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Composting

The Green Kitchen on Facebook Live (Notes)

If you caught my Facebook Live event on The Green Kitchen, here are some notes to help you connect with resources that I mentioned for the three topics I covered: composting the lazy way, incorporating reusable cloths around the house so you can ditch paper towels, and replacing non-stick cookware with healthier options. When there is a specific brand that I like, I’ve linked that exact one. When it’s whole a category I talked about, but I don’t have a brand preference, I’ve provided a search on Amazon for you based on some key words. Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. If you click through and buy something, I may receive a small commission at no additional expense to you.

1. Composting the Lazy Way

 
Americans represent 5% of the world’s population but generate 30% of the world’s garbage. The average American throws away 4.5 pounds of trash a day. What we reduce and reuse can make a difference! Commercial recycling should always be a distant third to the other two R’s. However, recycling at home–like through composting–is an impactful, doable step.  

Previous Posts:

The book that got me started was Composting by Liz Ball. It is simple and non-gimmicky.

 

Products relating to composting if you don’t want to DIY:


2. Reusable Cloths

The Paperless Project points out that the paper industry is the third largest contributor to global warming. This industry uses trees at a high rate and pollutes loads of water in the processing.

Previous posts:

Our cute wet/dry bag that hangs in the kitchen. Click on the image to go to the product page on Abby’s Lane. Our not-cute wetbag (which we use when this one is in the wash) is a really worn out cloth diaper pail liner that I added a hanging strap to. Planetwise Wetbag

3.  Non Non-Stick-Coating Cookware

Kirkland Stainless Steel Cookware Set only at Costco– the copper-bottomed set that I have is no longer sold, but this one looks similar. It’s a great price point!

Cookware

 

Lard from J&L Green Farm– a natural source of Vitamin D. It’s great for seasoning cast iron and as a cooking fat. I especially love to pop popcorn on the stovetop in it.

Lard

 

Stainless Steel Baking Sheets– This two-piece set is often on sale for under $30. The pans do warp while in the hot oven, but they flatten again when they cool. Our set has been amazing so far, things don’t stick and it cleans up easily.
 

Stainless Steel Baking Sheets

 

Cast Iron Pans


Cast Iron Griddles


Enamel


Stoneware


Pyrex

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Composting Basics

Have you read about composting and been interested, but just don’t know how to start? Because others have said it better than I can, I am going to link you to my favorite composting sites:

Multi-page article that takes you from the science of composting to actually starting a pile: How Stuff Works

Loads of info on anything and everything compost related: HowToCompost.org

For newbies and experienced folks alike: 75 Things You Can Compost, But Thought You Couldn’t

For the science-brained folks, a Can I Compost It chart along with the why.
(Thanks for that link, Crunchy Conscience!)

My favorite book on composting is called Composting by Liz Ball and is part of the Smith & Hawken Hands On Gardener series. This book has a simple, non-gimmicky approach that I really appreciate.

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Worms, Glorious Worms!

Worms have found my compost bin. I am so excited! Check them out!

Squeamish? Really, all you can see here is arrows.

Not Squeamish? Click on the image to open a full-size version and see the worms in all their cute, wriggly glory.

In addition to the worms, I can see some decomposition in my compost. It is happening much more quickly that my ground piles ever did, probably because I turn it more often and add new greens more often.

Speaking of ground piles, I made this simple chart awhile back for the pile at work since it was (theoretcially) a community pile. I could never figure out a good way to post it outside, so I never actually used it. My thought was laminated paper staple-gunned to a small wooden post, but I never actually did it. I am a private composter these days, but I wanted to share this chart in case it helps someone else.


Click on the image to open a larger version.

Happy composting!

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Homemade Compost Bin

In the past, I have kept a simple compost pile on the ground, with good results. When we lived in the condo, I composted on the grounds at work (read about it here and here). Decomposition went very well, but the compost never actually got used. Last spring, my coworker on the buildings team accidentally squished all of the compost back into the forest floor in a mishap with a rented tractor. (I think he was either trying to turn the pile or scoop up the compost to use it.)

When we bought the house, I started a ground pile at home and ditched the work one. That reminds me, that partial second year of compost is still sitting on work grounds and decomposing. I guess I should remind my coworker that it is there since it is time for spring planting to spruce up the grounds. It would be great to see it put to use! Anyway, back to the house pile…being that I started the pile in in December and then we had a snowy winter, the pile didn’t do much.

