Composting

ChiloquinNews article 6/20/2011

If you were to believe all the articles out there about composting, you’d probably end up quite confused. There are assorted recipes for what goes into the pile, dozens of different types of ‘composting bins’, and compost starter cultures. What no one will tell you is that you are fighting an uphill battle right from the start by living in Chiloquin, and that’s because of…. you guessed it…. our miserably short, cool summers.

When I worked in Reno on the campus, there was a time when all the lawn clippings, autumn leaves, and general plant litter, was all put into a mountainous pile back out behind the building where I worked. The lawns were liberally fertilized, and the summer weather in Reno is hot, so this was a very active pile. I used to stop by on my way home and collect a bucketful every so often, and as I shoveled into the pile to get to the older stuff, steam would pour out. One hot summer day, the pile caught fire, the fire marshal stepped in, and that was the end of composting on the campus.

No need to worry about a Chiloquin compost pile catching fire. Mine never gets above cold. Ideally, you want the pile to get hot enough to kill weed seeds, and break down all that organic material, but it just won’t happen here, so don’t put any weeds into your compost pile. Also, don’t put any fish or meat scraps unless you want to be raided by raccoons on a regular basis. It’s too bad really. Fish bones would be great for the compost pile. I do put egg shells. As for a recipe, it’s a good idea to mix fresh (‘green’) with dry (‘brown’), but I don’t sweat it. I put all my kitchen trimmings, which counts as ‘green’ and I would put lawn clippings (also ‘green’) except that I don’t have a lawn. If you have used fertilizer on the lawn it certainly does help heat things up, and maybe my pile – actually a bin – is always cold because I don’t have fertilizer added. In the fall, leaves go in the bin, and sometimes I save them up in bags so that I’ll have some ‘brown’ material to put in the compost the next summer. If I come by manure, that goes in too. It should be in a sunny spot so that there is some chance that it might warm up, and it does need to be kept moist. I have a drip line running into mine so that I don’t have to remember to water it. It should also be mixed occasionally. I have a tool, a long handle with flexible ends, that I use to do that.

Each spring I’m able to get 4 or 5 buckets of compost from the bottom of the bin. No way is it the lovely ‘black gold’ that my sister produces in hot Adelaide. It still has components that can be identified, but nevertheless, it is concentrated organic matter for the garden and the plants love it.

So is it worth the effort, for 5 buckets of compost each year? I think so. Got to throw those vegetable scraps somewhere, so might as well put them to good use.

My compost still has quite identifiable components, but the potatoes thrive on it, and by the end of the season, it’s all broken down.

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