Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Successful composting in the suburbs, Part 2

I am so sick of seeing the likes of this:
A League City grocery store, pic taken within the past few weeks.  Apples, oranges, squash, tomatoes - you name it, straight into the trash.  It's a twofold atrocity - first the fact that the stuff is wasted by lack of human or animal consumption, and second the fact that the stuff is totally wasted by not composting it.
That is money being thrown into the trash above.  Pure money.  It is organic matter that represents a sequestration of energy, and every form of energy has a price attached to it.  And at long last, people are starting to wake up to the magnitude of that squandered energy and the profit that could instead be made from it.
Economist featured a high-tech solution in this article (may be paywalled depending on who and where you are).  Screengrabbed from Facebook.    
Screengrabbed from a New York Times article published yesterday.  Once again, the aim is to turn the food into compost to be sold, i.e., for money.  
The potential for profit is not just limited to the institutional realm - it can also be realized on a much smaller scale.  In 2012, I published "Successful composting in the suburbs", which showed how I used a crappy five-foot building setback to house my Earth Machine which generates high-quality compost that I'd otherwise be forced to purchase at ten to fifteen bucks a bag.
Here's the picture that tells the thousand words.  There is very little trick to composting, supposing you follow a few simple rules as I described in that post.  You throw pretty much everything non-protein-based and non-fat-based (except St. Augustine clippings) in the top, wait a few months, and then you shovel really good compost out of the trap door in the bottom.  Greater Houston's subtropical climate, with its heat and humidity, is superbly suited to the biological process of composting.

Good compost is extremely expensive to buy, and every homeowner needs it.  Even if you don't grow fruits and vegetables as I do, you will have raised landscape beds somewhere around your suburban dream home.  You won't realize good plant health unless you augment the soil with compost.  Synthetic fertilizers are not capable of adding necessary organic bulk to your poor quality Houston clay gumbo soil.  And mulch alone tends to suck too much nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes.    
As thoroughly disgusted as I am with every useless leaky rain barrel I ever bought, I can't tell you how pleased I've been with the Earth Machine.  The design is really optimal and it has withstood a lot of my abuse (such as me repeatedly hacking away at the inside with a shovel, trying to carve compacted compost out of the interior).

My only problem at this point is that my gardening and landscaping endeavors have expanded to the point where I need at least one more Earth Machine for the volume of organic waste I am generating, and Earth Machines aren't easy to buy.  They are available through Amazon (what isn't?) but as of this writing, the price was four times what municipalities typically charge when they host mass distribution events.
Unfortunately I accidentally missed the last City of Houston distribution event, which reportedly was held in late 2013.  Wildly popular fellow Houstonian Blogspotters Two Men and a Little Farm were wise in purchasing two at one time.  Screengrabbed from one of their posts.  
Of course there are other devices on the market and other ways to compost, but I'm hesitant to mess with success (especially after my rain barrel debacle).  I lined the underside of my Earth machine with metal hardware cloth, which has proven effective in keeping rodents and opossums out of it.  Very often when municipalities do distribution campaigns, they offer both rain barrels and composters...
Old City of Houston announcement, screengrabbed from this site
  ...however when the City of League City did its recent campaign, for some reason they chose to distribute rain barrels only.  Maybe next time they'll do both, which would bode well for conservation PR especially given the failure rate of rain barrels versus the near-automatic success of composting.  LC guys, make a note for future reference - the Earth Machine is a good product.  Please choose it for your next campaign.

For those of you who are not familiar with the logistics of composting, typically what happens is that you combine both non-lawn-grass yard waste with kitchen waste.  You can accumulate your kitchen waste in any kind of bug-proof container, but the best option I've ever used is this attractive "cookie jar" type offering from Delafield Pottery, shown here in the center of this countertop grouping.  Every few days, you just walk your kitchen scrap bin out to your composter and dump your fruit and vegetable waste, rinse and repeat.

I designed my kitchen (especially the backsplash) around my existing stoneware collection which was hand made by a very skilled potter named Marilyn Farrell of New Brunswick, Canada - I used to import the stuff and she'd personally pack and ship it to me in big wooden crates.  Unfortunately Ms. Farrell passed away in 2007, and there my collecting ended.   However, Delafield uses a number of glazes which coordinate quite well with my existing collection, as this photo indicates.

Delafield sells out of the Clear Lake Shores Farmers Market and other locations.  Mr. D. has mentioned to me that, when he Googles his own products, my blog posts show up prominently in his search results.

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