Whole Earth

There was a time when The Whole Earth Catalog, published by Stewart Brand, was my bible.  It was the portal to resources on how I wanted to live, how I wished I could live, how I intended to live – a hippie wish book.  There were just so many incredibly cool ideas and concepts in that massive book.  It was a Renaissance of a book, really, with that awesome view of our earth from space on its cover.

It is during this time that I became interested in composting, among other things.   Interested, yes, but not actively engaged.  I wasn’t composting, just reading about it and thinking how much sense that made, and what a good thing it would be to do on a grand scale.  I don’t know if it was weird to daydream about composting (and OK, chickens, and goats and small-scale farming too – I’m not that strange), but reading The Whole Earth Catalog was conducive to those kinds of ideas…..and that is the kind of person I was, and I guess still am to some extent.

From that launching point, I moved on to The Rodale Guide to Composting, a rather large volume which told you everything you could ever imagine about compost, from the chemical and microbial composition down to building different types of containers and the breaking down of nutrients into viable soil.  In my mind I was going to have some incredible composting going and an even more incredible garden as a result.  My goats, my chickens, my compost, was going to be just Freakin’ Amazing.

Fast forward, let’s say about thirty-five years.  After lugging around that heavy, yellowed, mildewed-smelling copy of The Whole Earth Catalog from one home to another, I finally unpacked it for the umpteenth time, realized it was an outdated relic and let it go.  I had given away or loaned out (and forgotten to who) my copies of Raising Milk Goats and Backyard Chickens without ever having either, because although I am interested,  I have not been home regularly enough or lived in the right places to take care of milk goats or chickens.  And that thick volume of everything you could ever know about composting found its way to the library fair without a really good plan ever coming to fruition.  When we rented on a farm I had a compost area, but then I moved again and let it go. That is, until last year, when I finally put it together to get my composting trip together.  Sort of.

So here I am, living in this somewhat Urban Environment, in a small city which is immediately surrounded by a rural area.  I compost our leaves, but for years I kept mentioning to the SO about how we should really be composting our kitchen scraps too.  This seemed to fall on deaf ears, until one day quite out of the blue (which is the way he tends to operate), he unexpectedly came home with a recycled black plastic composter.  This contraption opens at the top and contains a number of levels with a door on the bottom. You put your vegetarian waste in at the top and it filters down to the bottom eventually, leaving you with rich brown/black earth after a period of time, supposedly in about eight weeks.  I was thrilled. 

The immediate payoff is that the trash we put out weekly has been reduced to almost nothing. You can keep putting food into that compost and within a few days the level has shrunk down it until it is dirt.  That is pretty impressive. However, it’s not all as clean and easy as it was in my imagination.

I have made a few discoveries, mostly that I am a lazy-assed composter.  We collect our daily food waste from the kitchen in a little plastic container. When it is full or when somebody thinks of it (that somebody is always me) then it gets carried out to the compost bin. In the meantime, it sits on the counter and is rather disgusting if you don’t keep after it. I sort of wish we had an enclosed back porch where this interim collection container could be, but we don’t, so you have to keep after that.

Every few days I walk it out to the side of the house and dump it into the bin.  Upon opening it up, clouds of these teeny little tiny flying things come rising up out of it.  Periodically I will add grass clippings from the lawn, or leaves; windfall apples from our tree or weeds from the garden. But I have no desire to go out there and be turning over that smelly stuff  in order for it to properly ferment and break down.  I am very disappointed in myself in that regard, but really, I was hoping for something where you load it in on top and it filters down to powdered black gold at the bottom, right?  In a way, I think having chickens eat those scraps and laying some eggs instead might be nicer. That said, I am still impressed that you can put so much stuff in there and that it breaks down to so little.

