Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Queen of the Compost Heap

When it comes to garbage and recycling, I can be a little neurotic. I hesitate to label myself OCD, and yet I definitely have my neuroses about most things "trash" related.

With our diaper days long behind us, our family of four now generates a modest 35-gallons of garbage (as in, that destined for a landfill) every two weeks. Try as I might to whittle that number further down, with holidays, spring cleaning, purging closets and what-not, I almost always manage to nearly fill our 35-gallon can by trash day. Though I'd love to be producing even less trash, I already drive myself - not to mention my family members - quite crazy with my militant recycling and composting rules.

In spite of my kids having been raised from day one of their lives knowing about the rules and importance of recycling, I am still forever fishing perfectly recyclable items out of our trash cans that they have wantonly tossed. I know it's a little nutty to dig an empty paper towel roll out of the garbage, but my conscience honestly can't stomach throwing away forever something that has at least one more incarnation left in it. And don't even get me started on throwing away food - that has spawned a madness all its own.

An example of this would be what I call my compost hierarchy.

When it comes to kitchen scraps, the order is this -

If the food item can be eaten by a chicken, rabbit or turtle, the critters get first dibs. I figure that I'll be getting this back for the compost heap eventually anyway, at least in the case of the hens and the bunnies, in an enhanced form, no less.

If it can't be eaten by the critters, and isn't meat, dairy or bread product, then it goes into the Worm bin (our "cool" compost pile*). We end up putting a lot of egg shells, onion peels (that chickens shouldn't eat), coffee grounds and spoiled fruits & veggies in this bin. (*We also have a "hot" compost pile, which I'll delve into on another day.)

If it can't be eaten by critters or put into the worm bin, it goes into what our city calls the "organics bin". The organics bin is largely responsible for our household's reduction in garbage. We're allowed to put otherwise uncompostable items like meat, dairy & bread products, as well as "food soiled paper"/aka drive-thru packaging, Starbucks cups, pizza boxes, paper towels, etc., into the bin. We also put undesirable yard waste like dandelions gone to seed and blackberry brambles into the organics bin, as the city processes the lot through a massive, high heat digester that can break down and combine all of these materials, rendering a "soil-like" product (their words, not mine).

The result of all these rules and sorting is that -

A) We have cut our landfill garbage contribution more than half in the past year.

B) Between free-ranging and supplementing with kitchen scraps, our animals eat better food and cost us less to feed.

C) We save a bundle by making our own compost.

D) We have begun a symbiotic relationship between our soil, plants and animals, along the lines of permaculture gardening, wherein we feed our animals and ourselves, as much as possible, what we grow on our own land. We use collected rainwater to irrigate, fallen leaves and needles to mulch, and chicken & bunny poo to fertilize the very same plants that will feed us all. The same is basically true for the chickens, we feed them, and they feed us, and on it goes.

So in the end, I really do feel like all of the nagging and uptight compost sorting is worth the trouble. My garden and critters are happy and well fed, and I shave a few bucks off of the garbage bill every month, but most of all, I have an easier time living with myself when I know that I'm doing what's healthiest and just plain right for the land and for the lives in my charge.


  1. That's incredible. So little trash!

  2. You are my hero! I do the composting but sadly that's all for now. very cool about your city's organic bins. I wish our town had something like that too.

  3. hi michelle- thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting! i answered your question there.
    my next project is a worm bin. so excited to see that you have one!

  4. Ok - I'm going to let my blondness out - what all human foods can you/should you feed to chickens? And how in the world does one go about starting a compost pile (what can go in it, in what order/layer, etc?). I'm tired of feeding the chickens $6 a bag

  5. My chicken's favorite kitchen scraps are bread (of course), rice, pasta, fish leftovers & skin, carrot peelings, greens of all sorts, seeds (I fed them all of the guts & seeds from our Halloween pumpkins), leftover mushy breakfast cereal, pretty much anything that you can either chop up small enough for them to swallow, or that is squishy enough that they can peck at it and get a bit. I try to limit their bready-type foods though, because too much starchy/sugary stuff can give them diarrhea. :( When they do get the 'rhea, I mix a little bit of plain yogurt into their rice or greens for a day or two and that usually fixes them right up. I also add a tablesppon of apple cider vinegar to their waterer every time I fill it, because just that little bit of acidity kills the "bad" intestinal bugs. ;)

    The only things that I avoid feeding the hennies are spoiled foods, "aromatic" foods like onion & garlic (because they can affect the flavor of the eggs) and rhubarb leaves, because they are toxic to all creatures, except slugs, apparently. ;)

    I'm going to write up a post - hopefully tonight - about the ins & out of the ol' compost pile. So, come on back, Lady! ;)

  6. I should also mention that I NEVER feed my chickens leftovers that involve chicken meat or their eggs, because it just seems wrong to me. :\