When we moved into the house, I noticed that the previous owners left an old, beat-up, plastic trashcan with no lid. I started eyeing it as a potential composter. After all, if it could be free—or at least dirt cheap—I’d like to try bin composting. I totally believe in the simplicity and relative cleanliness of a ground pile, but I like experiments, and I like sharing them with you.

It took me some time to figure out exactly what to do with the trash can and to find the time to do it, but I finally did. Here you go…

With a ½ inch boring bit, I drilled holes around the sides and bottom of the trash can. As you may notice, I did not drill holes up to the very top of can. I did this for several reasons: to remind me to not fill it that high for weight reasons (I need to be able to flip it); to remind me to get multiple bins going for use at different times and not obsess over getting this one filled to the brim; and finally, some trashcan composters are used upside down with the top cut off, so instead of flipping it, you just lift it up. I wanted to leave as much structural integrity in that part of the can as possible in case I switch to that method.

Because the trash can did not have a lid, and we were not able to buy just a lid, we needed to make one. We recently got some building supplies from a Freecycler, so hubby cut some of that wood to be the lid. I then drilled holes in the wood to allow rain in. We bought a rubber cord with hooks on the end (from Home Depot) to hold the lid on securely.

I shoveled my ground pile into the composter, and I will turn it with a cultivator/claw. We bought both tools on Craigslist for $10 each.

So far, I’ve noticed that flying bugs like the composter. This was not a problem with the ground pile because no food was ever directly exposed to the air (it gets covered with browns). In the container, food may be pressed against a hole and thus draw attention. So far, that is the only drawback. In terms of adding food, it is much easier because I don’t have to dig it in and then obsessively cover it with browns. So, we’ll see how it goes!

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9 Changes for 2009- #9 Composting

  1. Cut out commercial breakfast bars
  2. Cut out canned beans
  3. Ditch premade hummus (and all those containers)
  4. Use only environmentally friendly dish detergent
  5. Shop Used First
  6. Use only environmentally friendly laundry detergent
  7. Stick to green toiletries
  8. Ditch plastic grocery bags

  9. Compost food scraps

We have almost made it through a year of composting! Here are some of the ups and downs…

Summer & Fall 08
Read about it here.

Winter 08-09
Virginia winters aren’t bitterly cold, but the ground certainly freezes, as does the top of the compost pile. As the cold settled in, digging in the pile became more difficult. It took some real effort to pierce the frozen surface of the pile, then the dirt within would clump together making it tough to amply cover up the food (and thus shield it from the foraging squirrels, deer, foxes, etc. that live in the adjacent woods). To keep my fingers warm I added gardening gloves to my composting kit.

Happily, the pile never completely froze, which meant we were doing something right. I was tickled one day to dig into the pile and see steam rise out! But, the pile could have been hotter. There were many days where I would come across old food. I try not to reuse dig holes so that the greens in the pile are well distributed among the browns and thus the decomposition will continue, so when I’d find food it meant I needed to cover it back up and then dig another hole in another place on the mound. Extra work and extra time in the cold—yuck!

I don’t care for extreme temperatures—hot or cold—so the cold winter days and the increased difficulty with digging in the food tempted me to give up for the winter, but on days where I would see steam…that made it worth it. As a compromise, I started bringing my food scraps in less often. Instead of twice a week, I moved to once a week and sometimes even less often. That resulted in some slime in the compost crock and needing to use some supplemental plastic containers to hold the overflow scraps, but the smell was always pretty well contained.

Spring 09
As winter transitioned into spring, the pile defrosted and my work paid off. On several occasions I actually thought fleetingly to myself, “Where did my food go? Are animals taking it?” and “Who keeps putting dirt in the pile?” Silly me. This is the world of composting SUCCESS! Gross food scraps and bags of yard waste become rich, brown, crumbly, beautiful, amazing dirt. Yes, I just said that dirt was beautiful.

And that beautiful dirt came just in time. In February I sprained my ankle while…wait for the sordid, exotic, dramatic story…walking over grass. Yes, walking over grass. I only mention it because it took extra super-duper motivation to walk to pile with the pain of the sprained ankle, plush stretching it to squat down to dig, etc. And, I developed a small phobia of walking over grass since that is where the injury happened and uneven ground made the ankle hurt. But, watching the composting process actually work was great motivation to keep at it and get over my fear and pain.

