Monday, June 11, 2018

Composting? Oh, yeah, I have a system for that.

I come from a family of do-ers. We come up with an idea, do lots of research, come up with a complicated plan, purchase our supplies, and get to it. I have many failures, because I don't necessarily enjoy keeping up with my new projects. But I learn a lot and I try to evolve.

So, of course, I have a composting system.

First, there are my beloved worms. I love my worms, and I'm convinced they love me. I have a worm bin, which is a four tiered piece of architecture that I keep in the basement. With time, I've learned that just tossing food waste into the bin doesn't work well. The worms don't break it down fast enough, which causes little flies, and it's all very dissatisfying. So I collect my vegetable food waste and when I have enough, I blend it in my Bullet. Once I have my worm food slurry, I tote that downstairs and feed it to the worms. Note - this is rather time consuming and a bit icky. If you don't want to spend time with your worms, this may not be the hobby for you.

My worms, of whom I am inordinately fond
Eventually, the worms produce something that worm enthusiasts call "castings". Castings are worm poop. If you have an aversion to either worms or worm poop, this is not the hobby for you. Every couple or three weeks, I bring a 5 gallon bucket over to the worm bin, and I retrieve the castings from the bottom tier of the worm bin. Worms by this time have for the most part migrated up to the other three layers of their condo where there is more food. But not all the worms are smart enough to migrate, so yes, I sort through the worm castings and put castings in the bucket and I try to return as many of the dumb worms as possible to another layer of their bin. Theoretically, you could skip this step. Your worms should be, after all, prodigiously reproducing. But I am thrifty, so I do my best to salvage the worms. Worm bin worms, by the way, do not like their climate to be either too hot or too cold, so cultivating them outside is pretty hit and miss.

During the summer time, I fill up my 5 gallon bucket with worm castings and use it in my compost recipe. In the winter time, once it's full, I put a cover on my 5 gallon bucket and set it aside. I have lots of buckets, so I just keep slogging away filling buckets with castings. I find this rather therapeutic.

Once spring comes, I move on to my next level of composting. I have two wooden compost bins. I love them almost as much as my worm bin. They are near the house. They hold all the dirt that came out of the previous summer's big pots, whether from flowers or vegetables. They've spent the winter composting away. I am not strong enough to turn these piles, but since they are getting dirt from pots, they generally decompose pretty effectively over the winter.

My two wooden compost bins
I also have a tumbling composter. It holds compost from the previous summer, but it has a more important job with the arrival of spring. I use my tumbling composter to make the dirt for my summer's big flower pots. I have a recipe. I put a bucket of perlite or vermiculite in. And I put 2 buckets of peat moss in. I add one of my buckets of worm castings. And then I take my handy 5 gallon buckets and retrieve dirt from my two wooden compost bins, and fill the tumbling composter until it is full. And then I turn it 50 times. And then I fill the empty buckets with my perfect compost, and I drag out all my big pots and fill them with dirt and set them aside to bask in the sun. The dirt settles a bit over time, so I tend to add more dirt to the big planters while I wait for the next phase of my planting ritual.

My beloved tumbler
I have two three-tiered planting benches in my basement. They have grow lights and one heat mat each. At the end of the summer, I fill two of my 5 gallon buckets with a blend of peat moss and perlite and some compost, and I put those in the basement. I'll use those as the base for my seedlings in the spring. There are probably better recipes, but this recipe has worked well so far, so I think I'll stick with it. I also bring in all my non-hardy succulents and set them up on the planting benches for the winter.

My planting benches
Around March, I start growing seedlings on my planting benches. I use the heat mats to get the seedlings started, and then once they're growing, I move them to one of the other tiers, as I only have two heat mats, so I try to spread the love.

So, the seedlings grow, winter ends, and now I haul my buckets of castings outside and start making my compost that will go into the tumbler. Tumbling occurs, I fill the big planters, I set them out and wait for spring to start. Once it's warm enough, I bring the seedlings and my succulents out to the deck and let them harden off and grow some more. And then I plant the seedlings in the big planters and move them to a spot near a faucet and my husband sets up our irrigation system, and there we go.


Tomato seedlings
As for what I grow... well, last year I did not have my perfect system in place, so I planted lots of tomatoes in the big plant pots and set them up on our deck. This seemed pretty good to me, but my husband had to wend his way around all the vegetation just to sit out in the sun. I don't think he really enjoyed this, but he's a good sport. This year, we added in the irrigation system in my front flower bed, so most of the big pots are there, all growing heirloom tomatoes, because last year I discovered that heirloom tomatoes taste wonderful, and non-heirloom tomatoes have no flavor. So I grew heirloom tomatoes from seeds of maybe 5 different kinds in the basement.

This is my first time growing tomatoes in the front flower bed. I am not sure whether this will work well, or if the neighbors will complain. So we'll have to see.
Also, I thought that the worms should be rewarded for their efforts to create castings, so I saved the seeds from one pie pumpkin last year. They grew quite happily in the basement and I'm just wrapping up planting them now. There is some chance that I've planted them too close to each other in not enough space, but I figured if that happens then I'll just thin them out and use what I thin as part of my compost mixture. Hopefully, we'll make a few pies out of the pumpkins, and the rest will be ground up in the Bullet and stored in the freezer for the worms to eat over the winter.

I actually grew quite an assortment of vegetables last year, but most didn't do particularly well on my deck, so for this year, I'm trying to stay focused with tomatoes and pumpkins. Once I master these, I'll try some other things.

But wait, there's more! I am trying diligently to be nice to the environment. So I also have a heavy duty paper shredder. I shred paper and boxes in that, and I feed that to the worms, or I put it in my "way back" compost piles. Those are at the back of my property. I try to layer shredded paper, dirt, leaves, and grass clipping there. This is my backup, should I run out of the beautiful compost that I make in my wooden bins. I'm afraid I lack the strength and enthusiasm to turn these compost piles, so they don't get as much loving attention as the piles that are closer to the house.

I also have friends who save their coffee grounds for the worms. I imagine my worms are quite delighted by this. Also, it gives me a reason to visit my friends, and for them to visit me.

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