Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Cold Climate Composting

As my friend Mort Mather says, the soil is your bank. You can't make withdrawals unless you make deposits. I get composting straw and manure from Nectar Hills Farm (where we also get the beef for our grass-fed gourmet beef jerky), which I mix with my kitchen waste to create compost that I then deposit into the soil bank so I can make fresh veggie withdrawals. Mort and I are both lazy gardeners, meaning we like to let nature do as much of the work as possible, and we just help her along.

Last winter, though, my compost pile (which, by the way, lowers my carbon footprint considerably, since that food waste won't decompose anaerobically in the landfill) froze solid, like a big block of ice. It was my first real winter after years of living in substantially warmer climates. This year, I was ready for these sub-zero temperatures. With a couple of bags of hay, some very dry, aged horse manure, and a lot of snow for insulation, I have built a very insulated compost pile.

Since I'm lazy, the pile is up against the foundation of the house, right at the bottom of the back stairs. I don't want to have to put on the snow shoes to compost all winter. This way, the compost is only exposed on three sides. On two of those sides, I've stacked flakes from the hay bales, creating a kind of straw bale shelter for the pile. The front is open, but held up about 18 inches with some chicken wire fencing, which I have now piled snow up against for insulation. The top of the pile is covered with snow, which I poured hot water down to create a cylindrical hole down to the top of the pile.

Now, when I want to compost, I just pour some fresh hot water down the hole to melt any new snow that accumulated, then I dump my compost bucket down the hole, layer some manure on top of that, and then a couple of handfulls of hay (or the cedar shreds I take out of our turtle cage when I clean it, which has turtle manure) down the hole. Come spring (or another thaw like we had a week ago) there will be a bunch of cylinders of frozen compost sticking up on the top of the pile. I'll be sure to take a picture of that scene.

But underneath all that lies the compost pile proper, where my probes have proven that composting is taking place, worms are thriving (future turtle food), and aerobic decomposition is reducing our carbon output. But the best part, of course, is that come spring, when I build some new raised beds, I'll have plenty of currency saved up for the soil bank!

Of course, if you have a little money to spend, I imagine a black plastic composter would use insulating and solar power to keep your pile going year around, unless you're above the arctic circle.