With the frozen days distinctly behind me and completed compost taking over the pile, it was easy to see what was not breaking down along with everything else. Banana and apple stickers started popping out at me, which was kind of funny. Other than the stickers and the occasional banana peel, the biggest things I noticed were eggshells. While I knew that eggshells wouldn’t break down quite like the other foods, I expected them to somehow crumble up and still be an enriching natural fertilizer that would blend in. But, nothing was happening. The eggshells looked like they were stuck in time, oblivious to the amazing changes happening to all of the other food waste around them. So, I decided to try a new eggshell approach. After making an egg-heavy lemon bar recipe (9 eggs!), I rinsed the shells and then pulverized them in the food processor. That left me with the question of how to store and then transport a lot of tiny, wet, eggshell shards. I decided that I would make a sachet out of newspaper, which I knew would decompose quickly, put the shells in that, and then plant the whole thing in the pile so that as the newspaper biodegraded the small bits of eggshell would scatter and blend in. The sachet method seems to be a success. Here is the sachet at one month next to an older eggshell.

With the nice warm weather and spring planting season upon us, I started to wonder what we would do with the pile since I was still adding food, yet much of the pile was clearly ready for use. I mentioned this to my composting partner, a coworker on the building/grounds team, but he didn’t seem concerned. But, that is another story for another day. I’ll have more on that to come, with pictures, in another entry.

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And this finally brings me to the end of the 9 Changes for 2009 series! Coming up I’ve got tips for shopping used, price comparison on eco-friendly toilet paper (one of my splurges), my verdict of Siggs and Kleen Kanteens after a year of use, and, of course, the dramatic conclusion to my year of composting. What will happen to the pile? How will it be used? Will it reach a noble end? Will I continue to compost?

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Composting (From a Condo!)

The compost pile (hmmm…doesn’t look like much!)

Our compost crock

Since we live in a third floor condo, my husband wasn’t keen on composting at home. Then I found out they were starting a compost pile at work. Our building has a strip of forest on three sides of it, so we’ve got plenty of leaves and grass. Since the grounds team only has “browns” (leaves, grass clippings, etc.), I offered to add my food waste from home. We are going on our second month with this, and it is going great! To get started I needed a few things:
-Info on what to do
-Compost Crock
-Hand shovel (trowel)

I went to the library and check out several books on composting. My favorite was Composting by Liz Ball. My compost pile will be somewhere in between a simple pile (stack up yard waste and let it be) and a managed pile (yard waste, food waste, turned regularly).

The one thing we needed to buy was some type of container to hold the waste in the kitchen. We figured I would visit the compost pile only twice a week so the container needed to be smell-proof for the kitchen, but also leak-proof as I transport it by car.

As always, I looked for something around the house or from yard sales to repurpose first. With no luck there, I decided to check out the household section at Ross. Ross, Home Goods, TJ Maxx, etc. usually have a great selection of random containers. I ended up with a canister with a very tight fitting lid. (Bonus points for it being citron green which I am obsessed with.) A cookie jar would work to. Of course, you can always go commercial and buy a real compost crock with a smell-containing charcoal filter in the lid (Google compost crock for a variety of options), but I am too cheap for that!

So, armed with my $6.99 crock, the adventure started! Our rules are no dairy (save for egg shells) and no meat. These smell in a way that attracts animals we don’t want. We do have to think about the ingredients in leftovers. For example, buttered carrots can’t go in.

My job is bringing in the food, and my coworker’s job on the maintenance team is keeping me stocked with browns. He had the idea to cover the whole pile with pine branches. I have no idea if that is technically right, but to me I think that the prickliness of the branches and the pine smell both are beneficial for protecting the pile for animals looking for a snack. (Update- this actually is a HUGE hassle because now the pile has built up higher than the branches and when I dig down to dump the food waste I hit them and can’t get in very deep.)

Twice a week, I load my filled crock and trowel into the car and go to work (literally and figuratively). I like to rotate around the pile with my digging. I use the trowel to dig a hole in the pile, dump the food in, smash the food down a bit with the shovel, then load the dirt I scooped away on top again. Because I rotate around the pile, as of yet I have never found food added from a previous day. My biggest animal protection tip is to completely bury the food in the pile. Also bury flowers. If the flowers sit on top, it will attract bees.


This process takes all of five minutes twice a week and really doesn’t involve getting messy or even unpleasant smells. Two-ish months in and the verdict is that composting is really easy, we have much less household trash, and we have tons of warm fuzzies for being even more eco-friendly. I actually get giddy when I see worms in the pile and feel the warmth when I dig (both are signs of a healthy pile). Warm fuzzies, indeed!
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