Sunday, January 4, 2009

Composting in The Woodlands

I have meant to write about this for so long! I had the pleasure of discussing this with a resident who I casually met today and he took me over the edge to write this article. Remember that I give you larger pictures, and you can see any one in higher resolution by clicking on it. Definition: "Composting is the decomposition of plant remains and other once-living materials to make an earthy, dark, crumbly substance that is excellent for adding to houseplants or enriching garden soil. It is the way to recycle your yard and kitchen wastes, and is a critical step in reducing the volume of garbage needlessly sent to landfills for disposal."1 For a more technical presentation of this subject, you may want to refer to the website dedicated to his subject.1 Note that the process of decomposition includes bacteria, water, and organic material. Decomposition produces heat, as much as 130-140 degrees F. Mine generally runs about 110 or so.

An entire year has passed by since my first lesson in composting from the Woodlands Association. I knew zilch about it at the beginning and felt totally incapable of doing this. Little did I know then that one year later there would be a terrific pile of material to use for fertilizing my garden. Definitely quality material! In addition to the composting process, this method also produces plenty of earth worms without any attempt on your part to introduce them to the compost pile. I am now going to share with you how to make this. If you like to garden, you will not be disappointed. If you like to fish with night crawlers, you will like it also.

First I recommend you take the association class on the first Saturday of the month, typically offered in the fall and winter. The paid staff in the service company will sell you one of these green wire cages, if you wish, at any time - at a scheduled class or from your ad hoc request. I say do it! They are available from the association at a reasonable cost. Be prepared to pay $25 cash for one. As you can see in the photo below, the bins weather very well and hold the compost material neatly within a confined area, providing a means to aerate the content while releasing excess water.

Next, find a location where you can discretely put your bin without alarming your neighbors. The location could be in a shady or sunny spot. I chose a shady spot. For one single deployment, you will need enough space for two of them. By using these bins and following advice on household stuff to help decompose your leaves, you should have something that blends with the environment and not smell bad. Note that composting is regulated by deed restrictions in The Woodlands.

Place your wire cage at one end of the space that you have dedicated for this purpose. Fill it with your fall leaves. You can use deciduous tree leaves and pine needles. I used both quite successfully. Fill it to the top. You will need as much as you can get into the cage to produce a sufficient volume of material for your gardening needs. Crush the material as much as you can to produce space for more raw material. Water the leaves down well after each few inches you have crushed.

After packing and crushing the leaves to the top, you will be ready to start your process. Start collecting your egg shells, potato peels, unused raw vegetable materials, coffee and tea grounds (with paper filters), and anything green without seeds, into a container. Green works best because of the nitrogen content. I use a large plastic margarine container which seals in the odor, and I keep it under the sink, ready to access when we cook. Don't throw everything except the kitchen sink into this. Be specific - carrot peels, lettuce leaves, etc. I occasionally put some left-over cooked rice into it as well, but make sure the food is kept down so you do not have a smelly compost pile afterward. Tell your spouse or family cook(s) the plan and what should be put into the container. No meat, generally no cooked foods, nothing that will cause your neighbors to knock on your front door and read you the riot act!

This will not be your sole source of decomposition agents. You will also use grass cuttings and anything from the outside that is leafy and green without seeds.

Now you need to put this material into the compost pile. I do this every week or two weeks, whenever the indoor container fills or whenever I cut the grass. Dig a small hole in your pile and place some of the organic stuff from your can into it. Cover the hole with leaves. Place the organic stuff in as many places as practical a few inches deep into the compost pile. Water it down into the compost pile.

Once a month, pick up the green cage and place it on the other side of the space you have reserved for the cage. You are now turning your compost. The top of the pile will end up on the bottom of the new pile and the bottom on top. You can use a pitch fork or even your hands to do this. I use my hands but usually with a plastic glove. After all, you are picking up rotting material. Take a few inches off of the top of the pile and place it in the cage. Make sure the outside leaves are rotated inward into the pile, because the outside will be the first to dry out. After transferring a few inches, water down the transferred material. Saturate the material with water. Continue doing this until all the material has been transferred to the new location. Now you have turned your compost pile. If you have some organic stuff in the house to feed your pile, this is a good time to empty it into the new pile.

Well how about the worms? After you have turned the material, check to see if you have any worms on the ground surface where the pile was located. If so, transfer as many worms as you can find into the new pile. This is accomplished by simply using your hand as a blade to pull the worms out of the ground. They have been in a whole in the ground under your pile. You will scrape some dirt out in the process. The first couple of months you will not likely have any worms, but in a few months you will see them when you are picking up the last part of the material with your hands, transferring the last of the pile to the new location. As the pile matures, you will see worms in the pile itself.

At the end, when harvesting your compost pile, you will want to screen filter the material with a compost filter. I am not doing this part of the process this year, so the quality of my harvest will not be optimum. One filters the material to take out the twigs and all the matter that has not sufficiently decomposed, it can be used for potted plants or sensitive plant situations. I will use it for a vegetable garden this Spring, so I am willing to put all the material into the garden whether fully decomposed or not. Insufficient decomposition will result in extra heat in your garden and may impact the production of the garden.

So now you have it. It is never too late to start a pile. You obtain information from the association for your cage(bin) at this website:
Woodlands Association
Click here for a schedule of classes.
1quoted from How to

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