We have had the bin for over a year.  This past spring was the first time I actually used the results.  I opened the bottom door and I had to sort of hack out the earth from within with a garden spade.  It was pretty impressive though – it had really turned into rich, black, if somewhat clingy earth.  There were a few things I noticed which did not break down though.  Egg shells, avocado skins and avocado pits remained essentially intact.  I expected the shells to break down, so that was a surprise.  Every once in a while there was a stick or small branch, I guess left over from raking up the yard last year.   As always, even with all this rich earth, weather conditions played a big part on how things grew or didn’t grow in the garden. But it works. It makes sense. There is a satisfaction to watching it happen, of waste turn into something of value, contributing to the process, the science of it.  OK, this is no Rodale situation I have going here, but it’s been incredibly satisfying to work with a little bit of Whole Earth of my own making.

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14 Responses to Whole Earth

  1. MonaKarel says:

    We had a tumbler type composter at this house when we moved here. When I remember I go out and turn it over but I’ve had greater luck just tossing kitchen scraps into an area I used for a while as a “lasagna” garden…layers of scraps, grass, newspaper. I found out I have to let the egg shells dry a bit and crush them with my hands. But yeah, they do hang around. I’ll be planting those piles next year, maybe some this fall so will see what’s going to come up after the snow.

  2. Debbie V. says:

    Me too – I used to love to get it out and look through it – imagining the life I would have some day (but sadly, never came close). I also had another book I loved Country Women http://www.amazon.com/Country-Women-Handbook-New-Farmer/dp/0385030622
    I’m glad to see you are accomplishing some of those dreams :)

  3. Judy says:

    I have 2 tumblers. Read that eggshells have to be crushed a bit in order to decompose. I am the world’s laziest, kitchen scraps, lawn cuttings and leaves go in and then I ignore it for 6 months, just tumble once every few days, then start the next one. But it works, just takes a long time. My fear is that if I spread it in my wild yard I will attract even more wild animals to it.

  4. Bishop says:

    Loved your post….as for eggshells – I will dry them and then hand crush them. I take that reduced handful and dump them into my coffee grinder. I grind them pretty fine and they go into my worm bin. The worms need the grit and they further process the shells. Seems like a lot of work but it goes pretty smooth and the worms thanks me.

    • daeja's view says:

      Thank you! Although it seems like it IS a lot of work, clearly it pays off. And nothing like keeping the worms happy…. :) I don’t know if I will go the coffee grinder route, but I am definitely going to try crushing them up more.

  5. Lynne says:

    Interesting when you think of what we put in our compost piles – and where all of the stuff comes from. Our compost pile is comprised mostly of coffee grounds from Sumatra that co-mingle with egg shells from my free range chickens here in upstate New York, apple cores from New Zealand, watermelon rinds from who knows where, etc, etc.! It amazes me when I think of all of that vegetation rotting – and poorly I might add, in my compost pile as I am not a good steward of the task. Talk about Whole Earth! Then there is the subject of all the fossil fuel it takes to get it all here. Oh, what a tangled web we are weaving.
    As for the eggshell dilemma here is a tip: Crushed egg shells are great for deterring slugs. Crush them up and sprinkle them around the base of the plants that need protection. Be aware that eggs can carry salmonella. Probably a good idea to practice good sanitation when handling them.

    • daeja's view says:

      Yes, that is interesting…compost from around the globe. And trucking it here, which of course is more reason for supporting growing/eating as locally as possible, when possible….good tip about the salmonella too…luckily this year was (blessedly) slug-free, but will remember that for the future.

  6. Diane says:

    My best tomato plant was a plum that managed to survive the compost pile. I have a black bin and a small one I keep in my back entry and doesn’t get taken out often enough, specially in the summer months. I too am a lazy composter, I have my cold pile in the way back of the yard for garden waste. I find watering my black bin helps things along and yes, egg shells stick around too long, but I just push them into the soil if they show up when using my “black gold from bottom of bin”. Do I recognize those hosta’s?

  7. mercadee says:

    May want to consider insulating your frame – straw bales pushed tight against the box give quadruple duty – 1. insulate the sides of box, 2. insulate the ground helping to keep frost a foot or so from your composting heat source, 3. Subsequent growing season can use as mulch to keep weeds down and conserve soil moisture, 4. Turned under in fall 2000 will decompose and improve the soil.

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