My book and web site

Check out my book, The Sustainable-Enough Garden, available on Amazon, and the book's web site at See more plant photos on Instagram.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

It seemed like a good idea at the time

             Four years ago when coyotes started eating small pets in our town, I launched my misadventure with a plastic closed composter. My advice: don’t waste your money on this type of bin.
            My motive was altruistic. Wildlife officials pointed out that coyotes are omnivores, quite willing to snack on carrot tops or apple cores on open compost piles. I didn’t want to invite predators to my block by putting out a coyote smorgasbord of fruit and vegetables. 
On the prowl for watermelon rinds

            In November 2011 I ordered a black plastic bin recommended by a Master Gardener I’d consulted. It was a wide, bottomless cylinder about 3 feet tall, tapering slightly toward the top, equipped with numerous air vents and a locking lid. 
My compost bin was not unlike this one
Throughout that mild winter, I dropped plant waste from the kitchen into the bin, covering the scraps with a layer of dry leaves or paper shreds to provide carbon and to keep the compost from being too wet.
            As soon as the weather warmed up that spring, something chewed a hole through the back of the plastic bin starting at one of the ventilation slits. The hole gradually enlarged to a rough-edged oval around 2 by 3 inches. So now I was feeding a small animal—could it be a chipmunk or a rat?   
I never saw the animal that gnawed a hole in the bin
            I tried to block the hole by fitting a broken flower pot against it inside the bin.  The intruder just enlarged the opening.  Meanwhile, the rate of decomposition inside the bin was unimpressive.  The top level of scraps gradually dropped, indicating some progress (or prodigious work by rodents), but I certainly wasn’t seeing any “black gold.”  After eighteen months with no apparent compost developing, I gave up and stopped adding to the bin.
            Two years after I’d started, I lifted the black cylinder off the pile, revealing an uninspiring mound of hard half-made compost studded with undecomposed egg shells. I pulled out the egg shells and buried them in the nearby open compost pile. I plunged my spade into the remaining lump, and that’s when I realized that the bottom 3 inches was a mat of roots. I should have lined the bottom of the bin with landscape fabric. 
            So after two years, I had about a half bushel of black, dry, partially decomposed food waste.  It didn’t look like it would attract animals, so I chopped it up and dumped it in a corner of the vegetable bed, hoping it would do some good next year.
            This was a far cry from bin manufacturers’ bold promises of finished compost in sixty days!  I threw the smaller parts of the plastic bin in the trash but couldn’t fit in the main cylinder. That would have to wait until the Public Works Department came to pick up large items.  Even getting rid of the bin was inconvenient. At least I hadn’t attracted any coyotes.
            Tune in next week for a cheaper way to keep food waste away from animals.

No comments:

Post a Comment