Friday, May 6, 2011

Our Green House

For last 2 years, we have been trying to do our part to help the environment. Please allow me to pat my own back. I can proudly say that we have reduced our share of landfill to almost nothing. We have been averaging just one small trash bag every week. Not only do we have a smallest size trash container from the city, every week we just put one small bag in it.

We compost anything that can be composted. And recycle anything that can be recycled. And without spending any extra effort/money, we achieved near zero trash. Most people I know recycle as much as possible. But they are apprehensive about composting. Hopefully I can remove some of the apprehensions.

First, if you do not want to manage the composting yourself, you can throw all the compostable material in the green container for yard waste. You can confirm with your city. Pleasanton has a big list of what can be thrown in this container. You will be surprised how many things can be composted.

I just use a few containers - a couple of small sized bins, a couple of medium sized (similar in size to the in-house trash cans) and one larger sized container. I created a few big holes at the bottom for drainage as well as for creating good contact with the soil below. These containers are placed on top of the soil near the fence. That area gets only partial sunlight and not suitable for plants anyways.

I did not buy any expensive equipments, nor did I purchase any worms etc. Just kept it very simple.

I start with the small container, line its bottom with soil from my backyard. Then whenever there is compostable waste - like vegetable peelings etc - I throw them in there. After a few days I throw in another handful of soil, sometimes a handful of grass clippings. Once the container is full, I just empty the whole thing into the medium size container, and when that gets full, it gets emptied into the biggest size container. It easily takes 6 months or more before I have to empty out the biggest container to make room for the compost in other containers. In this time, the compost in the biggest container turns into fluffy, dark and very fertile soil! I just empty it out in my planting area. Done.

So what's the work involved ? Just tumbling the containers once a month, and once a week, throwing in more soil or leaves/grass. Both are essential. The tumbling exposes the entire compost to air and sunlight. And mixing some soil is also necessary to keep adding natural composting workers.

What do I compost ? All fruit/vegetable cuttings/peelings/skins, tea bags, kitchen towels - all organic matter. Except anything related to meat. I would recommend against throwing any meat or even prepared food, else it might attract come critters. We don't waste any food anyways. Many shells don't compost at all - like egg shells or nut shells. No point putting them in there. And definitely don't put any bones, they will only attract critters. Bones do not compost, else we wouldn't have found dinosaur bones !

And to answer your question : NO. It does NOT smell at all. Plant waste is what I am throwing in there. Unless you put your nose into the container :-), you are not going to smell anything. (You might smell something while you tumble the contents.) In cases when you suspect some odor, just add some soil/grass/leaves on top to cover it. It's the manure and animal products that generates the bad odor in the industrial compost plants. Plant waste is not a problem. If you throw prepared food in there, then it might generate some odor due to the fat/oil in it. I wouldn't know, my compost is fat free :-)

You will see some flies/tiny insects around the bins, but they are part of the solution.

There is one downside of this, if you can call it that. The soil generated from this compost, is too fertile, the weeds easily germinate in there ! But that's why my plants grow so strong and yield so much fruit. Pulling out the weeds is a small price to pay. I am helping the environment, and in return getting excellent home grown, fresh vegetables !

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