The Big Dig

Today was such a gorgeous fall day and there were a million indoor things on my to do list so naturally I thought, “Hmmm…maybe I’ll work outside for a bit?”  Well, a bit turned into a whole morning of trimming raspberry canes and chopping barren tomato vines and eggplant stems and I finally did something I’ve avoided for a couple of years now – empty the processed compost out of the bottom of the bin.  It needed to happen to make room for our Halloween pumpkins.  How adorable are they?  Seriously – I love the way the contorted faces reveal their inner ghouls.  The one on the right even ate the lids of the others.

Halloween Gouls

We discovered our compost bin after a lengthy internet search and the best feature is that it works year round including through sub-zero weather thanks to an insulated sleeve.  It is a ‘Green Johanna’ hot composter from Sweden where they know all about cold winters.  Our hope was to compost 100% of our vegetable scraps and amazingly, we’ve done just that.  Although the instructions say it will do meat and cheese we’ve avoided it – an occasional egg scrap or baked goods with butter but that’s about it.

Our Green Johanna with rich compost coming out the side door

Amazingly, as the waste decomposes, the volume of the bin compresses and it seems like you can add scraps forever without filling it up.  This is perfect for lazy gardeners like me.  However, they recommend taking compost out each spring and fall so after two years it was long over due.  Although I love the idea of composting, each time I visit the bin with a new bowl of scraps it’s not unlike the feeling I get entering an outhouse – my senses are aware there are organic things afoot connecting me with my waste cycle.  A little nervous about what might jump out, I carefully opened the side panel but it was only dirt on the other side – a rich sticky soil resembling worm castings. I’d noticed the composter becoming more of a worm bin last spring and consulted with the fellow at the Carroll Gardens Greenmarket one Sunday who pronounced this beneficial – even ideal when this happens.  He also assured me the melon-sized clutch of grubs who’d moved in were also friendly residents.  I wasn’t so sure about that.  Worms I’m ok with – but grubs have a certain ‘ick factor’ closer to cockroaches.

Digging rich compost out of the bin

Timid at first, I cautiously dug out bits of soil.  Eventually I would be down on hands and knees, covered to the elbows with sticky compost like a six year-old making mud pies. I dug out about three cubic feet of compost thinking any minute the ceiling of material above would collapse on my arms but it didn’t.  A combination of archaeological dig and spelunking – pulling out the rich, dark soil was a thrill and I also discovered what’s not so popular on the invertebrate menu: avocado skins, fruit labels, pine needles, and anything that’s extra twiggy.

Rich worm-filled compost for the garden

Satisfied, I surveyed the growing mounds of nutrient-loaded soil covering the vegetable beds.  Our commitment to composting not only keeps garbage out of the waste stream but turns that garbage into beneficial fertilizer for next year’s vegetable garden.  Our neighbors are amazed when we tell them we don’t throw anything out (and I should add, also confessed after the first year they were wary it might smell and attract rodents).  Our small bag of garbage at the curb once rather than twice each week is a welcome sign we’re keeping our footprint small.

Maybe I’ll dig just a little more,” I thought, sticking my mud and glove covered hand deeper into unknown territory.  I could no longer see what I was hacking at with the trowel, but more good soil again fell down onto the floor cavity of the bin.  And then it happened, the contents started shifting and the first thing to fall was the clutch of grubs.  That was it for me.  Done.  I sealed up the side cover on the twisting mass and hosed off my gloves.  They could have the rest of the compost.  Until spring that is, when I’d be back.

More info about the Green Johanna:



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