The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Composting is a Redemptive Act

November 28th, 2011 · 5 Comments · Posted in Blog

Gathering leaves for compost

There’s no gardening going on at our house these days. That all went poof! in August when we sold our house with the huge kitchen garden and moved around the corner to another building we owned as a rental property. The new (old) row house is north facing and has little or no room for food gardening. My wife has suggested starting a garden on a roof deck. But we don’t plan to be here long and I shudder at the idea of hauling soil  up two flights of stairs through the house.

As a result, my gardening in an ironic twist of fate has been reduced to my favorite activity–making compost. Composting, or turning dead stuff into new soil, is like being present at the creation. Bacteria and all sorts of other critters do the dirty work, breaking down organic matter like apple cores and carrots peels and dryer lint. Instead of sealing it up in a plastic bag and sending it to the landfill, we feed the planet by returning our debris to the soil whence it came. This is our way of supporting the circle of life–even here in the urban environs of the District of Columbia, two miles from the White House.

For the last couple of months I’ve been saving kitchen scraps in one of our metal cans. That gets to be a little stinky after a while. Thankfully, we now have dry leaves we can add to the pile.

Passing leaves through the chopper

My favorite “brown” material for compost is straw. Straw bales stack conveniently for storage and chopped straw makes a great mulch for tomato plants. But fallen leaves are more convenient this time of year. We rake them into a trash can, then pass them through our Flowtron “leaf eater,’ which easily grinds them small. The device is really just a line trimmer set inside a big can. Be sure to wear a mask and eye goggles for protection. When the leaves are very dry, the machine does create dust, and bits of twigs can go flying.

Whole leaves tend to mat together. Chopped into tiny pieces, they mix much more easily with our kitchen scraps and decompose more quickly.

We filled three large garbage cans with chopped leaves–enough, I think, to get us through the next year.

Leaves mixed with kitchen scraps

We use metal cans for composting because rats will gnaw through plastic to get at kitchen scraps. Just be sure to maintain a proper balance of scraps to leaves to fuel the decomposition process. You may need to add a little water, but be sure to drill some holes in the bottom of the can for drainage. Too much wetness and the pile will go anaerobic, which is where all those putrid garbage smells come from. Your compost shouldn’t smell at all. If you have any concerns about the compost getting enough air, you can drill some holes in the sides of the can as well.

You should have beautiful compost in a few months, and the cans are an ideal place to store it.

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  • Bethesda Locavore

    Do you stir your cans after you’ve filled them? I’m going to look into that leaf eater – we get a ton of leaves and I’d really rather put them back into the garden.

  • Ed Bruske

    You do need to agitate the contents of the cans from time to time to inject oxygen.

  • Ren

    Are you aware of any communal composting in DC? I don’t think Arlington has any but I would love to be wrong. A few of us are looking to start this here in a condo community in South Arlington.

  • Ed Bruske

    Not aware of any communal composting. What we have now in D.C. is Compost Cab:

  • Uncle B

    Good site! Also: Free book on web: humanure, Also: for communal and farm efforts Anaerobic digestion of green-stuff, Animal and humanure for methane capture for fuel, and fertilizing top soil building fertilizer. looking for someone to print free on web out of print: American survival Bible from the early post WWII era, “Five Acres and Independence” Good on you God be with you!