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Cold Composting 101 and a Bit of a Rant

July 30, 2010

OK, I’ve heard a couple of times now that peoples of the internets are interested in composting.  I’m going to start off by saying, I am no expert.  In fact, the things I do, I’ve learned from the internets and it kind of just worked for us.  I’m sure there are other ways to do it, but here is how I do it.

The best place to start is in your kitchen.  For an effective backyard compost you need kitchen scraps of a wide variety.  I tend to stay away from really dense materials that will take longer than one year to decompose such as corn cobs or large bits of egg shells.  I usually save these for our city’s compost program which I’ll touch on after the backyard bits.

Some good examples of kitchen waste are tea bags, coffee grounds, peelings, cores, fruit or veggies that have gone bad; these are often referred to as green materials.  Some other green materials are grass clippings or weeds (that have NOT gone to seed.)  You want to make sure that no chemicals enter your compost, since the cold compost does not reach the high temperatures to break through the chemicals (or to kill the seeds in a weed) it will interfere with the effectiveness of your compost.

You also need brown materials in your compost to make it work and to avoid infestations of bugs.  Brown materials are considered ‘dead’ plant matter.  The perfect example is leaves in the fall, paper towels (that have not been used with a chemical), the rolls from paper towel and toilet papers, tissue, newspaper, etc.  The brown material is required to keep the compost heap from turning into a smelly, fly infested smoldering mess..  So if you’re not sure about this part, figure it out BEFORE you set up your compost.  Another source of brown material is WOOD ashes from the fireplace.  You want to be careful that you are not using too much ash and not enough other brown or green material or the PH balance of the dirt produced will be too high and it will not be healthy for your garden.

I know a lot of people are hesitant about composts because of the bug factor.  But here’s where it’s at, if you have bugs in the bin, you need more brown material or you just need to turn the materials inside so that there is no smoldering mess.  If there are fruit flies in your house by the bin, try lining it with newspaper and make sure you are emptying it on a regular basis.  I empty mine every other day (unless I fill it before then) and this seems to work well for me.

Here’s a few visuals to get you along:

My kitchen bin, from Lee Valley Tools.

One of our four compost bins, as you can see not airtight but I can't smell a thing!

Throw in all my kitchen junk

Giver' a quick toss with some of last weeks lawn clippings

And then wait and let nature do the rest.  Some bugs will move in, if they get out of control you know you just have to toss it up again.  If it gets smelly, you know you just have to throw in some shredded newspaper.  It really can be easy for anyone who has a few feet in their backyard to help out our Mother Nature a bit.  Please feel free to give me some questions in the comments, I’ll attend to them as best as I can.  But again…I’m certainly no expert.

But before I go, I want to address some local issues around composting.  Many of my readers are in the US, so I’ve no idea how your waste pickup works, who funds it or whatever, but in the capital of Canada, the lovely city of Ottawa we have a green bin pick up.  Every week a garbage truck comes to our house, takes away all compostables and brings it to a treatment centre.  And this isn’t like the recycling program where your stuff mostly ends up in landfills anyway, this is a real live composting building!!  On my street there are far to few people using their green bins, I’ve heard complaints about smell, about maggots, about the time it takes to clean it out, about what a pain in the ASS it is for people to have to sift through their garbage every day.  To them I say ‘STOP EFFING RUINING MY PLANET!!!!’  OK, maybe I don’t say it like that but I kind of wish I could.  If you have a problem, yo I’ll solve it!

Let’s address the maggot issue first.  You need more brown material, for goodness sakes the solid gold compost bags that Canadian Tire wants to you believe will keep your green bin clean is a waste of money.  Use newspaper, it is FAR cheaper and it will keep the pests away.  Use it to line your kitchen bin, throw a daily in the bottom of your bin when it’s empty.  Do what is recommended and clean it out with a bit of bleach if necessary.  I have only ever used water to clean the bottom of my bin as I’m a bit against using bleach for something like this.  Actually…I once used a snow scrapper to get some gunk off the bottom of my bin, but that was before I learned the newspaper trick!

my kitchen bin, with my high class Ottawa Citizen liner.

If you don’t get the newspaper then find some other paper to do the trick, flyer force delivers about 12 pounds of flyers to my house every week, I’m sure these would do the trick too.

Next I’ll address the smell, really keep the lid closed.  Does anyone love the smell of opening a ripe garbage can on a hot summer day?  No, of course not but we don’t all go charging to the streets ABOLISH all garbage cans!!!  Be reasonable, it’s garbage, it’s not gonna smell like a rose.  Buuuuuuuut to help the smell add in some brown material.  Like the 100 million capital one adverts you get in your mail every week, envelopes, pizza boxes, kleenex boxes, one of the 50 million paintings your kids made at daycamp last week,  anything really!

