented wastes (about 1 1/4 buckets worth) into my winter bin, thus finally witnessing the true nastiness of the bottom of a bokashi bucket!
Let me put it this way – it probably wasn’t the best way for me to convince my wife how cool composting really is! The straw-coloured liquid at the bottom of the buckets smelled to high heaven and had the consistency of dog drool. Just a reminder of the fact that it’s not a bad idea to constantly drain off the bokashi liquid, as others have recommended. Obviously it didn’t help that the materials have been sitting in this buckets for quite a few weeks now.
This certainly hasn’t turned me off of bokashi though – in fact I am eager to start up my new buckets again, and make another batch of the bran mix as well. With my outdoor composters ready to be used again I now have a great place to put the finished bokashi material!
[tags]compost, composting, winter composting, composter, compost bin, worm composting, vermicomposting, bokashi[/tags]
Written by Compost Guy on April 8th, 2008 with no comments.
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