Easy Composting Method: The Best Time To Start Is Now!

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Every year I see people burning and bagging leaves, are you one of those people? If so check out this easy and basic process for composting that we have found to work very well. 

We stopped throwing away our free fertilizer a few years ago and we will never turn back. We now do not throw away any organic material from our yard or kitchen unless it is somehow toxic or gone really, really bad. All of our leaves, sticks, sawdust, chicken manure, food scraps, cardboard, compostable paper products, and much more all end up being processed right back into our garden beds. Is there any other way? I can't imagine going out to the store and buying fertilizers and compost that some company is selling back to the same people that left their yard waste at the curb, doesn't that seem silly?

There are many resources out there on what you should compost and how much of each type of item to put in the pile or bin or whatever you have setup. I go with a simple and very general rule of thumb. We add about 75% carbon material (leaves, saw dust, cardboard, paper, wood chips, etc.). This is the base to any good compost and handily this also makes up the majority of most peoples yard waste (remember that giant pile of leaves you had to rack up last year?). The next ingredient is nitrogen materials (chicken manure, vegetables, plant materials, last years jack-o-lanterns, and all of our kitchen waste). Just to be clear you cannot add any leftovers or meat products to your compost, only things that at one time grew from the ground in some way. 

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Now that you have all those goodies mixed together the only thing left to do is to wait and turn it over as much as you can remember. I mix mine up about once per week. This allows air to get into the pile and for the bacteria to get to work doing their thing. Many people suggest watering the pile as well but up here in Michigan I would not do that unless it was a drought. I might pour a bucket of nitrogen rich aquaponics water on it if that was needed. 

We have found the best way to get started and make sure that our lazy genes don't take over is to keep a small container on the counter in your kitchen for scraps and one just outside your door to move them into every day or two. We use an old mixing bowl inside and an old trash can outside. Once per week or so I take the trash can back to the "pile" and dump it and stir it up with a pitchfork. 

If things go well and the pile gets cooking you should be cooked down to useable soil in about 60 days or so depending on your weather. This soil has everything that your plants, flowers, vegetables, or anything else needs to grow. If you do this right you should not need to buy soil, compost, manure, or fertilizers for your garden.

I hope this encourages someone to get started and save some food scraps from ending up in a landfill for goodness sakes!

Composting: This Is Where Good Soil Starts!

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When should I start composting? What do I add to the pile? How long does it take? Can I add.....? I get composting questions all the time from friends and family; my answer is always the same - Start with leaves! In this video I talk about our method of starting our compost pile each fall. We usually get enough to let it cook down twice per year which equals a lot of fresh homemade compost for our gardens. 

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I have talked about this before in my fall composting with a string trimmer post and also in my easy composting method video. Good compost starts with leaves! they are all around us in the fall time and unless you live in the deep south, the jungle, or a desert you have plenty of leaves to use. Even if you don't want to rake up your own leaves there are probably plenty of your neighbors who are bagging up theirs and leaving them at the curb for the city to pick-up (if your city does that kind of thing). The bottom line is this, get as many leaves as you can because they are going to be the base of the compost you will use throughout the entire year. 

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Once I have all of our leaves raked up I start carting them to the compost pile in the back corner of our lot. It is nothing special, just a few cheap metal posts, some garden wire fencing, and a pile of leaves and food scraps in the middle. As I am carting the leaves to the pile I also take care of cleaning up the garden beds of all dead and dying vegetable plants from the summer and layer those on the pile in-between loads of the leaves. This creates layers of alternating carbon material (leaves) and nitrogen material (green plants and food scraps). Once I have all of the leaves in I top it off with our food scraps from the last couple of months that have been saved as the compost from the summer finished up. 

Garbage 201: Plastic

Knowledge is power and once we know better, we should probably try and do better.  Now that we know the answer to the great Paper or Plastic? debate, lets learn a little more about plastic so we can make some better choices with it.

Before I start talking about the crazy amount of plastic pollution in our landfills or the health dangers plastic poses, I thought we should start off on a good plastic note.  The history and invention of plastic is very interesting and the reason why it was invented is very dear to this animal lover's heart.  You see, plastic came about as an alternative to elephant's ivory, tortoiseshell and horn.  And plastic bags were a successful alternative to paper shopping bags in an effort to save trees back when they were mainstreamed. 