What else have I read in the paper…oh yes, the raccoons.  Again, I bring out the same argument as above.  Raccoons knock over your garbage can in the middle of the night all you can do is curse until you’re out of breath sigh and get a pair of gloves to clean up the mess.  You don’t write letters to the newspapers demanding the city use our tax dollars to redesign the green bin.  Or maybe you could try putting your garbage out in the morning instead of the night before?  And don’t even balk at me about this, as our garbage truck comes before 7am every week so I’m pretty sure my neighbourhood is one of the earliest runs!

My green bin in all it's glory.

As I’m writing this, I’m getting angrier and angrier thinking of all the people out there who would rather just throw their stuff in a landfill than take 15 minutes once a week to maintain their green bin.  To all you I say, stop being so lazy and do something to stop the destruction of our planet.  It is NOT someone else’s problem, it is YOUR problem, it is EVERYONE’S problem.  If we do not change the way we act NOW it will soon be too late.  I grew up mere kilometers from the Carp dump, then just outside of the city limits and it never really changed the impact of the horizon.  Now only 2 decades later, driving over the queensway the dump IS the horizon.  Look with your eyes, and you will see that your decisions to ignore the problems you have created are increasing EVERY day.  Put away your selfishness and find the solution to the problem you are having that prevents you from utilizing your green bin.

So, any questions?




Oh, and one more thing unrelated to composting or my craziness about it.  Another baby of the city of Ottawa has lost his life in a backyard pool.  I cried for far too long when I heard this on the news, and even thinking of it now makes my heart ache for his poor family and what that poor baby was thinking when he dropped into that pool.  I do not know these people, I don’t know anyone who was at the daycare when it happened but I know the love a mother has for her son.  He was 2 years old, it is a tragedy.  I am shouting from the rooftops of the internet:  be VIGILANT around water with your little ones, your BABY can die in 20 seconds, it will not be loud, it will be silent.  STAY WITHIN ARMS REACH!!!!  And please send your prayers to the family of the dear little man who lost his life.



9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2010 4:24 am

    All of the municipalities around mine have green bins, but mine does not. We can leave out lawn clippings, but that’s it. Which isn’t super-useful for me, since I have a backyard composter. But a program that would take my biodegradable matter that I can’t compost would rock. You know, like the scrambled eggs that my kids whine for and then ignore.

    As for animals, we have lots of bears here. It’s illegal to put your garbage out the night before. Several bears have had to be put down this summer because people ignore the rule, and it’s really tragic. They’re talking about increasing the fine for improper garbage storage to like $5000. Compared to that, raccoons (which we also have) are pretty tame.

    And so, so sad about the baby. 😦

  2. July 30, 2010 12:28 pm

    Salt also helow with maggots. If you see them, salt them. We had maggots once, which is seriously not the end of the world, and now I pour some salt in the bottom when it’s empty. Also, if the bin starts getting really full I add a new layer of flyers and pour some salt on top of that. We haven’t had any maggots since.

    And IMO as long as the maggots aren’t in your house it’s not that big of a deal. Yeah they’re gross, but they’re not going to hurt anything if they’re outside.

    • July 30, 2010 2:12 pm

      Oh, salt! I haven’t heard about that one! We haven’t had any maggots but that’s a great idea because who doesn’t have salt in the house! … actually I’ve probably got some to spare…

  3. July 30, 2010 4:32 pm

    Thanks for the tips. You make it sound so easy, I have more courage to give it a try!

    Stopping by to follow you from Boost my Blog Friday. Have a great weekend!

  4. July 31, 2010 1:23 am

    First up, I love the name of your blog. So cute. Secondly, I document (sporadically) my composting efforts, and I think you’re doing waaaay better than me. 🙂 Glad to be your newest follower.

  5. July 31, 2010 1:27 am

    Umm. I’ve tried to sign up to follow, but can’t do it via my reader. Any suggestions? I am technically challenged. 🙂

    • August 1, 2010 12:24 am

      ha! No worries, are you on google reader? All you do is hit the button in the top left that says: ‘add a subscription’ and then enter in the URL for whatever site you want to follow. It’s a great feature that google added not too long ago that allows you to ‘follow’ any site you want, beyond blogs. Because of that little button my reader may be slightly out of control these days! Thanks for coming by!!

  6. July 31, 2010 6:50 pm

    This is great – I really don’t run across tutorials on composting very often. I bet more people would do it if they understood how easy it is.

  7. August 2, 2010 5:46 am

    We don’t have any need to compost, but if I ever get my own house I plan on doing it!! 🙂 I love the way to give back to tne environment.

    Following (late) from Friendly Friday! Hopefully you can stop by and follow me as well!

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