The Foundation of an Organic Garden
Compost, its the left over bits and poop of bacteria, fungus and worms. Its filled with all sorts of goodness for plants. Thats pretty much my definition of what compost is, for a clinical definition I turn to the University of Illinois which states “Composting [is] a biological process that decomposes organic material under aerobic ([meaning] oxygen [is] required) conditions. [...] Composting speeds up the natural process of decomposition, providing optimum conditions so that organic matter can break down more quickly.”
The thing that I came to realize is that there are two types of composting- vermicomposting and aerobic composting. The above U. of I. description is about the bacteria composting process which is aerobic. Worm composting, like aerobic composting, creates a by product that breaks down complex organic material broken down (essentially the poop) to a consistency that plants can use it at.
In trying to compost, my biggest challenge was convincing my parents, whose house I am experimenting at, to let me do it. Firstly my parents were skeptical about the whole concept because 1) you can buy the “dirt” and we had a whole lot of it; 2) it will attract fly’s and other vermin; 3) the smell will be horrible and 4) finally it will just become a big mess. Finally, there was some “past” history that didn’t bode well for me.
A couple of reasons I chose to do vermicomposting involved the idea that the worms compost faster and they also control the smell. Both of which were important to addressing my parents concerns about this project. I can’t say that worms breakdown and convert the kitchen vegetable scraps faster than the bacteria. During the winter it seems like life goes slower all around so whatever I put in the composter will be an investment four to six months down the line when it comes out as platinum soil level.
Constructing a Composter
So depending on what you want to do- vermicomposting or aerobic- will dictate the type of composter being created. Because I had worms I need to keep out possible predators and nuisance bugs like flys. I also wanted to collect the compost tea (a nice way of calling the gross disgusting liquid that comes out of the decomposing process). The verdict is out on how beneficial it is but I tend to think that if its coming out of the process and won’t kill the weeds, then it might just be good for the flowers and rose bushes.
To that end I set about to constructing a platform structure that has a mesh enclosing it all around it. I would share a schematic of it, however, one of the things I set about doing from the get go was to use as much scrap wood lying around my parents house. I can gladly say that this structure is 65% reclaimed/repurposed/recycled wood. Pretty much the only new wood I had to buy were the six post and the four sliding front panels.
One thing you want to make sure of is that the wood that your using hasn’t been chemically treated- paint, stains etc. That will seep into your compost and contaminate it. If you plan to use the compost to plant vegetables you will eat, well, inevitably you will be eating those compounds in whatever form it is broken down to. It might actually be concentrated enough to kill your plants as well, so make sure you check that out before rushing to use wood around the yard.
Getting the Scraps to Fuel the soil investment
The continuous throwing of trash from the house hides the actual consumption that is happening in a household of five. In the two weeks I started getting my Mom to collect just veggie scraps, we found that we were throwing away close to two pounds of rinds, skins, cores, cobs, stems, leaves and what not. In a month, my family, I am estimating is throwing out close to 15 pounds of decomposing waste. This waste is not even bad for the landfills, but given the overall crap that we throw away that 15 pounds of less waste that is being converted to something productive.
The way I see it that waste isnt getting thrown into a landfill where it doesnt benefit anyone or anything.