f Morning Rose Prayer Gardens: Dec 23, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Composting Misconceptions Column 12/8/11

                I must admit that when it came to composting, I was a reluctant participant for many years. In several gardening circles I would hear others talk about their compost piles like a special pet; feeding it greens, keeping it warm and never adding junk food to its microbial digestion. My eyes would glaze over as temperatures and techniques were debated.
There were several misconceptions I had to resolve before I could really embrace this activity.
Composting is complicate. Those who are into composting are, well, into it. They have read articles and books gleaning information. Good for them. You really don’t need to worry about all that. Pile whatever composting materials you have and it will decompose. Adding water now and then and turning it over will speed the process. If you tend to forget about your pile, as I often do, nature will still run its course.
The yard is too small for compost pile. Think of it this way; if you have a large yard your compost pile is usually larger; with a small yard the pile will be smaller in proportion. If you have a garden apartment or condo, use a 36 gal. black plastic garbage can with tight fitting lid. Drill ½ inch holes around sides and bottom for air movement. To ‘stir’ the compost, lay the container on its side, with lid secured, and roll it around.
Compost piles stink and attract rodents. Most people have this misconception. Compost piles do not attract rodents or have a bad odor unless the wrong stuff is added. The rule here is no animal products: meats/bones, oils, dairy, poo. Do not add sugary materials either. Add only vegetative materials from the kitchen or yard. Healthy compost smells like spring soil.
Compost piles are ugly. Location is everything. Placing it in the middle of the yard or driveway will certainly create an eyesore. Locate it in an out of the way place where it will receive sunlight. You can hide the pile by using fence panels to surround it, or, again, black garbage cans. There are commercial composting containers and bins available on the market ranging from $60 to over $1000 for free-standing tumblers.
Composting costs too much money.  Sure, you can spend a lot on a compost thermometer, tumbler or fancy fencing but there is no need.  To get started make a walled bin from whatever you have lying around—wooden skids, chicken wire and metal posts, even doubled black garbage bags filled and set in the sun work perfectly fine.
I don’t have the time to compost. This was a favorite myth of mine. I believed I was far too busy attending to my and others’ gardens to focus on creating the healthy compost pile that gardeners bragged about. Once my compost pile was started I discovered it took about 30 minutes a month to maintain.
That’s all there is to it. For more information on the perfect pile, contact the County Extension Office or go to the library.