Composting – Sometimes sustainability is about sustainability

When I refer to sustainability on this blog, most of the time I am referring to your energy and the activities that fill or drain you. We recycle, save water, telecommute or carpool and much more to make the environment sustainable. Why not explore ways to make our lives more energetically sustainable as well? But sometimes sustainability is about sustainability – today we will focus on composting.

Ironically, one of the things that puts wind in my sails is environmental sustainability. A hobby that sustains me is making dirt. I know, I am a barrel of laughs, for sure. 

For those of you about to roll your eyes and hit unsubscribe, please hear this – for you, the point of this post is to hear that we each have our own quirks that put wind in our sails. Find out how to spend more time doing yours. If you don’t know what yours is, keep coming back – we will work together to find out what it is for you. 

For those of you who are all in on homemade dirt, let’s DIG IN! (Dig in? See what I did there?! I ALWAYS intend my puns).

Where this came from

Like all kids, I blame my parents. We had a compost pile when I was growing up. It was somewhat less trendy back then, but my mom was a middle school science teacher so weirdo experiments were status quo around our house. 

We had an amazing backyard of landscaping my parents developed over the years and a gorgeous garden. The compost we created nurtured both. 

Fast forward a zilliion years, and I am my parents age. I have reverted to using paper bags from the grocery store. Yes, we have reusable grocery sacks. However, we are also human and forget them sometimes. I also HATE to grocery shop, so I lean heavily on the shop-for-you service that does not have reusable bags. Paper it is. 

But I have a ton of them. Yes, I could take them back to the store for recycling. But I decided to use them to make more compost. Because real talk – the dirt in North Carolina in TERRIBLE. And by dirt I mean clay. We need amendments for DAYS. This gave me a way to get more amendments for free!

How I do it

I combine a few composting methods and incorporate the recycling of the shredded paper into that. 

1 – Shredded paper

You can use any black and white printed mail (plus those paper grocery bags) in composting, plus those paper grocery bags. I shred on a weekly basis and when the bag is full I put it in gardening shed or garage for use in composting. I add a layer of paper shreds to both my Bokashi bucket and compost bins in regular intervals. 

shredded paper
There is something almost meditative about shredding so it also helps my mental health. If it is year end file clean out (read: tons of paper to shred) or I am pressed for time, I pay The Girl to do it.
2 – Bokashi bucket

Bokashi is an anaerobic method of composting – a little different from the pile outside that we will get to next. We have a bucket with a lid in the garage that holds scraps. ALL of the scraps, even things that don’t go in the traditional pile. Think cheese, meat, fish skins… even bones. After I add scraps for the day, I sprinkle bokashi bran and press it down with a paper towel to get out any air. When the bucket is full, it sits for 2 weeks. During that two weeks I pour off “bokashi tea.” More on that in another post – you know how I like a cliffhanger story. After two weeks, I dump the contents of the bokashi bucket into the regular compost bin. Once the bucket is washed out, it is ready for the next round of scraps. 

3 – Composting bins

The bin outside is where the magic happens. There we have two bins that have traditional kitchen scraps and yard waste. Joe Lamp’l has a great resource on his website if you are just getting started with composting. Adding the bokashi bucket to our bins massively accelerates the breakdown that gets my homemade dirt to me faster. Patience is not my jam so I was super excited when I saw how much faster the decomp happened. 

Compost bins
You cannot see them but there are hundreds of fat and happy maggots wiggling around in this bin.

I turn and water the compost weekly. It is neat to see all the rolly pollys and maggots in there getting their work done. Apparently the weird science experiments don’t fall far from the tree. I am my mother’s daughter. 

After about 4-6 weeks (depending on which season we are in, compost breaks down faster in heat), the dirt is ready. 

What do I do with it

The dirt that is made is really pretty. Like the dirt I grew up with in Indiana. 

Side note: For those of you keeping score at home, here is a list of the things I mentioned in this post being excited about:

  • Making dirt
  • Shredding paper
  • Fast decomposition
  • Rolly pollys
  • Maggots
  • Pretty dirt

I am such a catch. Bixby is a really lucky guy. 

Basically from here the last step is distributing it around the yard. A thin layer of compost goes around bushes, in the garden and over areas I want to develop for planting in future years. 

I love that garbage we were going to throw out anyway can be made useful again. This can be morphed into a metaphor in life too. What garbage are you carrying around? If you set it down and occasionally turned it over to consider it, would it eventually be benign enough for you to use in a productive way?