Saturday, August 16, 2014

Black Gold, at least I hope it is.

So, I've been piddling around with composting for about two years now. We've had the Tumbleweed compost tumbler for about a year and a half. I've harvested the compost approximately every six months, so we've had three harvests.

Here's the thing: I'm still not sure I'm doing it right.

I put in our vegetable-based kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, etc, and "brown" materials like leaves in the fall, shredded newspaper in the spring and summer. I turn the thing regularly. I'll admit I don't chop kitchen scraps or even yard scraps into tiny pieces to hasten the decomposition process--I'm just not dedicated enough to take it to that level, I guess. I don't own a compost thermometer, either.

And eventually, like today, I get some promisingly dark brown, earthy- (not nasty-) smelling stuff. It just tumbles out in balls--anywhere from little dime-sized crumbles to softball-sized or bigger clumps. I can manually chop them into smaller bits, like I was doing in this bucket, with this scoop. But I wonder whether the components have broken down sufficiently to benefit the garden where I spread them.

I'm not sure about the correct procedure for emptying the composter, either. My unscientific method is: unscrew both end caps, dump the stuff on the ground, rake it together and shovel it into a bucket, where I haul it and dump it wherever I want to spread it.

I'm sure I'm wasting at least a little bit this way. But I figure it might benefit the plants immediately surrounding the compost area.

Here's a recent new addition to my composting area--an open, wire bin. I'm layering green and brown materials here, too. The only problem with this, so far, is that it has attracted a family of mice, who are living under some railroad ties buried along the back fence. I don't so much mind these critters in my yard, but I bet my neighbors would. I don't want them in my house, though. 

I won't poison them--that seems overly cruel, and I've heard about the problems posed up the food chain to dogs and birds of prey. I'd rather not trap them, either, if I can avoid it.

I'm hoping that by starting the compost over in the tumbler, and letting the open bin rest with no new additions for a while, the mice will just find food elsewhere and decide to move. Any thoughts/suggestions are welcome!

Here's the inside of the tumbler, post-harvest. Clumped around the middle are bits of shredded newspaper.

Here's the empty veggie bed, awaiting compost.

And here's the newly added compost. Exciting, I know. 

I guess I won't know whether I'm going about this compost business the right way until I see what happens with the veggie garden this fall, after I've planted it (September) and given the plants a month or two to do their thing (October-November).

Any advice from fellow gardeners would be gratefully welcomed!


  1. It looks and sounds like you are doing the right thing(s) to me, though I'm no expert at composting. I always forget to turn ours and I know we have a raccoon visiting and "shopping" in ours as well as what might be scavenging rats. I keep thinking I want to get an enclosed bin (ours is open underneath which is where the raccoons and rats gain access) and reading about how yours is turning out has sealed the deal. Santa, are you reading here? All I want for Christmas is an enclosed tumbling composter. I promise I'll be good (or at least better). /TD

  2. You're doing the right things, I just think it takes time for it to ripen/mature. My grandparents have 2 compost beds, and I know they use a lot of grass clippings, and compost their food religiously. I think it takes about a year to fill one of the beds, and it's ready for the next year. They have great luck.

  3. I'm glad you're back in the groove of posting! Like Deb, I don't always turn my compost, but as the saying goes, compost happens, and I use it when it does. I've have mousies and ratties make homes in my compost, though not for a long time. The coolest thing that happened was that a large and quite beautiful bull snake moved in for hunting. That was a treat. You're wise not to poison them--the ramifications for raptors other predators is truly awful and it is a cruel death, even for a rat.