I’m not sure how to explain my affection for rotting, organic material, but it all started in the spring of 2013. Having been a “yellow thumbed” vegetable gardener most of my adult life, I had a vague interest in composting, but no real working knowledge. When I saw that a non-profit in San Diego was offering a 4 consecutive Saturday workshop on composting and that completing the course would qualify me as a “master composter” I decided to suspend my ban on signing up for anything organized to attend the class.
Each class was 3 hours in length and we quickly learned the basics and then, in groups, began building our “hot piles” of compost, using a variety of materials that we had all gathered in preparation. By the following week, we were learning how to turn, aerate, and water our piles after checking the temperature to see if we had achieved the desired balance of materials. After four weeks, while hardly feeling a master, I felt I had the basic to get started on my own.
I raided several local Starbucks coffee shops for grounds that they will gratefully give away to gardeners and composters, and began begging, borrowing, and stealing any lawn clippings I could get from the neighbors. Mary and I found a container for the counter where we could begin to collect vegetable food waste and my gardener brought me bags of dried leaves from his clients who had groves of trees.
I then assembled my first bin and began to mix the ingredients and in the end, had it filled to the brim. That’s when I began to go a little crazy and continually monitor and make daily reports on how just how hot the core temperature of the pile was to anyone who would listen. It fascinated me that if I just mixed together the right components, in the correct ratios, I could generate temps up to 160 degrees, a point at which they warn you that your pile could spontaneously combust. While I’ve never tried to make this happen, I’m intrigued that it might.
My son tells me that he thinks I show more enthusiasm about composting than anyone he knows, but the weird thing is that any time I start to talk about it in a group, there always seems to be someone with questions, someone who needs help getting started, or someone who has started but needs some help troubleshooting a problem. I’ve helped numerous friends get started with their own bins and had people come out to the house and visit my small composting complex to get tips.
I am amazed at the amount of food waste that my wife and I create in the course of a week. It has changed our behavior entirely. I can’t just throw away a single banana peel or egg shell without feeling totally irresponsible. I can’t even guess at how many pounds of kitchen waste we have diverted from landfills over the past two years and instead turned it into amazingly rich soil amendment.
Cleaning out the refrigerator!
I actually started to think about teaming up with the local Starbucks and the nearby Subway restaurant to begin regularly composting all of the perfectly compostable, but currently wasted food product that they throw out every day. However, I was daunted by the endless nature of such a partnership. I would need a team of people to keep up with the volume of compostable product and set up a network to distribute all of the wonderful soil amendment that it would produce. I pretty quickly decided that my sustainability project would be unsustainable.
So, for now, I will simply tend my own garden.