The best way to describe my intent is "lazy housewife composting". And my question is basically: how to do it without adding woodchips.
The big thing that stands out: composting for me is not primarily about adding fertility, but about dumping my organic waste in my own backyard. I grow some fruits and herbs and perennial veggies in the garden, and they are doing just fine without compost, in fact without much care and attention of any kind.
I am a city dweller (Amsterdam, Netherlands). I have a small terrace garden of about 12 square meters, and we're a two-person household. We live on the ground floor of an apartment building in a pretty tightly built-up area of Amsterdam.
I have a well-defined plan to do my lazy housewife composting: I intend to buy a double-chamber insulated tumble composter (the Jora JK125), for several reasons:
* I won't have to periodically stir a big stinky pile of crap with a pitchfork
* I can add new scraps to one chamber while the stuff in the other breaks down into true compost
* I can hot-compost throughout our mild winters with quantities of scraps that would not stay hot in an open-air heap or box
* the neighbors won't see or smell things they will find revolting
I've previously experimented with vermicomposting using a wormery I bought from Original Organics. I tried a few approaches, I bought the booklet, I adjusted the wormery and my own behavior, and after two years I realized it was not going to work without adding woodchips. You really need those, for three reasons: to absorb excess moisture, to increase the carbon content, and to keep the scraps aerated.
(Even then, you can only add a small quantity of scraps each day, and the scraps need to be small or the worms and other life won't break them down fast enough).
The tumble composter looks like it will avoid all of my wormery problems, except for... the need to add wood chips. Tumble-composting your food scraps still requires you to add carbon, improve aeration, and drain or absorb excess moisture. Woodchips solve those three problems at once. I could use shredded paper (I used that in the wormery), but paper will not do much for aeration, and the result was the familiar slimy soggy mess.
The big challenge
It makes no sense in my mind to buy bags of woodchips. It feels ridiculous to go out and buy stuff with the exclusive purpose to mix them into my waste. I'm only doing the whole composting thing to prevent the needless transport and burning of our foods craps. It doesn't make sense to regularly go out and buy supplements in order to achieve that goel, and it doesn't fit particularly well with the "lazy" part of 'lazy housewife composting' either.
So basically I am looking for ways to aerate, dehydrate, and carbonate the scraps in the tumble composter. Without regularly buying external supplements.
For carbon and dehydration, I can use shredded paper. That helps reduce my "external" paper waste too. The missing piece of the puzzle is the areation. When the food scraps mixed with shredded paper are in the tumbler, they will tend to collapse into a soggy mass like in the wormery, or so I am told. Turning the tumbler will help a little bit, but the expert advice is not to rely only on turning for aeration.
The expert advice also has no other suggestion than to add woodchips. Which makes sense for everyone who truly values the compost as a product of the process. But not for me.
So what can I do to improve aeration inside the tumble composter, without regularly buying stuff to add to the compost?
Thanks for reading this far.
I've been following Jenkins' lead and do not turn my compost. I dump two five gallon buckets of kitchen scraps, then dump the chicken manure cleanings, then cover with straw; then repeat
I might get a bit further with the municipal government. Their tiny cars that do all kinds of maintenance are stored in a few locations near my house. If their lawnmowers take the mown grass back to any of those locations I might pick it up there.
The alternate layers of scraps / grass might work if I decide to fall back on plain open-air pile composting. I'll keep it in mind. Thanks again David!
Any other creative ideas out there?
Have you seen this: Green Cone Composter
You put your kitchen scraps etc in the top of the cone, which is installed in contact with the soil. Liquids leak down into the soil and solids are digested quickly by worms and bacteria. It needs no added extras and no turning/mixing aerating.
If you could locate it next to fruit crops such as trees or berries whose roots would then benefit from the nutrients being added directly to the soil, or you could plant comfrey around it and chop-n-drop comfrey leaves where you want added fertility in your garden.
This seems to fulfill your "lazy" requirement and it can take all kitchen scraps, including meat, bones, fish etc... From the blurb it suggests that you may need to empty it or move it every year or two.
In short, I think they can be a great system to use in a city but they still need a fair amount of attention to get them to work properly.
I would agree that perhaps trying trenching would be a good place to start.
From the FAQ that goes with the cone:
Can my Green Cone stop working?
Problems may occur if the advice on locating your Green Cone given in this booklet is not followed, namely:
- It must be in a sunny spot in your garden and not a shady area.
- The surrounding soil must be well drained and not heavy clay or chalk.
- The black basket must not be below the water table or in an area where water gathers.
If these instructions are not followed the digestion process could turn anaerobic (without oxygen) and the food waste will appear wet and slimy. The only solution is to reinstall your Green Cone in accordance with these instructions.
