Archive for the ‘Composting’ Category

Garden tasks: how to turn the compost
Andrea Bellamy |

Lila at the compost bin

One of the best ways to get great compost in a hurry is to turn it regularly. Turning (mixing or aerating) your compost pile adds air to the mix, which speeds up the process of decomposition and prevents your pile from becoming stagnant. It also gives you a chance to assess whether your pile is too wet or too dry (it should be moist, like a wrung-out sponge) and amend accordingly.


Turning the compost is an easy—if messy—task if you’ve got more than one bin (three is often considered ideal. Add new organic waste to one bin, emptying it into the second and eventually third as it decomposes). But with one bin, you’re stuck trying to mix a heavy, deep, and tall pile of rotting stuff either by using one of those compost aerating tools (I used to have one but found it less than helpful. Then it broke.) or by scooping out the bottom of the bin and putting the waste back in the top. (At least, those are my methods. If you’ve got a better solution, please share in the comments!)

Lila scooping compost

This used to be a task I’d do maybe three times a year—grudgingly. Then I let Lila in on the action, and she took to it like, well, a worm to a rotting Jack o’ Lantern. She loves visiting “her” worms, wood bugs, and millipedes. And she actually helps move the compost from bottom to top with her little shovel.

Scooping compost into the top of the bin

Okay, it’s slow going, but I do love watching—and sharing in—her delight as she discovers the simply wonders of a compost pile.


Cover me: the low-down on green manures

I didn’t do so well at planting a winter vegetable garden this year (I am terrible at planning for winter in the height of summer, which is, unfortunately, when you need to do your planting for winter harvesting). Other than some quick-growing salad greens that I managed to sneak in at the beginning of September, the holes left by my tomatoes, beets, kale and herbs might have gone unfilled all winter, if it weren’t for cover crops.

A cover crop, also known as green manure or living mulch, does double – make that triple – duty in the winter garden. First, it protects your soil from harsh winter weather, preventing erosion, compaction and nutrient leaching. Second, it fixes nitrogen in the soil. There’s a whole scientific explanation behind the “fixing” of nitrogen, but all you really need to know is that cover crops, many of which are legumes, add nitrogen back into your soil, prepping it for spring planting. It’s a great service to soil that has been depleted by hungry feeders like tomatoes. Finally, cover crops improve soil structure by adding organic matter when the crop is dug under in the spring. Yay!

So what do you do in the spring? Watch for flowers: they’re the indicator that it’s time to either dig under your crop or cut it down, leaving the roots in the ground and using the greens for your compost. If you dig under your crop, let the soil rest for three weeks before planting. Enjoy improved soil fertility and structure.

Popular winter cover crops include red clover, hairy vetch, fall rye, fava bean, alfalfa and Austrian winter pea.


Compostable diapers
Andrea Bellamy |

us_goodwill_home.jpggDiapers: cute – and good for the earth.

In just four months, I’ll be contending with mountains of stinky diapers. It seems to be the one given in a postpartum world. I mean, there’s a chance the Lentil might take after his or her momma and sleep through the night from three weeks old (please, Holy Mary, please). Or there could be colic and irritability and general chaos (more likely). When it comes down to it, poop, it seems, is the one constant.

Until recently, I hadn’t given a whole lot of brain space to the diaper dilemma. I knew that I didn’t want to use traditional disposables for obvious reasons, but, while cloth diapers have come a long way since my butt was wrapped in them, the laundry requirements seem like they could be a little overwhelming – especially during those sleepless first months. So I thought I would go with a biodegradable disposable.

Then I read about gDiapers on Mighty Girl. gDiapers consist of a washable, cotton outer pant with an absorbent, plastic-free
flushable insert. You flush the poopy inserts but, if you wish, you can compost the wet ones. How cool is that? Hey, as the site notes, baby’s urine is a great source of nitrogen! I wonder, though, do diapers count as a “brown” (dry leaves, etc.) or a “green” (kitchen scraps, etc.)?

It’ll be a while before I can report back to you, but if anyone’s used these, or had success with other environmentally-friendly diapers, please let me know.


