Composting is part of homesteading, but – and it hurts to say this – I’m really bad at it. Thinking back on our composting efforts since we moved here, our efforts to produce “brown gold” have yielded more comedic failure than compost.
Even before we moved into the house, I set up a 3-bin compost system using pallets. This was an idea I’d been drooling over for years and I was thrilled to finally have the space to do it. The idea is to set up three adjoining bins, fill the first, then after it has sat for awhile, fork it over into the next bin (thereby aerating and turning it) and later do the same into the third bin. Meanwhile, the first bin is again being used to collect new compostables.
My first challenge was that the system did not turn out nearly as pretty in reality as it had in my head. It was hard to line the motley assortment of pallets up neatly and get them to stay standing. Worse, once I started to fill the first bin, I found that the compostable materials exited through the gaps in the pallets.
Nevertheless, I persevered, stapling feed bags and old election posters (tres chic, no?) to contain it. Months later, when I tried to turn it for the first time, I found the pile had been more desiccator/preserver than composter. It looked unchanged, and I realized that, due to lack of rain, the pile was too dry. That is when I discovered that the location which at first had seemed “perfect” was in fact not very well thought out. It was so far from my nearest water source that it took three hoses joined together to trickle a little water into it. This I did overnight (though I felt silly “watering” my compost pile).
I decided to move it and selected another location. I wanted it close to the house and a water source, but out of sight. Behind our propane tank seemed like a great spot – we’d barely be able to see if thanks to the camouflage provided by the propane tank, and there was a spigot close by.
HWA and I spent a day taking apart the pallet system, hauling the components to the new location, then setting it up again. At the end of the day we stood back and admired our efforts. With HWA’s help, the bins were better aligned and it looked almost as pretty as I’d envisioned years before. What we didn’t notice was that ours weren’t the only eyes admiring our work. You see, “behind the propane tank” meant just inside the pasture. The sheep decided the new structure was a set of sleeping chambers built for them. Almost as soon as the last nail was hammered, they lay down – two sheep per section – and, though there was no shade from the overhead sun, for the next few weeks we rarely saw them sleep anywhere else.
By far the biggest challenge however, was finding compostable materials. Where other people find their compostables baffles me. When I ask the question I get that look people give when explaining the obvious to an idiot, and the answers are generally “lawn clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps”. So – let’s go through these one at a time.
Lawn clippings. I’ve used mulching mowers my entire adult life so barely know what lawn clippings look like. I briefly considered contacting lawn services to ask for clippings but realized I didn’t want the chemical fertilizers that would likely come with them, so scrapped that idea.
Leaves. First, trees only drop their leaves for a few weeks of the year. Second, when they do and I mow, the leaves are mulched along with the grass. Third, any that fall between mowings are quickly hoovered up by the goats and sheep.
Kitchen scraps. We eat our fair share of bananas and oranges and drink way too much coffee, but don’t have enough peelings and coffee grounds to fill a compost bin. Most other kitchen scraps go to the chickens.
Which is why the sheep got to keep their sleeping quarters – we simply did not have anything to actually put IN the compost bins! So, I’ve given up on composting. I do still collect banana peels and coffee grounds – but these days I collect them in an old coffee can on the kitchen counter and once it is full I take it straight to the veggie garden. I dig a small hole, dump the contents and walk away, leaving the earthworms to enjoy a feast. The earthworm population in the garden has exploded – perhaps because I am feeding them? – and, while burying my compostables may not be the same as creating brown gold in a composter, my kitchen scraps ultimately DO end up providing nutrients to my veggie garden.