In periods of cold weather the digestion process may slow down due to lack of natural bacteria. This would be evident by the level of waste in the basket not decreasing. Under these circumstances the addition of the natural Green Cone accelerator powder should restore the bacteria population and restart the digestion process.
If your garden is small might it not be getting enough sunlight? When I ran a wormery I used cardboard from egg cartons to provide some structure for them.
My guess is that, unless you can get enough materials together to build a largish traditional heap, you will struggle to get good hot and fast composting. Our large heaps take everything, but they are 5ft by 5ft base, around 5ft high too. With plenty of grass clippings, hedge trimming etc... everything just goes in.
Even if you don't get hot composting though, with time everything will break down - it will just take 6 months or so instead of 6 weeks.
Somehow I didn't get the usual email alert about receiving a new message in this thread. So suddenly I see so many solutions. Thank you all for those!
Still, I don't think I've read an answer that helps me aerate stuff inside a tumble composter...
In response to the many constructive suggestions:
@MMitchell: I've looked up bokashi. It kinda fits lazy. But I'm not so happy about anaerobic fermentation, or about buying bokashi mix (let alone making my own). Buying bokashi mix doesn't seem much different from buying woodchips, except in weight and volume.
@Michael Cox: I had seen the green cone before. And it totally fits the "lazy" bill. However, we don't get enough sun (remember, we are inside a housing block, and the Netherlands is at Canadian latitudes). It will not work in the cold half of the year.
@Alder Burns: I've tried trenching. There was no serious smell problem. Neighbors didn't complain. But it didn't really fit the lazy housewife bill. Covering every load with a layer of earth was annoying. Besides, our garden is 12 square meters in area and only 40cm/1.5ft deep (it's on top of a parking garage).
@Patrick Mann: fallen leaves are not practical. We don't have much of them. Storing them is a problem in a small garden. Although they contain carbon aplenty, I am not sure they will aerate and absorb moisture as well as wood chips. Remember, I've got plenty of shredded paper for carbon and moisture absorption. I need something that will aerate. Leaves, I think, will quickly turn soggy and not maintain air bubbles inside or around them.
my experience and opinion of various tumblers has not been too great. not that they dont work at all ,but they've always taken far longer than other methods for me . their relatively small size doesnt seem sufficient to easily get the thermogenic process going.i ended up selling mine off.
best i could suggest to replace wood chips (which i agree is a silly and poor solution if not gotten freely/easily ) would be rolled up newspapers , or crumpling up paper balls and adding full sheets and bit of cardboard.
i also agree that the small stacking worm bins such as the "worm factory 360" that sell for upwards of $100 are highly inefficient and not worth the $ or time for the miniscule amount of castings they produce...
if its the only option i'd rather people make their own by recycling some free 5-gallon buckets . i keep a few such systems in the basement and they do work fairly well but as you point out,only limited amounts can be added. not nearly enough to keep up with what the 3 of us produce in our home.
since you do have a backyard though , i wouldnt count worms out so fast, you just need a larger wormery .
at present i do quite large-scale compost piles, which entails receiving dump-truck loads of grass-clippings,leaves,woodchips and horse manure. i "turn" it with a rototiller (it's only function for me) and heap it up with a pitch fork,its a lot of work! but i'm trying to build up lots of material for raised planting beds to do away with most of our lawn.
But all of our nutrient-dense kitchen scraps still go to my wormery..it needs to be a substantial size to deal with ALL of our weekly scraps, about 20lbs perhaps ,this includes some grass i mow here and most of our paper waste (junk mail, cereal boxes and such) the bin is a flow-through system, it is 2' wide 6' long and 4' tall with a false-bottom made of trimmer/weed-whacker line.... i used old cedar fencing to build it. it easily processes all i put in there,i could very likely feed it more. i started with 10lbs of worms maybe 2 years ago. the population in there now may be 50lbs+ i'd guess. i keep our scraps in large-size plastic coffee cans, with a snap on lid to seal in oder.when i have 4-6 i dum them in and add 2-3 paper shopping bag fulls of our paper waste,then cover that with garbage bags to keep in moister...within a week the top is covered in a thin layer of castings..it's the easiest no-fuss system i have ever used personally..no digging or turning or any real work to speak of once the system is established. and because it's 3' deep (1' space below for harvesting) there are almost zero worms in the harvested castings below,,what few there are just go into the beds.
it's certainly nothing pretty,but cost me $10 (for the trimmer line) and works great
many vermicomposters are now also turning to BSFL (black solier fly larvae) and say they can compost 10x faster..they kind of gross me out though so personally i'll just stick with the worms!