Or…Why was I so scared of Composting for so long?
So I guess this article is a “Permaculture Confession” of sorts. I don’t know about you all, but I was scared of composting for at least the first year after I dove into gardening. Every time I got excited to start composting, I’d go online and look at videos or articles. So many of them had complicated ratios, long lists of what I could or couldn’t compost, and recommended special tumblers, barrels, and other ways to contain the mess of compost.
I can tell you about sooooooo many composting fails, starts and stops, with little to no results. But I think it’s more exciting to talk about what happened when I decided to stop following any composting rules. I learned most of what I practice today from a combination of experimentation and education. David the Good, one of my favorite gardeners, freed me from the shackles of composting rules with his book, Compost Everything. If you don’t have it, go buy it now. (I need to figure out how to setup Amazon referral links to the book)
First, I started making 5-gallon buckets of anything I wanted to compost but didn’t want to deal with right away. I stuck a bucket with a lid outside my back door and kept a lid on it. I’d dump all food scraps in there, along with torn up paper, mail, cardboard packaging. So many people say chop everything up small, don’t add meat, don’t add dairy and give you a bunch of other no-nos. Some of those are based on city regulations, so check your area, but just throw it all in a bucket.
Once my bucket is full of nasty slop, I figure out what to do with it.
- Do I have an active compost pile I can add it to? If I do, I pour it on top of the pile then cover it up with brown stuff. Leaves, dead grass clippings, torn up paper bags or cardboard…pretty much any brown stuff I can get my hands on.
- If I don’t have a pile going, I figure out what tree or big planter area needs food. Once I find one, I dig a big hole at least 18 inches deep, and dump in the compost slop. Then I bury it under the dirt and let it be. Usually the plants nearby start growing like crazy shortly after.
- This is an AMAZINGLY EASY technique to use when you are planting trees. Grab a bucket, pour it into the bottom of your tree planting hole, add a little dirt on top, then plant your tree right on top. The trees I have done this with in my yard have had much faster growth after transplanting.
Second, I planted bananas I recently purchased in a big circle with a pit dug out in the center. I piled the dirt from center around the outer edge to make a nice planter edge to keep everything in, and dug the center down a foot or so. For the next two months, I sent my son out to the banana pit with our nightly compost scraps. He threw them on the pit and sometimes covered them with leaves, sometimes didn’t. I then went out every few days, or at least weekly, and added browns or dirt to cover the food. I think there are some drawbacks to this approach unless you’re going to bury stuff every time you add it, because the open food can definitely attract critters. We have cats, so they chase away any mice/rats that would be drawn in by the food, and the circle is far from the house. I’ve repeated this approach in a few areas of the yard, and the bananas love it. I don’t think bananas can be fed enough…they never get full. ?
Nasty Compost “Tea”
Again, David the Good inspired this one for me. Basically, I still use 5-gallon buckets, but in addition to food scrap buckets, I make compost tea buckets. Depending on what I have on hand, these can contain weeds I don’t want to put back in my beds or compost pile, manure I got my hands on, some food scraps, or any other green material you have to use. David the Good explains this in his videos way better than I can, so check it out here: Making Another Batch of Dave’s Fetid Swamp Water(TM). David goes all out and makes 55-gallon drums, which I want to do someday, but the 5 gallon buckets seem much more manageable and portable in a smaller urban food forest. This method yields some stank, nasty tea, that you can dilute and use as a liquid fertilizer. Plants love it, especially heavy feeders. Once I let a bucket sit (covered) for a month or so, I grab that bucket, plus a few empty buckets, mix it between 1:2 and 1:10 with water, and pour it at the base of plants. I have also used a weaker dilution, like the 1:10 to spray on plants when they have something funky going on. Seems to give them a good boost to fight off whatever is going on.
If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and order Compost Everything. Then read it over and over until composting isn’t scary anymore. And my last parting tip, from David the Good, is to be like a forest and just throw stuff on the ground!
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