Monday, August 24, 2009

One thing for the planet: compost

I've been meaning to do a blog about compost and an eco-friendly backyard for some time. This week's Reduce Footprint's Wednesday Challenge finally got this out of my edit folder and into blog format. Thanks for the motivation Small!

There are many eco-friendly things going on in my small backyard. First of all is its size: the entire lot is 40 by 60 feet. My compact neighborhood fits about 15 families in the size of your average McMansion property. A small lot means a small lawn, which is a fescue and drought tolerant mix anyway. I don't water it. The brown spots in the picture below aren't from drought but because we've left items such as dive gear, surfboards, toys and gardening tools for too long on the grass.
The flowers are either drought tolerant, native or both. Sadly the garden was in full flower a week before I shot this picture from a second story window, now it's in a transition phase from day lily craziness to late summer sedums and black-eyed susans.

The Monsanto Sucks, Michelle Obama rocks organic vegetable garden is only watered with rain barrels that are against the house, see my April post about them for photos and how to build your own.

Then there's the clothes line and drying rack which I don't use as much as I'd like, but they do get used for cloth diapers every wash if it's sunny, the drying rack goes inside if it's rainy.

And finally, the compost pile. Can you see it? I didn't think so, look at a closer picture:

Still can't see it hidden in the back corner against my neighbor's garage? I didn't think so. So many people I know claim they don't have a compost pile because they're unsightly, or they smell, or they don't have the room, or they attract "vermin". Well, ours in none of those things. Even from a second story window you can't see it. The only bad smell is when the five gallon bucket we keep on the front porch gets too full and then we get a heat wave (yuck). We already have a few mice that live in the garage, which is OK with me, they're cute and amuse Jack the cat from his perch in our window. And we most definitely have the space, even in our tiny lot.

Compost is easy, a great way to keep trash out of landfills (once buried in a landfill your average squash will last decades) and the sewer system (food that gets down your disposal pushes sewage treatment plants to their limit) But, the best part is the homegrown garden gold you get in the spring! This spring I filled two fifteen gallon bins with compost from last year and spread it all over the garden and veggie bed. My plants are so much happier than last year when I was too pregnant to lift a shovel so I never reaped the benefits of our compost pile.

If you'd rather have a composter there are many for sale on the market, but they're not cheap. We just have a pile. It's easy to do. To start, dig a shallow hole and put your first batch of rotting organic matter in it (no meat or bones) and put a layer of soil on top. Every time you empty your bucket dig a hole into the middle of the pile, add your stuff and bury it. You can add grass clippings, weeds, whatever. Every so often my husband attacks the pile with a pitchfork and churns it up a bit. We even had garter snakes have babies in it two years ago taking advantage of the warmth! They were awfully cute and I don't consider them vermin at all.

For a much more in depth look into composting and a great how-to website visit How To Compost at There's even info on there to start a worm bin for those city dwellers with no yard at all.

I have an evil plan to start a clandestine compost pile behind the shed at my mother's Cape house. They don't have trash pick up so we have to haul all our trash home with us. It gets kinda nasty in the hot summer. My mother is one of those people worried it will attract "vermin". She'll never know it's there! It'll be our little secret.....

Happy composting!


  1. Kate, you are definitely inspiring to have that garden, the flowers, and the compost in a backyard that size. Congratulations on your ingenuity! Here in Bellingham I live in an apartment building and we recycle cans, bottles, plastic, paper, and cardboard. since I don't actually have a back yard at all, we are very careful not to put more than one sack of trash into the bin every two weeks. Everything else is recycled.

    If and when I ever get a yard of any size, compost will be there!

  2. I admire your dedication. I think a compost pile is an excellent idea. I am like your mother though with the vermin thing. I am terrified of mice. I know it doesn't make sense. I am lucky just to live with my bat. Snakes and mice have to find another place.

  3. Hooray for compost - our council gave out big black cones for us to make compost in. My cone is hidden behind a bush and really seems to get the stuff degrading well (as does a good dose of urine)

  4. Kate, I bow to your effort in helping our Mother Earth regain and maintain it's glory. If only everybody, would segregate garbages, compost all biodegrables and recycle non biodegradables, then maybe we would have zero waste which obviously cause harm to the ecosystem.

    My Father will admire you, like you, he compost everything, from veggie trimmings, to dried leaves everything which are biodegradable. And because he has a small garden, he compost in plastic bags, bottles, drums and made lots of garden soil out of it. BTW have you heard about garbology? It is an added program in colleges and universities here and it is becoming popular these days.



  5. Cow thinks vermin have a right to live and eat as well as humans.

    Cow always leaves any edibles out in her yard and they are always gone by the morning.

    Cow thinks the planet was intended for more than humans, and admires and applauds Kate's efforts.


  6. DJan: you could always start a worm bin. My brother-in-law has one in his tiny 3rd floor NYC apartment. Next time I'm there I'll take pictures!

    Rae: I forgot about your bat! Is he still living on your porch? very cool!

    Lulu: You are very lucky to have been given a composting cone. A few cities around here will give you one if you ask, we're pretty rural so I guess Ipswich figures you can just make a pile. You're right about the urine, that's the spot my husband picks when our one bathroom is otherwise occupied....

    AL: I would love to meet your father one day, he sounds like an amazing guy. I have not head of garbology, sounds like your country is ahead of mine...that is one useful area of study these days as we try to find more and more places for trash.

    Cow: Thank you for leaving nibbles out for the furry creatures. You are right that it is not our earth, we've only been here for less than a blink of an eye. I admire the horse shoe crab that been around for 165 million years. Too bad they don't crawl into your yard, you'd take them in for sure.

  7. What a great post. 'Small is beautiful' and your yard is (literally) living proof of that. I applaud you.

  8. I am a HUGE FAN of worm bins...

    Sunnye & The Worms

  9. Kate,
    Please stop by my blog and pick up an award.

  10. Topiary hosting a little worm-and-compost party tonight in honor of Kate's post...


  11. There is nothing like a good compost heap!! Seriously, we have a number of them, albiet crude in nature around the farm but suffice to say we have very little garbage ending up in the landfills or our septic system. If I need a good fertalizer I will dig some up and spread it around my plants - does wonders for them. People actually ask to take our manure for their composting needs. Great entry, keep spreading the word. :)

  12. This is a very good post. I am so glad that I came across the same.


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