Plastic really is awesome when you think about it, and its qualities are amazing.  But, as with anything cheap and convenient, it comes with a price.  Plastic is made from fossil fuels and is not biodegradable, our landfills are full of it.  Our oceans are full of plastic, too.  Ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?  It's a HUGE mass of plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean the size of Texas.  And plastic poses a health threat as well.  Additives that go into plastic during the manufacturing process, such as BPA, leach into our bodies, food and water.  And the alternatives they use instead of BPA are possibly even more harmful than BPA.  It is estimated that 90% of our adult population has chemicals from plastics in their bodies. What about our kids?  Our babies?  Scary. 

I now know enough to be certain of two things.  One, we want to rid our home of plastic.  Two, we cannot possibly rid our home completely of plastic.  There's too much and it's everywhere.  But we can try!  We can get rid of the plastic that comes in direct contact with our food and water.  We can get rid of the plastic that we know emits chemicals in our home.  And we can choose reusable shopping bags instead of paper or plastic.

We've already started what we're calling the Plastic Purge in our home.  It was inspired by a book written by Mike SanClements.  Over the weekend, we purged our plastic cups, plates, food storage containers, utensils and shopping bags.  We are replacing them with non-plastic kitchenware.   I ordered most of the replacement items on Amazon, and the SSL Family Dad went through my shopping cart to make sure everything was made in the USA.  If you want something REALLY challenging to do on a Friday night, try ordering kitchen gear not made with any plastic parts and made in the U.S.A. 

Once I started looking into non-plastic alternatives, I was shocked at how many options there are if I just looked hard enough.  We are also doing away with Ziploc bags and plastic wrap.  Later on, I will be sharing just what we're going to be using now instead of plastic, what we purchased on Amazon, as well as some items we picked up at our local thrift shop.  We have talked about this for a very long time and are very excited for these changes in our home. 

For those of you who were like me about two years ago, thinking this is a bit extreme, I ask you to keep an open mind and ask questions.  Don't just take my word for it, find out for yourself what is best for you and your family.  Almost always, the fastest and cheapest route is usually not the best, healthiest or safest option.

Garbage 101: Ways to Reuse Paper Waste Around Your Home

In our first Garbage 101 article, we discussed it was best to keep paper and other biodegradable materials out of landfills as much as possible.  We are lucky enough to have a recycling service that picks up our recyclables every two weeks, but we really try to reuse as much of our paper waste as possible before we even consider recycling it.

It all starts with our recycling bins where all of our paper waste is sorted.  We added labels to the bins for the girls.  We even had a LANDFILL sign on our trash at one point.  It was a good reminder to us all.  

The trick to sustainability is viewing your trash as a resource instead of garbage, and we have found lots of re-uses for paper around our home.

Cardboard makes great landscape fabric.  It keeps the weeds out, just lay the mulch right over it.

We have had a problem with rabbits eating our new bushes and trees.  So we reuse our paper towel and toilet paper rolls and wrap them around the base.  It has worked like a charm!  The SSL Family Dad has a post and video on this topic.

After we have weeded out the boxes for landscape fabric & storage, and the paper towel rolls for the trees, we then shred everything else.  But first we separate the glossy paper out.  The non-glossy paper and non-glossy boxes are shredded separately and used for the outdoor compost pile and worm bin.  

The glossy paper and boxes are then shredded and soaked in water for up to a week so that it all breaks down.  The SSL Family Dad then takes that soggy paper mess and turns it into paper logs with this paper log maker that he burns in our outdoor wood burning stove.  We use this stove to heat our pool in the summer and heat our garage in the winter.  

Here is the contraption my wonderful husband put together for the shredding and soaking of glossy paper.  He mounted our old paper shredder on top of a 55-gallon barrel that he cut in half.   Yes, we're weird.  And yes, some things around our house are weird.  But because marriage is all about balance, I would like to think that I balance things out and keep things from getting TOO weird around here.  (Let's just not ask the SSL Family Dad about that, okay?)