maura @ 6:45 pm
Lately I’ve been feeling guilty about the compost. Our building has a courtyard which is sort of landscapey — not really a garden, but mostly plants + some brick area too. It’s pretty to look at + hang out in and a decent place for mostly little kids to play, we’ve got a sandbox and a kiddie pool and a bunch of riding toys. When a bunch of us wanted to start composting several years back we knew we needed a no-pest, no-smell solution. So we went with the compost tumbler: a big plastic barrel secured to a stand at its midpoint so it can be flipped over and rotated 360 degrees. It’s got a small, screen-covered spout at the bottom to allow air to get in but keep pests out, and since it’s mostly contained it doesn’t smell at all.
But (there’s always a but), it’s not exactly the easiest thing to use. Most food waste can go into the barrel (no fats or meats, but that’s true of other composters too), but it should be chopped into small pieces for best results. Food waste is “greens” and we need an equal amount of “browns” in the barrel, too, in order to make real dirt and not just slimy decayed food. Because we don’t have big trees (= dead leaves) in our courtyard, most of our browns are cardboard and newspaper, which also need to be torn into smallish pieces. So it’s kind of a pain to make a deposit in the barrel: first you dump your compostables in, then rip up + add the browns, then close it up and flip it a few times to mix everything together.
Once the barrel’s full the compost needs to “cook” down to become actual dirt. Depending on how attentive you are during this process it can take as little as two weeks, though we’ve never really gotten it down to less than a a month. And this is the bigger pain in the ass. Basically the barrel needs to be flipped at least 2x/day during cooking, which sounds easy but never really turns out that way. It’s heavy and a little dirty, so I never want to flip it on the way out in the mornings. We’ve tried making a schedule in which the compost contributors each take a different day, but inevitably we forget or leave town for a few days or get sick or… And it’s frustrating because we can’t put in anything new during the cooking, and it always seems to stretch on forever.
Last summer I had to bow out of composting because I was just too busy to deal with it. But I’ve felt guilty ever since, and moreso recently when we had to get rid of our Halloween jack o’ lantern. Yeah, we have a disposal, but we can’t put everything down there, and I know that composting is better. I guess the thing that is most annoying to me is that compost just happens. It’s ecomological! And if we had a yard* then I’d just have a plain compost bin and dump stuff in, cover w/a thin layer of dirt, and leave it. Easy peasy.
* I should point out that, all things considered, we are very happy non-houseowners. For all of the niceness of a yard I think the maintenance would kill us. It’s nice to have a super!
Really what I want is for the city to do it. I’m sure there’s lots of research on this that I’m too lazy to google right now that presents all of the complicated reasons why it’s too hard to do, but it seems kind of easy when I think of it. The DSNY could collect food waste 2-3 times/week. They could take it to sites within the city to compost it up, using all of the leaves they (used to) collect in the fall for browns. There are industrial composting solutions that make it happen even faster than Mother Nature, if speed is an issue. Then they could SELL it back to stores or even to gardeners directly. Compost in, money out, w00t!
You’d think they could at least break even, right? I’m sure there are many reasons why this isn’t happening, but don’t tell me and burst my happy compost bubble.