Friday, October 21, 2011

Composting: It's Not Just for Yards Anymore

So many of you may have noticed, I live in France (yes, croissants, cheese, yada yada). Up until a few weeks ago I lived in Paris in a tiny apartment with a little ledge of a balcony (I wouldn't even call it a balcony). Now we live in Marseille, on the ocean (whew!) but we're back to no-balcony status, just an extended window-sill. The point is, no yard. And we're nowhere near even thinking about yards, though I do swoon when I see pictures of homes for sale in the area that sit on their own apple orchard... apple cider? Apple pie! Cinnamon apple muffins. Oh, I could love me some apple trees!

But I digress. As a transplant from Portland, Oregon and a lover of the Earth, I've been dealing with an "issue" for a while which is the following: how the heck do I compost in my small place? I used to be able to throw my goods into my big black bin in the corner of my backyard where it would happily decompose thanks to worms (and my plants sure did love the result). But now this is a near-impossible feat, as there isn't any room for a bin and the thought of having the worms in a bin in the house... with a cat who would surely get into them and leave us with worms all over the house. (This is the cat who, one night, was able to open our aquarium, eat 13 small shrimp and almost close it back up completely - we were never the wiser until we realized that a shrimp rapture probably did not happen. Horrible.)

So, how do I compost without worms and without a yard? Is this even possible?

Well yes, yes it is. And as a benefit, I have a window ledge and that appears to be just enough space to work this out. So let's learn a bit about composting!

First off, you need to build or buy your "box". It doesn't need to be a box per se, but a suitable container that can close effectively and has ventilation. Any container you're not using would work just fine (bonus if it's clear - it lets the sunlight in even if it is closed), as long as there are holes in it and it will be convenient for you to "turn" it (basically, stirring it). For a smaller home bin a small shovel (think the kind you might use at the beach to make sandcastles) would be great, very small compost bins would do fine with just shaking the bin/box with the lid closed.

For what goes into the compost bin: there needs to be a balanced carbon to nitrogen ratio, which means you'll need to layer "brown" materials (like straw, shredded paper, wood shavings and/or dry weeds, etc) with your "green" materials (vegetable scraps, green weeds, etc.) and garden soil or finished compost. The pile needs to be kept damp and under the sun! If it gets stinky, stir it up! It will help aerate the pile with oxygen. Adding lime is a good trick to keep smells (and insects!) at bay.

Layer up your compost bin (the base should be soil) and make sure it sits under the sun or near a sunlit window. Heat speeds the process up! As you keep adding to your compost pile you'll find which things decompose quickly and which don't, allowing you to change your levels of brown and green materials to encourage decomposition.

Voila! Be patient. In time you'll have a rich soil that will be perfect for your herb seedlings!

Good luck and happy composting!

photo credits: Ellen Levy Finch, Pfctdayelise

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