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  • Farmer Vin

The Composter

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

The BGG didn't have a composter when I came onto the scene and that really bothered me. As I mentioned in a previous post, the garden had a pile of garden waste next it, but not a specific area out of view where we could let it rot. There does exist a bin near the garden on the other side of the tree row where the DPW guys hang out on nice days during their breaks, but it wasn't being used for anything. So not wanting to let a good bin go to unused, I got permission from Mary Liz to move the pile into the bin.

During Manu's usual Wednesday work-day when he joins me in the garden, I told him of this new development and my intention to move the pile. Without more than a second of thought he enthusiastically volunteered to move it himself. If that wasn't enough when as he was about to leave for the day he said to me with a touch of warning in his voice, "Don't touch that pile, I'm going to move it."

Manu had to be firm on this point because he knows my propensity, or maybe a better term to use here is "compulsion", for doing other peoples' garden work when they leave. So sometimes when dealing with me, the direct approach is the best approach especially in telling me to back off.

That was about two weeks ago. As of today, almost all of it has been *moved, but even better, the dirt we got out of it is proving to already be super useful. Soon after, however, there came a development that may eventually compel us to move some of the waste from the bin into a new place so that it may break down under some different conditions.

Peter and the Composter

Peter is a definite proponent of the BGG and a good environmentalist to boot. I should also say that he's the Director of Energy Conservation and Sustainability on Westchester County Executive George Latimer's staff (you can see him here, scroll down to the first Peter you find). I've only met him once and that was at the BGG but it was a good meet-up. Poor guy, during our conversation I think he maybe got in two sentences with me as I breathlessly extolled the benefits of Giving Gardens and talked about Farmer Dave as if he shared a direct lineage with Mother Nature herself (which I'm not yet convinced he doesn't). All in all, I thought it was a nice conversation and he definitely understands the benefits of giving gardens.

This is our new composter. Garden waste goes in the top, and weeks later, compost will come out the bottom.

Even better Peter happened to have a spare composter and offered to donate it! Mary Liz with my enthusiastic blessing accepted the donation, and the next day he brought it to the garden when I wasn't there and left it for us just outside the garden fence. Being the supreme dork that I am, as soon as I heard news of its arrival I jumped in the ol' Subaru and broke about three local ordinances and a federal law getting over to the garden as quickly as I could.

There it was sitting outside the fence, a shiny new garden toy for us to play with. I started to imagine rich, fully broken-down black compost being taken from it and the sweet smell of soil in my hands. The future garden would be planted in black gold, the REAL black gold that is fresh compost and not that smelly viscous stuff that's ruining our planet. Soon after my moment of agricultural ecstasy subsided, I brought the composter into the garden and installed it tout suite.

Composter Design

The composter itself is interesting. It isn't necessarily the design I would have chosen, but it's pretty nifty and will do the trick. All a composter needs to be is a container into which you put stuff to rot. Ours is certainly that and it has a small opening in the bottom you can slide open to shovel out what should end up being rich compost.

The drawback to this type of composter however, is that you cannot easily move the compost around inside to mix it up. You want to do this periodically to aerate the compost which helps all the beneficial bacteria and fungi reproduce and eat away at the organic matter. We could churn it the way I do at home using a garden fork, but the issue here is that the the top opening is just a tad small for effectively churning the slop inside. Some composters are smaller barrels suspended on a spit that allows you to turn the compost using a crank. These are good for small amounts of compost if you have a small yard, and they do a nice job in producing compost.

On the other hand, the BGG's new composter has something those other composters (even mine at home) don't, which is direct access to the ground. Within our composter, there's no barrier between the matter being composted and the dirt beneath. This is good because it allows more bacteria and fungus from the local environment where the compost will be used to get up into bin, and it will provide worms and bugs access to aid in the breaking down process.

Animals can sometimes be a problem. So like most others of its type our composter came with plastic stakes to hold it down to prevent critters from pushing it over. Despite that built-in precaution however, I've a feeling that at some point I may need to take action to keep animals from digging under. For now nothing has gotten in.

Making Quick Use of the Bin and Composter

Peter's timing could not have been better. We ended up having far more starter plants than we needed, which frustrated me to no end because I wicked hate to waste good plants. Also it being the very beginning of June, the sun was hot and the plants were no longer happy in their little plastic cells. I had given a few tomato plants to the DPW guys (since I'm a fan of their work and figured they'd like some tomatoes this summer), and I took two stressed plants home to nurse back to health (so far so good), but I still had more plants to plant and almost no space in the garden beds in which to put them. Luckily we had about 8 flower pots that I could use as homes for our leftover plants. We also had some potting soil, a big ol' bag of horse poo compost, and (insert several ruffles and flourishes here) a good amount of dirt from our bin! Yes, our newly filled bin with dirt and rotting vegetation, we hadn't initially realized how much dirt was in the waste pile until we moved it. The action of moving the pile into the bin separated the dirt from most of the other stuff making the dirt easy to access and handle.

BGG -- Tomato plant in pot
Here's one of the tomato plants that was leftover. Since putting it in the pot, I pruned the two lower branches and now it's doing well.

Using a combination of the three components on-hand, along with some straw sprinkled over the top

to keep things nice and water-retainy, I was able to use most of those leftover plants. The remaining ones unfortunately died but it wasn't overly tragic because they were only marigolds and a couple of tomato plants that I don't think were long for this world anyway. On the plus side, had this happened a couple weeks before, they would have gone straight to our waste bin, which was already near full, but this was soon after we received the composter, so they became among the first bits to be added to it. In the end, the plants weren't wasted. Just sort of repurposed.

Aromatherapy in a Bin

For the rest of the season we will have two repositories for our garden waste, both of which will nourish next year's crop. The open bin will be good for holding overflows of waste that will go into the compost bin. As for the compost bin itself, I love having it in the garden itself because it makes getting rid of waste and monitoring its contents so much easier. Just the other day I gave our lavender bushes a much-needed haircut, the cuttings of which I threw into the composter. I also threw in some thyme flowers, and wilting mint that needed to be cut out. I can now say with pride that for the time being the BGG has the sweetest smelling and most aromatheraputic compost pile this side of the Hudson.

I've a lot more to say about composting, but I'll save that for a later post because there is indeed A LOT to write about it. For now I want to finish up by conveying a big thanks to Peter for bringing us the composter. It's yet another example of good people coming together and giving support to a much-needed and much-appreciated pubic project.

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