Sunday, February 24, 2008

Making life go 'round up North: cold weather composting

Sorry for the neglect of this site. Life is good. Life is busy.

But it's also good to take time to share.

There was some musing going on here previously about cold-weather composting. First, let me say that this is a much more beautiful subject than you'd tend to realize.

Consider this: it's classic "re-use" positive; reducing garbage collection and landfill hauling related truck emissions; reducing the same kinds of emissions for getting that bag of dirt you'd otherwise buy to you from wherever; eliminating the plastic bags delivering the goods in both those trips; eliminating the, what 7 bucks plus these days, it costs you per bag of store bought stuff; and coolest of all, you get to make life happen!! Of course, you're not making life totally from scratch. Little to any of that actually goes on these days though -- but still, it's pretty darned cool to take part in, and not having to change any diapers in the process.

Anyway, as I do tend, I digress.

Cruising around the net, I found a couple of basic principles for more successful composting in colder weather climates. It's been about 25 years since I had a great compost pile, and that was in a much warmer climate, several degrees of latitude South (with a quarter-acre garden set in an old cattle pen, and lots of critters to contribute nitrogen components, so perhaps my expectations are still too high).

The first thing I learned though, is that in colder climates, I've got to make the pile bigger than I have been, perhaps 5 feet by 3 feet in footprint. Tough to do in any urban yard, but it makes sense that you'd need that much mass to maintain the heat.

The second concept I realized I need to pay more care to is the Nitrogen to Carbon ratio. The general view is that it should be around 1:3. This is really basic compost science, but an aspect that's easier to fudge in warmer climates, and correlatively harder where it's foggy, wet and cool. The Nitrogen comes from household vegie and fruit scraps (no grease or animal product scraps like meat or fat though), critter poo (aka manure, guano, etc.), and green grass and other garden clippings. A little bloodmeal can soup up this side of the equation. On the Carbon side, we're looking at more dry tree and plant waste, like leaves, straw and dry grass (though I can't say I've seen much of that around here).

Here's a pretty good site for the subject:, where all of the more basic tips are reiterated about stirring, keeping the oily, buttery, animal fatty type stuff out of the pile, and with a great tip for us coasties, kelp! I hadn't thought of that. I'll have to try it.

Well, have fun -- go forth and create life from life, and more life from that life! Oh my, this all stirs lust for seed catalogues. Just 60 or so more days to spring... yaaay.


Beachcomber said...

I have a compost hole but, since it's on the north side and thus shady, it seldom gets much warmth. What I do have is vermiculture. My husband is constantly amazed by the amount of worms it attracts and breeds; I love the beautiful soil it produces. I don't worry about balancing anything. I put EVERYTHING in it, including a bucket or two of chicken poo when I tumble the dirt in the girls' pen and the seaweed I bring home when I hit the beach. Add that to my kitchen waste, leaves stolen from the neighbor's lawn and garden trimmings that the hens DON'T get, it seems to balance itself just fine.

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