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Composting > Compost Bins

Compost Bins

A note to the internet reader: In the the print-on-paper edition, this chapter and the next one on vermicomposting are full of illustrations showing composting structures and accessories. These do not reproduce well on-line and are not included.

Growing the majority of my family's food absorbs all of the energy I care to put into gardening. So my yard is neat but shaggy. Motivated by what I consider total rationality, my lawn is cut only when it threatens to overwhelm the lawnmower, and the lawn is not irrigated, so it browns off and stops growing in summer.

I don't grow flowers because I live on a river in a beautiful countryside setting surrounded by low mountains. Nothing I created could begin to compete with what nature freely offers my eye. One untidy bed of ornamentals by the front door are my bow to conventionality, but these fit the entrances northeast aspect by being Oregon woods natives like ferns, salal, Oregon grape and an almost wild rhododendron, all these species thrive without irrigation.

When I give lectures, I am confronted by the amazing gardening variations that humans are capable of. Some folks' raised vegetable beds are crude low mounds. Then, I am shown photographs of squared, paralleled vertical-walled raised beds, uniformly wrapped in cedar planks. Some gardens are planted in fairly straight rows, some are laid-out in carefully calculated interplanted hexagonal successions and some are a wild scattering of catch-as-catch-can. Some people don't eat many kinds of vegetables yet grow large stands of corn and beans for canning or freezing.

Others grow small patches of a great many species, creating a year-round gourmet produce stand for their personal enjoyment. Some gardeners grow English-style floral displays occupying every square inch of their yards and offering a constant succession of color and texture.

This chapter presents some of the many different ways people handle the disposal of yard and kitchen wastes. Compost making, like gardening, reflects variations in temperament. You probably weren't surprised at my casual landscaping because you already read about my unkempt compost heap. So I am similarly not surprised to discover backyard composting methods as neat as a German village, as aesthetic as a Japanese garden, as scientific as an engineer would design and as ugly as . . .

In my days of youthful indiscretions I thought I could improve life on Earth by civilizing high school youth through engendering in them an understanding of history. I confess I almost completely failed and gave up teaching after a few years. However, I personally learned a great deal about history and the telling of history. I read many old journals, diaries, and travel accounts. From some of these documents I gained little while other accounts introduced me to unique individuals who assisted me in understanding their era.

It seems that what differentiates good from bad reporting is how frank and honest the reporter is about their own personal opinions, prejudices, and outlooks. The more open and direct the reporter, the better the reader can discount inevitable distortions and get a picture of what might really have been there. The more the reporter attempts to be "objective" by hiding their viewpoints, the less valuable their information.

That is why before discussing those manufactured aids to composting that can make a consumer of you, I want to inform you that I am a frugal person who shuns unnecessary expenditure. I maintain what seems to me to be a perfect justification for my stinginess: I prefer relative unemployment. Whenever I want to buy something it has become my habit first to ask myself if the desired object could possibly bring me as much pleasure as knowing that I don't have to get up and go to work the next morning. Usually I decide to save the money so I do not have to earn more. En extremis, I repeat the old Yankee marching chant like a mantra: Make do! Wear it out! When it is gone, do without! Bum, Bum! Bum bi Dum! Bum bi di Dum, Bum bi Dum!

So I do not own a shredder/grinder when patience will take its place. I do not buy or make composting containers when a country life style and not conforming to the neatness standards of others makes bins or tumblers unnecessary. However, I do grudgingly accept that others live differently. Let me warn you that my descriptions of composting aids and accessories are probably a little jaundiced. I am doing my best to be fair.

Visual appeal is the primary benefit of making compost in a container. To a tidy, northern European sense of order, any composting structure will be far neater than the raw beauty of a naked heap. Composting container designs may offer additional advantages but no single structure will do everything possible. With an enclosure, it may be possible to heat up a pile smaller than 1' x 4' x 4' because the walls and sometimes the top of the container may be insulating. This is a great advantage to someone with a postage stamp backyard that treasures every square foot. Similarly, wrapping the heap retards moisture loss. Some structures shut out vermin.

On the other hand, structures can make it more difficult to make compost. Using a prefabricated bin can prevent a person from readily turning the heap and can almost force a person to also buy some sort of shredder/chipper to first reduce the size of the material. Also, viewed as a depreciating economic asset with a limited life span, many composting aids cost as much or more money as the value of all the material they can ever turn out. Financial cost relates to ecological cost, so spending money on short-lived plastic or easily rusted metal may negate any environmental benefit gained from recycling yard wastes.

Back to Composting

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