Mitch and I completed the UVM Extension Master Compost program to help us better prepare compost and grow our own soil at the homestead. Part of being a Master Composter means educating others about composting, so here are some of our composting tips:
- Compost is MORE THAN FOOD SCRAPS! With the excitement of Vermont's Universal Recycling Law which will ban food waste and other natural materials from the landfills by 2020, more people are getting interested in composting, but compost is not a bin of your food scraps in the back yard. Yes, food scraps go into making compost, but you actually need a ratio of a part food scraps (nitrogen) to 30 parts carbon (leaves/brown paper towels). Check out this carbon to nitrogen ratio guide to help you create a mixture that works with what materials you have available. Otherwise you are creating methane - a poisonous greenhouse gas and contributing to climate change rather than helping!
- Brew Your Stew. Mitch and I opt for cold composting, which takes a year or more to turn into compost. Hot compost needs ingredients like manure, which we do not have easy access to, so we create compost mixtures of leaves, yard waste, food scraps, and unbleached paper products. We also add special treats from the woods like mushrooms and bark mulch to help boost the nematode population in the compost which are tiny little worms that eat the scraps to help them break down into "black gold" compost.
- Build a Compost Bin. In East Charlotte, we had two plastic bins to mix smaller amounts of compost primarily for the veggie garden. Last year in Plainfield, we built a large compost structure out of plywood with two sides that can each hold about three yards of compost. Two sides for compost brewing allows us to work on two different piles at a time. We get in an turn the pile as the ingredients rot and are getting close to letting the first pile rest and turn into the finished compost we'll use in next year's garden. Prior to building the bins, we created a pile next to the garden shed that we will be able to use this year. See the photos below.
- Keep the Dog OUT of the Compost! This is serious business. We always heard that dogs shouldn't eat compost, but just thought they could get an upset tummy and didn't take it seriously. In fact, we thought it was funny when Uley would sneak past the gate and got into the compost. But, late this winter, after a particularly stinky combination of food scraps got thrown into the compost, Uley found his way in and munched away while Mitch was preoccupied working with a fellow to harvest a bunch of trees for next year's firewood. That night, Uley became paralyzed and couldn't walk. He puked a ton and started having manic seizures and then was dry heaving and we freaked out. Thanks to some concerned neighbors on a Facebook forum for our town, we poured hydrogen peroxide down his throat to make him puke more and gave him Gatorade for electorates and then activated charcoal to bind the poison. But, he still wasn't getting better so we had to take a midnight drive more than an hour away to the emergency vet where he was treated for compost poisoning from the neurotoxins produced in compost as the food decays. Uley is now okay, but it was traumatic for everyone and expensive. Please learn from our mistakes and block off the compost bin!
- Meat and Citrus in the Compost? All food scraps can be composted, however, meat adds extra enticement for dogs and other animals, so if you don't have a really secure compost situation, I would suggest leaving meat to the trash or, when the times comes, to the anticipated food scrap collection for it to go to commercial compost operations or biodigesters to make electricity as a part of Vermont's Universal Recycling Law. Citrus adds acidity and too much can make compost more acidic than you want, so I add citrus sparingly.
We also purchase compost until our infrastructure and ingredients can produce all the compost we need. And, we give our gardens bursts of energy with our secret compost tea sauce. YUM!