Friday, June 15, 2012

Composting Tools- What You Really Need (And What Not To Waste Your Money On)

Some tools prove essential for maintaining an active happy compost pile. Some tools, not so much. Here’s a breakdown of what you need, what you can make yourself (for those DIYers), and what you and your compost pile can live without.

1. Turner/ Aerator

Compost turners add essential oxygen that your pile needs to stay active. You can buy specially made tools, like the Wing Digger shown here, which is what I use weekly to aerate my pile. The pointed end stabs into the pile and then the wings flip out as you pull, making larger air pockets deep in the compost.

You can also use a shovel or pitchfork to aerate but this is more work if you have a single bin system.

A stick or piece of rebar would also work, you just have to poke more holes to get the same effect.

DIY tip- you can make your own inexpensive auger-aerator by purchasing an anchor used for mobile homes at a recreational vehicles supply store. The auger base has an “eye” hole at the top. Put a piece of wood in the eye as a handle and you have a turning tool for less than $5. (Here are pictures of something similar).

2. Hand Cultivator or Fork handy tool helps add food scraps to the compost bin without actually touching the compost. Not to turn all prissy valley girl on ya, but accidently grabbing a handful of half-rotted melon or moldy bready is like sooo totally gross (exaggerated eye-rolling).

I keep my hand trowel right next to my bin to lift the material on top so I can bury food scraps easily underneath. No flies, no yuck, just clean, happy composting.

3. Screener

I touted my new-found love of screening in a post a few months ago. Screeners give you a BEAUTIFUL end product and are relatively easy to make.

However, if you just dig finished compost into your garden, you can save yourself time and money by skipping the screener.

4. Pitchfork don’t own a pitchfork but I wish I did. Somehow, I feel silly buying one with such a tiny urban backyard. But pitchforks are really the most efficient tool for moving and harvesting compost. You move more material faster and with less work.

That said, a trusty shovel will do the job.

So, if anyone was looking to buy me, say, a birthday present, a pitchfork would be perfect. (Just kidding…unless you’re my husband and, in that case, just know that my b-day comes right before the next compost harvest).

5. Kitchen Collector

Is a bucket a tool?

Regardless, its making this girl’s tool list. A bucket for collecting kitchen scraps is so helpful and acts as a great reminder to compost.

Of course, an old margarine tub, kitty litter bucket, or any lidded container also works.

6. Compost Thermometer

I can see how it might be fun to measure the temperature of your pile, but really it’s not essential. You know your pile is hot when it starts to reduce in size.

7. Wheelbarrow
I can think of no easier way of moving finished compost around. Unless you want to hang a yoke over your shoulders and trudge around your yard as if in the middle ages.

Buy yourself a good wheelbarrow, you won’t regret it.

Are there any tools you use when composting that I missed?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Why I Love Pulling Weeds

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fortune of the Republic, 1878

One of my favorite activities is wandering around my garden with a basket to collect weeds. Instead of annoyances, I see each dandelion or clump of crab grass as food harvested for my compost bin. (Enter the chorus of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”… da-dum, da-da da-da da-dum…).

Here are the top three reasons I love weeds:

1.  Weeds are a great source of nitrogen and carbon. With a good carbon to nitrogen balance (20:1) fresh weeds only need a small amount of brown material to strike the perfect carbon to nitrogen ratio (30:1 for those number geeks).

2.  Fresh weeds (I love that phrase) help bury my food waste in the pile to avoid flies. This is especially handy when I’m running low on brown leaves.

3. More material into the compost bin = MORE FINISHED COMPOST!

Before I get too mushy about my love of weeds, let me say there are a few that really get under my skin (figuratively and literally).

When we first purchased the house, our yard was overrun by euonymus (think of the southern kudzu problem but on a smaller scale) and that sneaky vine still fills in every available open space. It takes for-ev-er to decompose and even when chopped into bits it will start growing out of the compost bin!

Poison ivy is another “weed” I could live without. Personally, I feel that calling poison ivy a ‘weed’ is like calling the Black Death that ‘bug going around.’ All I have to do is look at the stuff and I break out in itchy red bumps. Poison ivy may be the only plant not welcome in my beloved compost bin.

On a lighter note, I don’t worry too much about composting weeds that have seeded. When you compost weed seeds you risk planting the seeds when you spread the finished compost. I figure weeds are going to grow anyway and I obviously enjoy pulling them so the dandelions go in, puff balls and all.

I managed to reference Emerson, Monty Python, and the Black Death in the same post, I think it’s going to be a good Friday!