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The House of the Lifted Lorax got a little publicity in yesterday’s Sand Springs Leader. The article isn’t online, but the lead story in the homebuilders’ guide that ran in yesterday’s paper was all about our efforts at sustainability here in Red Fork. The story starts with a well-written little riff about me turning the compost pile, and it goes on to talk about our chickens, bees, lightbulbs, solar panels, Energystar appliances, etc., etc., etc. It’s a pretty lengthy article, with several photographs (including shots of a CFL, an egg, a red wiggler worm crawling around on my hand, and two images — one color and one black and white — of me turning the compost while decked out in tie-dyed hippie regalia) and a list of tips for making your own home more energy-efficient.

If you happen to be in Sand Springs in the next couple of days, you might pick up a copy. The article contains lots of good information.

Emily

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There’s really no excuse for anybody to clutter up the landfills with perfectly good organic material. I started my first compost bin about eight years ago in a plastic tub under my kitchen sink in a small, second-story apartment, and I’ve been composting ever since.

Most people use one of two basic composting techniques: Thermophilic composting or vermicomposting.

Thermophilic composting works best when you have a backyard with a space roughly one meter deep and two meters wide. Start the pile with roughly equal parts “greens” (nitrogen-based materials such as fresh grass clippings, manure, or vegetable scraps) and “browns” (carbon-based materials such as dry leaves, dry grass clippings, or straw). Layer the materials so that you have a pile roughly one meter high, one meter deep, and one meter wide, with greens on the bottom and browns on the top, leaving a one-square-meter space next to the pile. Use a garden hose to moisten the pile to roughly the consistency of a wrung-out washcloth.

At this point, you can just leave the pile alone, and over time, it will break down. But a hot pile is faster and more fun to watch. To heat it up, simply aerate it by using a pitchfork to turn the pile, one forkful at a time, into the empty space next to it, adding water as necessary to maintain the appropriate moisture level.

If your brown-to-green ratio and your moisture level are correct, in a few days, you will start to notice that the middle of the pile is giving off heat — and if the weather is cool, you may even see a little steam.

The heat is produced by thermophilic, or heat-loving, bacteria that grow inside a well-balanced, properly aerated pile.

If you’re in an apartment or house without yard space, you can still make compost. You just need to get some worms to help.

To build a vermicomposting (worm) bin, take a good-sized plastic tub with a tight-fitting lid (10-gallon Rubbermaid tubs are great for this) and drill holes in the sides and bottom for aeration and drainage. Place a quart or so of kitchen scraps in the bottom of the tub. Add a small handful of potting soil for grit (this aids the worms’ digestion) and a layer of moistened peat moss, wood shavings, or shredded newspaper for bedding.

NOTE: I have not had good luck with cedar shavings in worm bins. They’re too aromatic for the worms. Aspen is a better choice.

Dump in a half-pound or so of red wiggler worms (it is VERY important that you stick to this species, as it is one of the few that can not only survive but thrive in a worm bin), put the lid on the bin, and place a tray under it to collect any excess moisture that drains out of it. It’s a good idea to elevate it slightly so it can drain properly into the tray.

Whenever you have vegetable scraps from the kitchen, add them to the bin, cover them with a layer of shavings or shredded newspaper, and spray thoroughly with the water bottle as necessary to keep the bin damp.

To harvest finished compost, simply move all the compost to one side of the bin and place a handful of vegetable scraps and fresh bedding in the other side. The worms will naturally migrate to the food, at which point you can take out the finished compost and use it to grow herbs and flowers on your patio.

Never place meat, dairy, or grains in your compost pile or bin; they tend to create problems with odors, vermin, or both. Also, manure is great in a compost pile, but DO NOT use dog or cat waste, as they yield potentially pathogenic compost that is considered unsafe to use on food crops.

If the pile or bin smells nasty, try reducing the moisture level and/or increasing the amount of “brown” materials, as odors are usually the result of excess moisture or nitrogen.

City Farmer has great advice on composting; click here for detailed instructions on vermicomposting or here for instructions on building a backyard bin.