For the Love of Compost

For the Love of Compost
Recycled Plastic Spin Bin Composter

Recycled Plastic Spin Bin Composter

It’s an unwritten rule: craftsmen buy Milwaukee tools, pro golfers use Cobra drivers, and serious gardeners compost. In fact, a flower or vegetable garden without compost is like a Ferrari without an engine.

Additionally, compost bins, barrels or bags come in a variety of sizes, price ranges and methods. Start with the simple but highly effective jute mesh bags, which allow you to bag everything from last year’s strawberry runners to this year’s autumn leaves. Once the bag is filled, simply tuck it into an inconspicuous corner over winter and let Nature do the composting for you.

Compost bags may seem like a lazy gardener’s strategy. In reality, they offer a time-and-work saving solution for dedicated gardeners with full-time jobs, as well as older gardeners who find it difficult to turn compost even with a purpose-built compost aerator tool. In that respect, they provide a means for aging gardeners to continue gardening well into their 80s.

If you want a more traditional composter with a larger capacity than the stainless steel compost pail (without a bigger price tag), you can build your own compost pile. Just don’t make the same mistake I did when I was young and eager and thought that bigger was better. I started with a roll of heavy-duty plastic, a roll of galvanized welded wire mesh, and four ash trees on a considerable slope which made a more or less equilateral cube of about four feet.

I had no idea how heavy fully composted yard and garden scraps could be, but learned quickly. Not only could I not get the compost aerator down near the center of the pile, but I couldn’t rake the finished compost from the bottom on the downhill side.

The solution was to cover the pile in plastic, water it sparingly about five times a season, and let it “cook” until it had diminished by half (which took several years). Then I simply took it apart and hauled out wheelbarrow loads of compost.

I had learned my lesson. When it comes to compost, smaller is often better (and by smaller I mean less than 60 cubic feet! My love affair with compost reached a peak when I could finally afford a barrel-type composter. In fact, it grew deeper as I ultimately realized that gardening was a hobby that provided fresh food and fresh air, and not a test of physical endurance.

You can find kitchen composters that produce 4.75 (18 liters) gallons – or 6.35 cubic feet, if that’s easier to visualize – of anaerobic compost inside a very clean, classy looking black bucket meant to be placed on the kitchen counter because it does not smell or attract flies. Affordable at $54.50 (including a two-month supply of Bokashi Bran), this composter can produce up to 28 gallons of liquid fertilizer that will make your garden thrive!

If, on the other hand, you’re the kind of enthusiast who goes at his (or her) hobby full tilt and darn the expense, you might be interested in the Cadillac of composters. Pricey at $799 but worth every penny, the JK 400 Swedish-made two-chambered composter allows you to turn the barrel to aerate the contents. Each side holds 14.2 cubic feet, or just slightly less than a jumbo bale (or bag) of compressed peat moss, another garden helper I blogged about last year under the title, “For the love of peat!”

If you’re a skeptic, or careful with your money, you might want to buy the compost bags and see how much your garden benefits from carefully tended compost.  After the first season, you will see the kinds of results that allow you to buy the big composter without a twinge of conscience, as well as the vermicomposting (or worm composting) DVD for tips that will make you look like a gardening pro!

Equally as important, your composting frees up landfill space – space that is rapidly shrinking as landfills reach capacity thanks to growing populations. This waste, totaling 34 million tons of uneaten, leftover or spoiled food, is second only to paper as the largest contribution to landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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