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As I mentioned in the article about zoning, each edible garden needs a composting area. Composting brings back the fertility to the soil. It feeds the microbiology in a permanent cycle that will sustain a growing spiral of fertility and production.
Anyone who's got some seeds or brought a new plant to the house knows that feeling of: now what? Having nice black and alive compost soil is always the answer. And if you read the article about preparing the beds, you also know that compost is in the heart of the bed preparation.
I know... composting is not a sexy thing. The decomposing side of the cycle of life isn't something many of us want to deal with. But it's an important part of the cycle. And it has to be addressed.
Going back to the middle size plot, in the zoning article I mentioned the need to have at least two composting areas, one with the worm bin and one for garden clips. Of course this is highly dynamic. The bottom line is: we need to make sure that no fertility leaves the property.
Do we need dedicated areas for composting? Well, we could go without. For example if we blend the kitchen veggie scraps (more about this later) and/or shred the garden clippings with a chipper, we could just add the material directly to the corners of the beds, or the roots of the trees.
Or if we plan with time, we can create a bed or hugelkultur during a whole year simply adding material to a dedicated area for six months and waiting additional six months for it to compost enough to hold plants safely. This is related with crop rotation practices. We will talk about this some other time.
Californian red wigglers are the best worms to process kitchen waste and rabbit manure. If we choose to have a worm bin, these are recommended. They move in a circular way on the top 20 cm of the compost pile and have specific requirements of humidity (around 75%). They also don't do well in the cold and don't do well with mold.
If you check out the web you are going to find very different and interesting worm bin ideas, from old fridges, to cement and wood constructions, to plastic or Styrofoam boxes. And there are commercial options as well. They all have elements in common: they have an opening on the top for air and to feed the worms, and a hole on the base to release worm leachate. This substance is a high concentrate of nutrients that can be diluted in water to make worm tea.
There are some people who have them right on the ground. It's not too common. Being highly superficial, they can be easy prey for birds.
I have at this time my kitchen compost on the ground, but the worms on that bed are not red wigglers, they are the brownish ones naturally occurring in my area and do the work just fine. My first compost bin was an old cement water tank, it's long been completely composted and has two avocado trees growing in it.
If you go the worm bin route, check the requirements for the worms. They will process fruits and veggies, rabbit and cow manure; do not put anything animal or with oil there. Also avoid fruits that are usually decomposed first by fungi because they are highly antibiotic, like oranges and lemons. Worms feed from the bacteria on the plant material, and they break it in the process, so more bacteria can colonize faster.
Yard clippings compost
Following the concept of no fertility leaving the property, we need to find an efficient way to compost the yard clippings. The best way is using a chipper, but it's not a must have. Any plant material will be composted, it's just a matter of time. The smaller we cut it the faster it will compost and the faster we can use it.
I have an area per bed for the clippings of that bed. And a bigger area on the back of the house for seasonal cleaning.
Usually the yard compost is not a worm compost, but mostly a bacterial/fungus compost. If you look around you will find recommendations on the proper proportions of nitrogen and carbon for the piles, the sizes and all sorts of things. I think it's a great technology if you want for example to use your compost pile to heat a place (yes, it can become hot). I have no personal experience with this. I've never moved a pile. Just wait it out.
Other waste composting?
Yes, dog and cat poo can be composted--human too. It's a bit more complicated because of the risk of transmitting pathogens. I have no personal experience with this. What I understand of the subject is that it's best to be composted under the ground level and the result only be used for the roots of trees.
How about other food waste? The spaghettis with tomato sauce that ended up being more than the family ate? That chicken that has been a week in the fridge and doesn't smell that good? Yes all that could be composted inside the yard pile if you cover it. Now... it might attract rodents and flies. Be warned.
Cardboard and pizza boxes? Yes, those can go in the compost pile too. I do it all the time. Pizza boxes actually do well in worm bins if they are broken into small pieces and wet.
There is a method called bokashi which inoculates the compost with a particular ferment and apparently can compost all table scraps in small spaces in an efficient way. I've never used it.
Any place with a sunny window can grow plants. And if we grow plants, we need to find the way to keep the fertility growing. Now, composting in small crowded places, like apartments is certainly a challenge. Some people do have worm bins and it's a very good option.
I'm going to propose a different method altogether for this. This method is only good for raw fruits and vegetables. All the other kitchen waste will not work here.
What we are going to do is a typical vinegar fermentation. The idea is to put the fruits and veggies cut small or blended, in a bin with water and sugar. Now, we need to inoculate this properly and for that we use organic unrefined sugar. This will give both the right ferment and food. That's our seed. From there we can add refined sugar if it's more affordable. Another option for this is to use molasses and bread yeast, or any combination of them. In both systems the idea is the same: we need an inoculant and food for it. If we don't inoculate, and because it's going to be an anaerobic fermentation, we can end up with very unpleasant smells.
We can do this in milk jugs, water bottles or whatever than can hold water. The more we cook, the bigger the recipient, or the more of them will be needed. I personally use this method with orange and lemon peels in 10 liter water bottles. The result is an aromatic vinegar that works great for cleaning floors. You can find this around under the fancy name of bio-enzymes.
Being a fermentation process there will be gas release, so if you use lidded bottles, you will need to burp them daily or they might explode. A simpler option is to leave the lid lose. In this case make sure to leave it in a place nobody will tip it over.
The fruits and vegetables simply dissolve in the water in time leaving a slur. This vinegar can be dilutes one in 10 parts of water and used as organic liquid fertilizer.
This is just an overview on composting, and only scratches the surface of recycling. There are many other options to use waste in productive ways, some of them with stacked function. For example what I mentioned about using the compost pile to heat up something, like the wall of a chicken coup in winter.
Composting is a natural process that happens on its own. We can speed it up or learn how to work with it for our purposes. I believe it's important not to get caught in the details and keep the big picture in mind to avoid paralysis by analysis.