Microbes and bacteria haven’t changed, but how you approach composting can. There are some great tips for the modern gardener in the new book by Michelle Balz, Composting for a New Generation. Things that will interest both newcomers to building soil with kitchen scraps, and seasoned gardeners alike.
Surprisingly, not all gardeners take advantage of composting. For some, it just seems far easier to just buy all their organic fertilization needs. Maybe they think they have no space for a compost pile, worry about the smell, or even neighborhood bylaw infractions. Buying compost kind of goes against knowing what’s in your food. I mean, do you know what’s in retail compost? It might scare you!
Reduce your own waste by recycling it into compost. It’s free fertilizer and soil conditioner that comes with peace of mind. It’s not as difficult, time-consuming, or gross as you might think. You’ll find some interesting composting techniques in Michelle’s book that came out in December. Excellent food for thought that the modern gardener should check out.
Though it sounds so simple, Michelle agrees that adding a compost bucket to your kitchen counter is never going to give you real compost. Turning food scraps into compost requires good air flow, adequate moisture, heat, and microbes. No matter how pricey, an indoor composting appliance just dehydrates your scraps. The Zera by Whirlpool might do the trick with their additives, but I have yet to try it myself. For the most part, they’ll rehydrate in your garden, then mold and rot, the way Nature herself designed them to decompose.
Bokashi isn’t composting either. This is just fermenting your food scraps. It’s a pre-conditioning step before adding them to a compost pile, but a good one. You can learn more about what fermented organic matter can offer your garden by investigating Korean Natural Farming methods. (Read more about KNF in our magazine p. 66)
The only way you can really make compost indoors is with a worm farm, which makes vermicompost. But worm manure, like cow manure, isn’t true compost. However, both are beneficial for your soil and garden plants. Worms are a better urban garden fit; compact and easy keepers whose waste is instantly usable, while cow manure needs aging.
Compost has more texture and organic matter than manure or veggie scraps alone. It’s better for moisture retention and better for drainage. Which is why dry matter (autumn leaves, straw, dried grass clippings, etc.) is an important part of any composting recipe. Without the dry crunchy stuff, you’ll have gooey finished compost.
Nature invented composting to reuse everything that lives on Earth. It has no waste. Everything goes back into the perpetual system. Man cannot outdo the soil food web. Make note of the soil in that phrase.
I’ve come to realize that organic matter that isn’t in direct contact with the soil can take at least 3 times longer to break down. Worms and microbes aren’t inclined to breach high-quality weed fabric. I’d be farther along if I’d dug a trench and buried it all. That’s one composting technique Michelle shares in her book that many in the US probably haven’t heard of. It takes about a year, and you don’t have to turn it, nor do you need to dig it up.
I think I’d be more inclined to go with her buried steel trash can method. A compost digester, technically. It keeps everything contained and hidden, but allows worms and microbes to freely travel in and out of your composting bin. And being covered, you won’t have as many issues with moisture loss to evaporation. Just drill some holes, dig one in the ground, and you’re ready to roll.
Of course, you can also start amending your garden soil before the compost is finished. I love this technique that Michelle shares in her book. Put the compost pile right in the garden on unplanted space, but move it every few weeks. In doing so, you’re turning the pile, putting the newer stuff on the bottom where the heat will break it down faster. And the soil beneath it is already somewhat enriched just from hosting the mobile composting pile for a short time. Ingenious!
There are all kinds of interesting things about composting in this new book: the science and how-tos. Something for everyone from totally new growers to seasoned gardeners. You can grab your copy on Amazon. It’s available in paperback or Kindle format, starting at just $16.25. Live outside the USA? Check for other booksellers here.
If you don't find her at the desk - check the gardens. When not writing and weeding, she enjoys a good book, painting junk furniture, and blending the harvest of heirloom tomatoes and chiles into salsas.