Thursday, December 31, 2009


Composting is something that comes very naturally to me. When I was a child my father made sure everyone in the family knew what was garbage and what was compost. Even when I lived in an apartment that had no where to compost, I save my kitchen scraps and took them to my parents house to be composted.
This Christmas I was visiting family and discovered some of them don't compost. I felt so guilty standing there throwing lovely organic material into the trash. For those of us who live in the Capital Regional District, all it takes is a trip to the Hartland Landfill and you will realize you need to do more to decrease your waste.
The CRD has finally introduced a composting program for those of us who don't have a place for compost in our own yards. The green bins look much like a garbage can. Simply throw your organic waste into the large container and it is picked up monthly. To find out more about the program visit
Personally, I have plenty of use for compost and I'm not about to pay for it when I can make my own. Jon built our compost bin. It is made of re-claimed wood and wire. It has two compartments for items at different levels of decompostion. We are planning on making a second bin. It will be a simple box that will be used for lawn clippings and yard waste.
I think some people think that composts are just leaves and such but there is so much more that can be composted.
Kitchen scraps should be un-cooked. Vegetable ends, apple cores, banana peels, peach pits, potato skins; it all goes in. Other things that are great for the compost are egg shells and feel free to shred those paper lunch bags and toss them in there too. No meat products should go into the compost, that includes cheese and yogurt. These things will only attracted vermin and sometimes larger animals too.
Yard waste is obvious. Grass clippings, plant prunings, fallen leaves, dead plants, etc. Be careful not to add plants that may be diseased or that have had an insect infestation. Also, do your best to avoid throwing in invasive weeds.
Manure is the classic compost item. Chicken manure is excellent for your garden and your compost pile. You can also use cow or horse. Do not use dog, cat, pig or human waste in your compost. Manure is nutrient rich and will often kill any weeds that are growing in your compost pile. Be sure to throughly compost so the manure does not damage any of your plants.
Other items that can be composted are straw or hay (these will help with air circulation within the pile), sawdust, soil (if you are ever left with some potting soil toss it into the compost), and seaweed. Seaweed is very nutrient rich and here on the west coast, it's free. I usually like to head down to the beach after a storm with a big bucket and add it to the compost. Try to rinse the seaweed first though, too much salt isn't good for the garden.
There are two main kind of compost piles. Hot composting is done in carefully built layers that heat up. Cool composting is stirred a couple times a year while continually tossing new material in. We do cool composting so I don't know a lot about hot composting. Cool composting should be done with two bins. One should hold the new material for that year and the other should have last years composted material. The pile should be watered and stirred regularly. Also consider the layers. Stirring in made easier (not to mention it speeds up the break down) when you layer dense kitchen scraps and grass clippings with woody tree clippings and heavy straw. Cool composting can take a long time so to speed up the process add as much as you can one time, shred material when possible and add manure.
An absolute must for composts are the little workers who get the job done. Worms and other insects are necessary for the break down that is going on in your compost. It is often hard to find the kinds of worms needed in a compost pile so luckily, they can be bought at garden stores or compost centres. When stirring your compost pile check on your worms. Sometimes if the birds get to it or it's been really hot out you can suffer some causalities in the compost bin so if you notice a lack of worms it is probably time to get some more.
Bins themselves are varied. I can't tell you exactly what bin works best because you need to consider what you want and need from it. Most bins can be constructed yourself at home and with only a days work. One thing I can tell you is that if you are adding kitchen scraps you must have a secure lid. Do your best to make the bin bird and rat proof. Things to consider when planning a compost bin is: What kind of composting am I going to do? How much space do I have? How much do I want to spend? What kind of materials are going to be going into the bin the majority of the time? What kind of animals live in the area? If you really don't have to time to plan and build your own, bins in just about any size can be purchased at garden stores, online or at compost centres.
If you don't currently compost, give it a try for a couple of weeks. I think you will be amazed add how little garbage you will be taking to the curb. The environment and your garden will thank you. To learn more about composting and/or to look at bins available for purchase visit The Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre. They will also be able to help you plan for a bin that you can build to meet your specific needs.

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