Posts Tagged ‘compost’

Green Gadgets: the Naturemill Composter

When I first saw this composter in an upscale catalog, I thought of it as a symbol of our shortcomings as a nation. Why, I thought, would any sane person spend hundreds of dollars to contain and electrify a natural process and pretend it’s “sustainable?”
Well, I was wrong. This is a neat solution for people with no room for a compost pile, but even for people like me who have a large yard and a compost pile, the Naturemill can become an irreplaceable link in efforts to live more sustainably. Here’s why:
1. The Naturemill is compact and energy-efficient. The maker estimates that it draws the same amount of power as a small lightbulb.
2. The compost reaches high temperatures, with the aid of thermophilic bacteria. That means that you can compost meat, cheese, bread, and other things that I would never put in my outdoor pile. Yes, I know that an outdoor thermophilic pile can compost these items, but I can assure you that in the time before it composts completely, it will draw rodents and roaches, even in an off-the-ground tumbler. I consider it unfair to yourself, neighbors, and the groundwater to try to compost these items outdoors in a suburban area.
3. Virtually any food waste item except citrus rinds and bones can be composted quickly and neatly in any quantity that a home kitchen is likely to produce. People with back pain or other problems that preclude managing a large compost heap can compost with almost no effort. It’s as easy as scraping plates into the garbage, and all you do is add some wood pellets (included when you buy it, and then you can use the wood pellets sold cheaply for fuel) and some baking soda. A concise booklet comes with the machine that’s full of good info about how to avoid problems.
4. Pay close attention here: it can compost pet waste at temperatures that make the finished compost safe. Nationwide, enormous quantities of dog and cat droppings are going into landfills or sitting around endangering the quality of water. There are communities where it’s illegal to put them in the garbage. So what do you do with them? I have been looking for a household solution for a while, and have constructed pet septic systems and every other damn thing, and this is the best solution I’ve found. I hope it goes without saying that you don’t keep it in the house if you are going to do this. The unit is well sealed and under most circumstances you don’t notice any odor when it’s closed, but if you are composting pet waste, there is an odor when it’s opened that is nothing like fresh droppings but which I certainly wouldn’t describe as pleasant. The finished compost smells earthy and like other compost.

The best commendation that I can make is that someone as frugal, thrifty, and outright cheap as me spent $400 for the Pro XE model and considers it money well spent. Read more about it at Naturemill. If you buy one, please let them know that Heather at My Urban Homestead sent you.

Organic Matters

The soil at our new house, like many urban soils, was unpromising at best. Rocky, compacted, and highly alkaline, the only thing that really wanted to grow in it was tumbleweed.  With compost, gypsum,  and sheet-mulching it’s already a lot better and improving steadily. Beginning gardeners may be amazed at the sheer quantities needed. To emphasize the point of using enough, I’m illustrating the winter Grand Tetons of my backyard, Mt. Shredder and Mt. Manure. It might look like a lot, but it will be gone by spring.  Over the winter I’ll gradually spread the compost and work it into the growing areas, and mulch paths with the bark chips.  If you don’t have room for big heaps, you can get compost in bags, but get plenty. Apply gypsum per the results of your soil test, and you’re set for a successful growing season.

Didn’t get a soil test? I have to admit that I didn’t either. On soil that hasn’t been gardened before, I apply gypsum according to the directions on the bag, putting a little more where I’ll be growing calcium-lovers like broccoli and spinach. I also use extra on the potato patch, to get the pH down into a range that the potatoes can tolerate. Where soils are acidic I’d be using lime instead, but our very alkaline high-desert soils usually need a dose of gypsum to make them liveable for vegetables. Then I put on a scientifically determined amount of compost: all I can afford. Unless it’s really well aged, I keep it off the potato area. Instead, I dig all my neighbors’ discarded leaves into that area. No doubt it leads to comment when I remove the leaf bags on the night before green waste pick-up day, but as I see it, worse things could be said about me, so I’m lucky if people are only talking about my leaf-snatching habits. Needless to say, nothing should be touched unless it’s set out by the curb for pick-up. When in doubt, ask. But there’s no reason to pass up free organic matter that others are trying to get rid of.  Think of yourself as the Guerilla Gardener, and you may feel dashing instead of disheveled and a bit silly.