It is estimated that landfills are made up of nearly thirty percent yard waste and discarded food. We are a throw-away society and it is shameful that more of us do not utilize this free source of garden amendments.
Composting is not a mysterious process and just about anyone with a little bit of extra space can succeed. This series of articles is featuring the Toter Composter, but if you understand the process, a self-contained unit isn't required to make your own ‘black gold'. The Toter Composter is totally BPA free, so the compost is safe to use on edibles and in vegetable gardens.
Compost is simply decomposed organic matter and is beneficial as a soil conditioner and fertilizer. It loosens clay and adds organic matter to sandy soil. It enriches depleted soil and adds bulk and tilth. Soil enriched with compost retains water better and is usually attractive to earthworms and other organisms. Many products and containers are on the market that makes this process easier and faster and there are a number that do the job well. However, even a pile in the corner of your garden will produce good compost.
The Toter composter looks like a large trash bin. There are several upright composters on the market, but the unique lower holding area and trap door make this unit different. The trap door on the bottom makes this a continous-feed unit. This means that you do not have to wait until your compost is 'cooked' before you add more material.
The handy 'recipe' inside the lid gives your proper proportions of green and brown material to add. 'Browns' are carbons, such as dead leaves, dry grass, and dry plant material. 'Greens' are nitrogens and will be moist. Kitchen scraps, prunings and fresh plant material are all good examples. Two buckets of 'browns' to one bucket of 'greens' is the proper percentage of material for this unit.
The Toter has a wire divider and an aeration chamber. This lets finished compost drop into the holding area and allows for proper ventilation of the composting material. With the barrel type composters, you must let the compost completely 'cook' before you can start a new batch. This one is advertised to be continous-feed, so you can add material to the top layer while older material is composting on the bottom.
Finished compost drops into the holding area and you simply open the door and scoop it out. The unit has wheels and a handle so you can roll it to wherever your compost is needed. I'm anxious to see how well this works.
The unit comes with a handy kitchen bucket that is ventilated and easy to clean. It takes one bucket of kitchen scraps for every two buckets of dry material. I had banana peels, lettuce leaves, kale, potato peelings, eggshells, (crush them before adding) and coffee grounds, including the paper filters.
I added a layer of brown yard waste over the wire divider and then my kitchen scraps. Do not mash the material tight. Air is an important part of composting and you should leave some space for it to circulate. Your compost will reduce between 50 and 70% as it decomposes. The larger pieces of the dry 'brown' material will help the air circulate.
It was time for my ornamental kale to go. It had been attractive all winter, but I wanted to make room for spring plants. As you groom your garden, save any plant material that you pinch or prune. Dead-headed flowers are another good compostable. Weeds are ok to compost, but remember that if weeds have gone to seed, that weed seeds can survive high temperatures, so the compost heat may not kill them. Pull those weeds early!
I pulled the leaves off the kale stalks and chopped the stems. Smaller pieces compost better, regardless what unit or method you use. There's a couple of corn cobs in my mix too and they probably won't break completely down, but I was curious about how much they would, so instead of chopping them up, I left them whole.
Another layer of yard waste finished the ingredients for the day. I even pulled some especially productive henbit that was taking over my front bed and added it. Composting instructions encourage you to dampen the pile if you feel that you don't have enough moisture. It shouldn't be wet, but should have the consistency of a wrung out sponge. I had a bucket of rainwater with some algae starting to grow, so I used that to dampen everything.
Instructions encourage you to place your unit in a sunny area to take advantage of the sun's heat. Compost actually cooks with temperatures at about between 120F to 160F (48.8C to 71.1C) if properly managed. It should take between 4 and 6 weeks for the first compost to start to fall into the holding bin.
I'll be back with an update in about 5 weeks!