More Green For Less Green

Living more eco-friendly for less money


9 Changes for 2009- #9 Composting

  1. Cut out commercial breakfast bars
  2. Cut out canned beans
  3. Ditch premade hummus (and all those containers)
  4. Use only environmentally friendly dish detergent
  5. Shop Used First
  6. Use only environmentally friendly laundry detergent
  7. Stick to green toiletries
  8. Ditch plastic grocery bags

  9. Compost food scraps

We have almost made it through a year of composting! Here are some of the ups and downs…

Summer & Fall 08
Read about it here.

Winter 08-09
Virginia winters aren't bitterly cold, but the ground certainly freezes, as does the top of the compost pile. As the cold settled in, digging in the pile became more difficult. It took some real effort to pierce the frozen surface of the pile, then the dirt within would clump together making it tough to amply cover up the food (and thus shield it from the foraging squirrels, deer, foxes, etc. that live in the adjacent woods). To keep my fingers warm I added gardening gloves to my composting kit.

Happily, the pile never completely froze, which meant we were doing something right. I was tickled one day to dig into the pile and see steam rise out! But, the pile could have been hotter. There were many days where I would come across old food. I try not to reuse dig holes so that the greens in the pile are well distributed among the browns and thus the decomposition will continue, so when I'd find food it meant I needed to cover it back up and then dig another hole in another place on the mound. Extra work and extra time in the cold—yuck!

I don't care for extreme temperatures—hot or cold—so the cold winter days and the increased difficulty with digging in the food tempted me to give up for the winter, but on days where I would see steam…that made it worth it. As a compromise, I started bringing my food scraps in less often. Instead of twice a week, I moved to once a week and sometimes even less often. That resulted in some slime in the compost crock and needing to use some supplemental plastic containers to hold the overflow scraps, but the smell was always pretty well contained.

Spring 09
As winter transitioned into spring, the pile defrosted and my work paid off. On several occasions I actually thought fleetingly to myself, "Where did my food go? Are animals taking it?" and "Who keeps putting dirt in the pile?" Silly me. This is the world of composting SUCCESS! Gross food scraps and bags of yard waste become rich, brown, crumbly, beautiful, amazing dirt. Yes, I just said that dirt was beautiful.

And that beautiful dirt came just in time. In February I sprained my ankle while…wait for the sordid, exotic, dramatic story…walking over grass. Yes, walking over grass. I only mention it because it took extra super-duper motivation to walk to pile with the pain of the sprained ankle, plush stretching it to squat down to dig, etc. And, I developed a small phobia of walking over grass since that is where the injury happened and uneven ground made the ankle hurt. But, watching the composting process actually work was great motivation to keep at it and get over my fear and pain.

With the frozen days distinctly behind me and completed compost taking over the pile, it was easy to see what was not breaking down along with everything else. Banana and apple stickers started popping out at me, which was kind of funny. Other than the stickers and the occasional banana peel, the biggest things I noticed were eggshells. While I knew that eggshells wouldn't break down quite like the other foods, I expected them to somehow crumble up and still be an enriching natural fertilizer that would blend in. But, nothing was happening. The eggshells looked like they were stuck in time, oblivious to the amazing changes happening to all of the other food waste around them. So, I decided to try a new eggshell approach. After making an egg-heavy lemon bar recipe (9 eggs!), I rinsed the shells and then pulverized them in the food processor. That left me with the question of how to store and then transport a lot of tiny, wet, eggshell shards. I decided that I would make a sachet out of newspaper, which I knew would decompose quickly, put the shells in that, and then plant the whole thing in the pile so that as the newspaper biodegraded the small bits of eggshell would scatter and blend in. The sachet method seems to be a success. Here is the sachet at one month next to an older eggshell.

With the nice warm weather and spring planting season upon us, I started to wonder what we would do with the pile since I was still adding food, yet much of the pile was clearly ready for use. I mentioned this to my composting partner, a coworker on the building/grounds team, but he didn't seem concerned. But, that is another story for another day. I'll have more on that to come, with pictures, in another entry.


And this finally brings me to the end of the 9 Changes for 2009 series! Coming up I've got tips for shopping used, price comparison on eco-friendly toilet paper (one of my splurges), my verdict of Siggs and Kleen Kanteens after a year of use, and, of course, the dramatic conclusion to my year of composting. What will happen to the pile? How will it be used? Will it reach a noble end? Will I continue to compost?



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