Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fall Harvest

Alas, all of my fall vegetables succumbed to the Great Drought of 2010 (except for a few pepper plants surviving on the runoff from my neighbor’s watering). But even though all my plants are crispy fried, I was still able to harvest my favorite crop of all- compost!

There are many ways you can harvest compost and you certainly do not need to harvest in the fall. In fact, spring may be ideal since you’re working the soil and planting seeds. But if you’re a single bin family like ours, harvesting in the fall clears room for the inevitable glut of leaves and the winter food scraps.

Bottoms Up
If your bin has a door in the bottom, this is a great way to harvest compost in small amounts throughout the year. Just open the door and shovel out what you need, tossing bits back in that may not be finished. Once you start hitting really unfinished material you’ve harvested all you can.

The Big Shebang
I like to harvest all of my compost at once. Besides receiving a ridiculous amount of satisfaction from shoveling it all in a wheelbarrow and standing back to admire my bounty (yes, I’m easily amused), I can also spread the beautiful compost around the garden in bulk.

If you have a single bin set up and want to harvest the compost all at once, you’re going to have to pull out the elbow grease. Either remove the bin off the compost or reach in from the top to shovel out everything that is unfinished into a pile (preferably in buckets or a wheelbarrow). Once you hit the brown, crumbly good stuff, shovel that into a new pile. After you’ve harvested everything you can, dump the unfinished material back in the bin.

Warning- Only use this method if you like (or don’t mind) seeing all the creepy crawlies working in the pile.

Two Bins are Better than One
If you have two compost bins, or one of those fancy schmancy three bin systems, you won’t need to pull off the unfinished material to get to the good stuff. With two bins just add to one while the other one “cooks” then harvest when complete and switch.

Three bin systems are a whole other ball game and you will see a separate post on them in the future.

To Screen or Not to Screen
I don’t screen. It may be that I’m just too lazy or that I don’t mind finding the occasional peach pit or pieces of egg shell in my compost. As I’m harvesting my compost, I pull off the stuff that’s too big and put it back in to the bin.

However, if you would like evenly-sized, so-scrumptious-you-could-almost-eat-it compost, you will want to use a screen. A compost screen is basically ½ inch wire mesh fastened onto a square through which you can sift the compost. Here is a article explaining how to make one:

Look for a future post about what you can do with your beautiful finished compost.

Happy Harvesting!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Egg-cellent Compost

I know I said you can’t compost meat in your backyard bin. And you still shouldn’t, so don’t. But there is one meatish item that is awesome for the compost bin and won’t end up a stinky mess. The incredible, inedible egg shell.

Egg shells are high in calcium, something plants need for cell growth. And we tend to have a lot of them (at least we do in my chocolate chip cookie loving household) so why not turn them into something useful? Egg-actly.

Egg shells will take a while to break down but you can speed up the process by crushing them before you toss them in the bin. You can even get out a nice hammer if you really want to break it up fast. Or if you just have pent up aggression and really need to smash something. I don’t think the egg shells will mind.

Some people rinse the shells or bake them to make sure they are free from salmonella. All the avid composters I know just crush them up and toss them in (of course, we may be the same carefree folks eating raw cookie dough when no one is looking). Since I doubt I’ll be licking my fingers next time I reach into my compost bin, I’m not too worried. But use your own discretion.

Another consideration: while egg shells may be great for your plants, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Consider testing your soil fertility to see what your soil needs. Call the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District for more information on soil testing (772-7645).

Supposedly you can compost other shells as well, but since shellfish tend to creep me out I never have. Has anyone tried composting other kinds of shells?