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the worms go in the worms go out

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.

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2 comments on “the worms go in the worms go out”

Em (15 December 2009 at 3:34 pm)

FWIW, I too have compost guilt! And that’s mostly because I don’t know how to keep it going during the cold weather *and* so I’m much less likely to truck out my under sink stuff. So it just sits under the sink and rots, which is gross.

I do have a yard and have still found that I don’t have quite enough arm strength to sufficiently turn the compost, so I’m certain It’s not moving along well as it should and that I’ll never actually produce usable conpost.

Plus, and I realize that this is irrational, I’m kind of afraid the coyotes are going to come and rummage around in the compost.

I think the city of Toronto does some level of composting for residents. Our town collects yard waste, and then sells it back to residents as compost, but I can’t exactly give them my old coffee grounds and egg shells.

PS Is bursting the compost bubble like the dirty bubble from sponge bob? The evil character with the voice of Charles Nelson Reilly?

maura (15 December 2009 at 8:57 pm)

Yeah, ours freezes in the winter too. Though would that make it less susceptible to coyotes? Do they like veggie ice pops?

A colleague with a house upstate has one that’s just a rectangular bin, put new stuff in the top and dig the finished stuff out of the bottom, no turning required! And I think you can also get these big screws that you can use to aerate the compost if it’s not decaying fast enough. But winter is hard, I imagine.

We have actually made good compost before, which is so gratifying! It just seems like the hurdles to getting there are so high…

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