Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Secret to Outstanding Finished Compost

This is too much work, my inner voice complained.

After spending a good half-hour of a chilly Sunday afternoon raking my finished compost back and forth, I pulled the screen away with my cold, wet gloves and the beauty of what remained in the wheelbarrow left me speechless.

Never mind, it was worth the work.

I am embarrassed to say that before Sunday I had never screened my finished compost. I’ve taught several hundred people about compost screening, held meetings on how to build the best screener, and even watched videos of people touting the benefits of screening your harvested compost.

It just seemed like an unnecessary step to me. Why not just dig the finished compost into the soil and be done? It doesn’t need to be pretty.

But that was before I saw the exquisite perfection of screened compost. I am officially converted.

Screening Satisfaction

Most of composting is a waiting game. You spend months adding material to the bin, turning the pile, evaluating the moisture level. But when the process is complete you have the satisfaction of pulling out shovels of brown gold. Screening takes that satisfaction one step further, transforming your backyard compost into something you would pay top dollar for at a garden store.

Only better, because this compost is your creation.

Step-by-Step Screening

Okay, I’ll stop gushing and give you the how-to.

Step One: Build or buy a screen. Here is a great video from Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog about building a compost screener. 

If you are not handy, or just have zero free time like me, you can buy a compost screener at Building Value. They construct their $20 screens with recovered wood through a work training program for individuals with disabilities.

Step Two: Once you have a screen, plop a few shovels of your harvested compost on top of the screen and push it back and forth. I ended up doing this with gloved hands because I wanted to save worms from being decapitated by the shovel-screen guillotine.

Step Three: The amount of material left behind surprised me. Peach pits, sticks, egg shells and clumps of unfinished compost went back into my bin. The pantyhose (from nothing scandalous, just tying my tomato plants) and the “compostable” cups from a 2009 party ended up in the trash.

Scraps to Soil

I’m so proud of the dark brown, crumbly outcome, that I used it to mulch herbs in the most visible bed in my garden. The compost will amend the soil and the tiny shards of eggshells will deter slugs.

Here is a picture of the end result, what do you think, was it worth a half-hour of work?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fun Ways to Get Kids Excited about Composting

Kids love dirt (ask any parent who does laundry). And they will love composting too if you spark their interest.

Here are some fun ways to pull your kiddos away from the electronic and into the organic…

Explore a Miniature Food Web

Everything from predators to fungi can be found in the compost bin. Open your bin and dig around. What kinds of wildlife can you find?

If you keep your cool with all the creepy crawlies, youngsters will too. Use this entertaining food web sheet to identify composting creatures and determine who eats who!

Start a Worm Bin

Reluctant to take on pets?

This is a great way to give into their pleas without adopting a 50 pound fur ball. And the poop from these pets is actually valuable!

Little ones can monitor the composting process and they’ll never run out of new worms to name.

Read this post for tips on setting up a bin or attend an upcoming vermicomposting workshop.

Use the Finished Product

Finished compost makes a great potting mix if you add one part compost to two parts potting soil. Potting flowers or herbs with your kids is a fun way to get dirty and be productive. Mini-horticulturalists can then watch their potted plants grow.

It’s never too early to start nurturing a love of composting.

Here’s my one-year-old helper with our kitchen bucket.