Bright side to Vancouver strike

We’re in week eight of a municipal workers’ strike here in Vancouver, and a lot of people are pretty pissed off about the whole thing. But the tree hugger in me is kind of enjoying it. See, the City’s gardeners are on strike, as are the garbage collectors. Public boulevards haven’t been mowed, annual plantings haven’t been renewed, parks are looking a bit scruffy – and the resulting urban wilderness is kinda cool. Because lawn and garden clippings aren’t been collected by the City, Vancouverites are being encouraged to leave their clippings on the lawn (something we should be doing, anyway).

As for the garbage, well, our alleys and the Downtown Eastside aren’t looking so hot, but there is an upside to it all. No trash pick-up means less trash. Apparently composting has taken off, with compost bins sold out across the city. Hopefully many composting newbees will continue to compost long after the labour dispute is settled.

Although it’s what I strive for, I can’t pretend that I produce zero garbage. I always try to be conscious of the fact that placing trash in a bin isn’t the end of the story – that that bit of plastic will sit in a landfill for eons. And having your trash sit in your backyard or on your balcony for months certainly brings awareness to just how much garbage each of us produces. I hope each of us affected by this strike will take a moment to reconsider our relation to garbage, and rethink the rate at which we produce it.


Go with the flow


I love the brilliant simplicity of John Arndt’s master’s thesis project, the Flow Kitchen. John designed the kitchen workstation to utilize natural processes (like gravity, evaporation, decomposition and growth) and create a symbiotic little ecosystem. The dishrack drains onto the herbs or other edibles stored below it. Food scraps go into a little cup that flips over into a worm composter, which – you guessed it – produces compost for the herbs. Nice.


The dishrack.


The composter.

Via Apartment Therapy LA.


163 Things to Compost
Andrea Bellamy |

Just when you think you know everything there is to know about composting, someone says, “hey you, why aren’t you throwing that freezer-burned fish on the compost?”


Marion Owen, creator of PlanTea, has a list of 163 things you can compost in her latest issue of the UpBeet Gardener newsletter. Hair clippings, wood ashes, and old pasta are just a few of the bizarre things on her list.

But back to that fish: has anyone ever tried this? I was always told that meat and meat products have no place in the compost.


Meet peat

Since the 1950s peat has been used by gardeners as one of the finest soil amendments for ericaceous plants (including heathers, azaleas and rhododendrons), as a mulch, and as a growing medium.

But peat is collected from wetlands, which harbour many rare and endangered species, and can take centuries to regenerate.

“In the past half century, 94 per cent of Britain’s lowland peat bogs have been lost,” says garden writer and BBC personality Monty Don. Which is what lead him to search out an alternative to peat.

He found it growing wild on his farm. Pteridium aquilinum, or, bracken fern, he says, is an excellent addition to compost for acid-loving plants. Trimming off the top of the plant for mulch and compost can also help bring the competitive weed under control without using chemical herbicides.

When I was a kid, I used to carefully “harvest” bracken, strip the leaves except for a frond or two at the end, and then use the poor fern as a “spear.” Thankfully, I didn’t completely decimate them, so my mom still has bracken growing everywhere. But what if you don’t have access to endless bracken fern? Must you use peat?

In a word, no. Garden Organic has a good article on making your own peat-free potting composts. Peat alternatives, they suggest, can be made from the following:

Worm castings
Comfrey leafmould
Composted bark or fine-grade wood waste
Composted manure
Garden compost
Coir (a by-product of the coconut industry)
Brewery Grains

Chose your peat-alternative based on its planned use.

Next time you reach for peat, reach for bracken or coir instead; and save the peat bogs!

Via UBC Botanical Garden Weblog.


Indoor composter
Andrea Bellamy |

I’m pretty sure I need the new Nature Mill indoor composter. Here’s the scoop. Ben and I are moving into our new home within the next three months. And while I’m happy because it’s the first place we’ve owned together, it’s gonna be tiny. And the garden is going to be even tinier.

I’ve been struggling with the compost question. Where we live now, I have FIVE – count’em – five compost bins. But when we move…well, let’s just say there won’t be room for even the smallest compost bin. I brought up the option of an indoor worm bin, but Ben wasn’t having any of it. But this is another story. Apparently it will take up to 5lbs of waste daily. There’s no odor. It’s clean-looking. And it produces a practically-endless supply of compost! I think this is love…

Via Gizmodo.


Andrea Bellamy |

Van Dusen Botanical Garden is having their annual manure sale (or, as they call it, “Tree-mendous Compost Sale”) on Saturday, September 24 from 10-3 in the parking lot. Good stuff.