Eco-conscious green-thumbers love compost

  • Thursday, April 18, 2013

Yard debris can be composted. PHOTOS PROVIDED


Compost can improve soil structure and texture and improve the soil’s capacity to hold water. It’s all-natural, while cost-conscious and homeowners like compost because they can improve their lawn and garden without spending a dime.

Ed Cochran’s family loves to grow tomatoes in the summer time. “I wanted a natural way to increase my tomato yield. That combined with helping to reduce the amount of kitchen waste that ends up in the garbage made me want to look into composting,” he said.

Adding compost improves soil fertility and can stimulate healthy root development, enabling lawns and gardens to better withstand potentially harsh weather, such as summer heat waves or windy fall and winter afternoons. Compost is effective because it provides food for microorganisms that contribute to overall soil health. When these microorganisms are fed, they produce phosphorous, potassium and nitrogen.

As a result, homeowners save money because they do not need to purchase potentially costly soil amendments to maintain healthy soil. When making compost, homeowners can use a host of ingredients they likely already have lying around the house. Dead houseplants, for instance, can be effective compost ingredients as long as the plants were not thorny or riddled with disease. Homeowners with pet rabbits, or gerbils or hamsters can even add these animals’ manure to their compost. When doing so, include the wood or paper bedding from the animal’s crate. Another potentially valuable compost ingredient is vegetable scraps, such as carrot peelings or even eggshells. When adding these items, be sure to bury them in the compost pile so they don’t attract animals.

Cochran has been using the compost tumblers for two years. This is his second planting season.

Cochran said they put no cooked food or animal products or by-products in the composter.

Compost material consists of browns (carbon) and greens (nitrogen). He composts leaves, grass clippings, pine cones, small sticks, coffee grounds, raw veggies, fruits, egg shells and shredded paper. “We periodically add cheap sugary cola as a booster to supercharge the bacteria that breaks down the compost material,” he explained.

How it’s done

Cochran had been looking for a composting tumbler that would be both efficient and durable, but those were fairly pricey, he said.

A tumbler, which is enclosed, allows for proper aeration and moisture retention. This allows for an efficient environment for composting that eliminates the unpleasant odors usually associated with some compost piles.

By being enclosed, it also prevents unwanted critters and pests from rummaging through the compost.

“After a couple of years of looking for the perfect tumbler, I read an article in a Boy Scout magazine that showed how to build one. I thought that this would be a great project for my son and me to build. The article referenced a website that provided the plans: with diagrams, a detailed parts list and assembly instructions,” said Cochran.

“We built one tumbler and my wife liked it so much that she asked that we build another one. So, we now have a pair of them.”

They are made from 55 gallon pickle barrels (Cochran says he found a supplier on John’s Island via Craig’s List),

The Cochrans used treated lumber for the bases, galvanized and stainless steel hardware to construct the bases and attach the barrels to them. A few PVC plumbing parts were needed for the “low tech” aeration/venting systems. The cost was approximately $100 per tumbler in parts and materials.

The finished product is a black barrel composter with a large mouth and screw on lid. The barrel is manually rotated about a pipe axis, which creates a tumbling/mixing action for the contents being composted.

The end result - a compost tea that Cochran uses on ornamentals in hanging baskets.

“We use the compost as a soil amendment for our tomato plants and any other vegetable or fruit we decide to try in the garden area.

We also use it anytime we plant ornamentals, as it gives the plants a good head start on the growing season. Last years tomatoes were the most productive that we have had,” he said.

Fun facts

• Dog waste composter - Create a method to safely dispose of dog waste without having to toss it in plastic bags in the trash. There are devices that can be buried into the ground to serve as a dog waste receptacle. Or you can make one of your own by placing a container with a lid that seals on top but has an open bottom. Sprinkle a natural bacteria septic tank product, such as Rid-X(R), down the hole routinely and it will break down the waste and turn it into soil fertilizer.

• Common Compost Materials - Items like eggshells, banana peels, apple cores, paper, leaves, and coffee grounds are often included in a home compost pile. These items break down by natural bacteria and produce a rich fertilizer for plants.

• Lesser-Known Compost Materials - pet hair, paper napkins, lint, pine needles, matches, chicken manure, old herbs, sawdust, weeds, hair clippings, tea bags, paper towels, bird cage cleanings, stale bread, leather, old pasta, pea vines, grapefruit rinds, newspaper, tissues, dried out bouquets, potato chips, yogurt, shrimp shells, toenail clippings, pie crust, toothpicks (wood), tossed salad, old beer, feathers, fish bones, envelopes, cardboard, pencil shavings, grocery receipts, dead insects, wool socks, pickles, dust bunnies, toast, chocolate cookies, oatmeal, tofu, spoiled wine, straw, nut shells

• Composting process works best at temperatures between 120 and 150 F. The compost will generate its own heat as matter is broken down. However, the heat of warm months can speed up the process. Novice composters may want to begin their composting in the summer as a first attempt.

• Hot composting piles can be turned into soil fertilizer in as little as eight to 10 weeks. Therefore, plan your composting start date accordingly.

Soon after you may have a naturally sustainable garden that produces material enough to continually feed your existing compost pile.

(Source - MetroCreative Connection)

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