Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fertilizer Friday -- Composting Q & A

It's Friday, and that means a visit to Fertilizer Friday over at Tootsie Time.
Check out her blog party and see what other people have blooming in their gardens.

I wanted to wrap up my series on composting with my Q&A page. It has been quietly floating along, where I hid it among some old posts. But it seemed like the best way to finish.

As I started my series, I started getting some questions. I tried to answer each one individually, but I though I'd post all the questions, and my answers, here too. I will continue to update this with new questions I receive as I go along

What are the blue things in the barrels?

Although not really related to composting, several readers noticed and wondered about the gallon jugs that I have buried in my oak barrels. This was a trick I started last year. Diann saw it on a blog and showed it to me. I took a gallon milk jug and poked small holes in the sides, right near the bottom, then I buried them in the barrels with just the cap exposed. I fill the jugs with water and replace the caps. It takes several days for the water to leak out, so I have a slow-drip watering system that delivers water to the roots of my plants.

Do you just add the coffee filters and tea bags along with the used grounds and leaves?

Yes The coffee grounds and tea leaves are Greens and the bags and filters are Browns, but they all go into the compost pile. The paper wont break down quite as fast, so if you are in a hurry, you can always separate them or shred them, but I never have.

Will keeping the smell down prevent "critters"?

It won't completely prevent them but it helps to discourage them. Just like your garden, your compost pile is a source of food, so if you have backyard wildlife, they will be interested in your compost pile. But keeping the smell down will make it less noticeable to them. You can cage your pile in chicken wire, if you want. I haven't and I know they dig in the pile and find apple cores and things, but they haven't made any real mess or anything yet, so I just pretend I don't notice. If they become a nuisance I will come up with a solution. Given the choice, I would rather they dig in the compost than in the garden.

Do you blend your kitchen scraps or just add them directly to the pile?

Blending your scraps in a blender or food processor will break them down more quickly, and speed composting time. If you don't have room for a compost pile, some people will blend scraps and then add them directly to the garden.

Because I have so many used pine shavings in my pile, my composting will take a little longer than usual anyway, the greens always break down long before the browns, so I have never felt a need to blend them.

Another factor is the fact that my kitchen scraps sit for up to a week before the get added to the pile, so they have already started to break down before they ever make it to the compost pile.

Does it matter if I use coffee grounds that are not organic?

No it doesn't. This is the beauty of composting. You can add organic or non organically grown vegetables, fruits, and even coffee grounds to your compost pile. The multitude of little organisms, bacteria protozoa and other microbes that live and feed in the compost don't just break down the food, they break down any chemical that may have been on it. (Obviously if you dump gallons of chemical on your compost pile to prove me wrong, you will succeed in doing so.) So, as long as you maintain a healthy pit, and keep the "composties" happy, they will produce good clean, healthy, organic compost.

Is it safe to compost egg shells? What about e. coli?

Egg shells are kind of an oddity. They provide calcium, but they do it in such small quantities and over such a long time that they really don't release it in the compost pile. But that's OK, because compost doesn't really need calcium.
Remember, when you build a compost pile, you are not feeding your plants, you are feeding your microbes.

From what I can tell e. coli is rare in eggs, and when it is present in eggs it is in the yolk. If it makes you more comfortable, you can rinse your eggshells thoroughly before you put them in your garden.

Many gardeners keep their eggshells separate, crush them up as small as they can then add them directly to their garden. I throw mine in the compost, simply because I can, and that way they don't end up in the landfill.

Making an 8" diameter circle of crushed eggshells around the base of aplant, and sprinkling the inside with coffee grounds is said to be an effective way of keeping slugs off your plants. apparently they don't like to crawl over the rough surfaces. I haven't had a real slug problem yet, so I have had no reason to try this.

Composting Series:

Composting I -What is Compost?

Composting II -Getting Started

Composting III -What to Compost

Composting IV - pH

Composting V -Aerobic vs Anaerobic

Composting VI Using Compost

Composting Q & A

And now for a bit of current garden info.

Diann has been doing lots of outside projects this week, so I have been working outside a lot too. It's kind of like, I built a basic a foundation, with the main flower bed, the herb bed, and a few planters here and there, now she is building on that, adding touches of color, of whimsy, or creativity.

Watch her blog at The Thrifty Groove for some of the neat garden projects she has been working on lately.

The last two Saturdays at the Farmers Market have been kind of fun.
Not rolling in the cash by any means, but a chance to get out and meet some people, and share some information about herbs. It always makes me feel useful when someone has a question that I can actually answer.

The vegetable garden at Diann's Parents house is not going to materialize this year. We did get a little bit tilled and got a few tomatoes, some green peppers and some assorted squash plants planted, but nothing near what I wanted to get in.

Even after the water dried up, because it was such a wet spring, it has turned into an International Mosquito Refuge. Never have I seen so many mosquitoes. They swarm in hordes, flying in my mouth, my nose, my eyes, biting everywhere, through layers of clothes and I swear even through the soles of my shoes. (OK maybe not, but it seems like it.) I am extremely sensitive to mosquito bites and when I get them they swell up and about half the time they actually form a scab.

So I am not spending nearly as much time in that garden as I wanted too.

Anyone know any handy mosquito abatement tips?

So that's my weekly garden report. Here is our flower bed this week. Of course, you can see all my buckets and junk in the background, Diann always tells me to clean up my mess before I take pictures and I always forget until I see the picture and see all my junk.

Make sure you check out Tootsie's blog, to see what everyone else has blooming in their gardens!

~{@ @}~ ~{@ @}~ ~{@ @}~ ~{@ @}~
Be sure and join me each Tuesday for Tuesday Trivia Tie-in, where readers are invited to share trivia and show off their treasures.
Read all about it here


  1. Good Questions....Great Answers!

    Oh and Happy Birthday!!

  2. fun at the farmer's market i bet.

  3. I've been composting for a few years now and I still find the process amazing.

  4. aloha,

    every question/answer is fantastic,great compost post!

  5. I sure appreciate all your info on composting. I know composting is like having black gold and I am just getting started.