Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Leaf Mold Compost- How to Turn Your Annual Nuisance into an Asset

My backyard is surrounded by majestic 100+ year old Oak trees. Which is all wonderful and nice until they dump bushels of crunchy brown leaves burying my garden every fall.

But a resourceful gardener will see those leaves as dollars gently swaying onto their lawn (probably more like pennies but the analogy is not as effective). Leaves can easily be turned into beautiful dark brown leaf mold compost that improves soil structure, increases water retention, and encourages life in the soil. All you need is a little space and patience.

We call it leaf mold because the leaves are breaking down without adding food scraps and other materials like in a compost bin. Of course you can still add leaves to your regular compost bin but most of us have more leaves than would ever fit in our backyard composter.

Leaf mold is very easy to make, basically just pile the leaves and let them decompose. However, for those of us without a great abundance of space and patience here are some good tips:

1. Make a “cage” 3ft x 3ft with stakes and chicken wire (both square and round will work)

2. Shred leaves with a lawn mower or weedwacker

3. Put leaves in cage
4. Keep leaves moist

Dead leaves are almost completely carbon so it could take a while for them to decompose. Shredding the leaves and keeping them moist will speed up your waiting time from two or more years down to less than a year.

If you’re like me, you’re staring at the giant mountain of leaves in your backyard thinking that you could probably supply the entire neighborhood with leaf mold once your finished. Don’t worry, once you shred the leaves they compact significantly. But if you still have too many leaves to compost yourself, there are some communities who will collect your leaves and compost them.

Here is a list of all Hamilton County communities and their yardwaste collection policies: http://www.hamiltoncountyrecycles.org/index.php?page=curbside-collection.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bokashi- Fermenting Your Food Waste for Composting

Bokashi. A method of trimming miniature trees or a tasty Japanese dish? Neither, it's actually a form of composting using fermentation and microorganisms! Since I know next to nothing about Bokashi composting, Roy Mastromauro, a local compost enthusiast, agreed to write a guest post for the blog. So sit back, grab a pickle to snack on, and enjoy this post as we all learn together about this very unique composting method.

As a new composter, I had a few issues. First and foremost, I have a famously weak stomach, and I wasn't exactly, ehh, conscientious about my practices, and created some bad luck for myself. Second, I had a hard time remembering what things I could compost, and teaching my family and guests the same. Third, as a lazy composter, it was hard to convince myself it was worth it, in terms of time and effort, as it seemed to take forever to get the good stuff out of it.

I’m glad to say that I overcame all these trials and tribulations, and am a happy composter. I learned how to do it so it wouldn’t smell, as I gradually came to understand what was “good” to put in the pile and what wasn’t, and we (as a household) adopted a routine. It wasn’t until recently, though, that I discovered a way to improve on all these issues, dramatically.

The answer, for me, friends, was the Bokashi method of composting. Now, it takes less time, and everything can go into the pile, even the no-no's of the traditional home arrangement. Plus, it takes far less time for the material to break down when it's "ready" to compost.

The method is very simple. Everything from the kitchen is collected, and we introduce organisms, to keep the smell down and the flies out, on a daily basis. These organisms act to speed the eventual compost process, by making the material better “food” for the stuff that turns it into compost. It also means there's no daily run to the compost bin; it takes us a couple of weeks to fill the indoor bucket!

Best of all, no matter how lazy I've been, the material starts to break down immediately after coming in contact with soil. I don’t have to worry about turning or watering when it goes to the outdoor compost bin. The organisms work anaerobically, and the material doesn't need water because it hasn't dried out.

Bokashi changes the game because it introduces organisms to start materials on their way to composting before the material ever reaches the pile. Instead of running out to the bin with your daily compost, you just put it in an indoor bin and inoculate it with material to suspend decomposition. Once the Bokashi bin is full, empty it into your regular outdoor compost bin.

When you do, it’ll look pickled. It will be pickled. It will then break down faster, with fewer problems, in your bin. If you live in an apartment without a bin, you can simply top of the Bokashi-ed compost with soil and plant into it! Even if you think you have a black thumb, you could collect the material this way, for weeks, and not see a fly or smell a thing, and trade it with your local gardener for some produce.

This method works. It makes decisions easy, makes managing the stuff easy, and makes it work faster and with fewer mistakes.

There is a lot of information available about this method, including at http://bokashicomposting.com/ and http://www.wildlifegardeners.org/forum/fertilizing-soil-amendments/1292-extreme-bokashi-make-your-own-innoculant.html.

I’m more than happy to provide instruction about the process to groups or individuals, for free and with free materials to get you started. You can contact me directly at roy.mastromauro@gmail.com.

Roy is a contributor to earthineer.com and teaches residents about Bokashi composting. Please feel free to leave questions in the comments!