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Good to Grow: A garden resolution to make compost – Charleston Gazette

Most people make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, to exercise, to save more. Mine is to make compost. Weird, yes, but compost has been a bone of contention for me.

Compost is great stuff. When properly made, it is fluffy and light and slowly releases nutrients to plants. You can dig it into beds or spread it as a mulch. Compost lightens clay soil and moisturizes sandy soil, increasing plants’ ability to withstand drought.

And, by making compost, you recycle waste: weeds, grass clippings, leaves and vegetarian kitchen waste.

A new startup in Huntington, Grassroots Organic Composting, will soon do this on a commercial scale. If only we had such a startup in each of our communities.

Years ago, my wonderful husband, Jerry, built two treated-lumber compost bins for me. Slats of treated lumber slipped into a channel on the front of the bins, which could be slid off for access to the pile. Lattice sides let air flow in.

The bins were side by side, so (in theory) it would be easy for me to turn the compost from one bin to the other to aerate the pile and speed up decomposition. It was grueling labor.

In the kitchen, we kept a 5-gallon lidded bucket under the sink. No meat scraps went in, but orange rinds, potato peelings, vegetables that had seen better days, all were added.

A 5-gallon bucket, we soon realized, was way too ambitious. By the time it was full, the contents were rotting. Who wanted to carry that mess to the compost bin and then wash the bucket?

I dumped weeds and leaves in the bin and our compost bucket waste, but, alas, I did not follow the rules. I was supposed to add two parts brown matter (dried leaves and weeds) to one part green matter (grass clippings, kitchen waste). I probably reversed that ratio, giving me a pile with too much nitrogen in it and a sour smell as the nitrogen converted into ammonia gas.

The uncovered bins also were likely getting too much water, which reduces airflow and adds to the smell. The smell, however, attracted raccoons and other adorable wildlife that pulled pieces of compost out through the lattice and left what they didn’t want in our lawn. Ugh.

For all these reasons, I gave up composting. But every time a gardening guest ate a meal at my house and asked to put table scraps in the compost bucket, I guiltily had to admit we had none. Ouch.

Last summer, I stopped at the Manna Meal garden in South Charleston, where perfect vegetables are grown in perfect compost. They have a roofed composting system, and the wonderful volunteers check the compost temperature, add the correct ratios of brown to green, turn the piles with a front-end loader and screen the black gold before adding it to the garden.

Impressive, but this system was way above my pay grade.

Visiting the Making Pitt Fit Community Garden in Greenville, North Carolina, run by my buddy, Joni Young-Torres, led me to a compost tumbler, a recycled plastic bin on metal legs with a crank handle. I tried turning the handle on a pretty full tumbler to mix and aerate the compost, and lo and behold, I could do it.

Joni suggested I get two of these, so I could fill one up to a weight I could still turn and then start filling the other one. It would be raccoon-free and a manageable size for me.

I put a Yimby tumbler on my Santa list. The manufacturer claims you can make compost in as little as two weeks. I also asked Santa for a small kitchen compost container using activated charcoal to keep the scent fresh.

Now Santa, a.k.a. Jerry, will kindly put the bin together, and if I like it, I will get a second bin. I’m determined 2018 will be my year of making compost (again)!

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