Sunday, November 08, 2009

Brown matter

No, this post is not about poop.

It's about creating a brown matter reservoir for composting. I just started composting last year, even though I've been married for 11+ years and we have owned houses for the past 9 years. It just seemed too scary and overwhelming, with all the talk about the proper balance of brown and green matter and turning and aerating and I just didn't do it. And then I decided that my lack of familiarity with composting was a pretty lame excuse and it was just time to start.

I'm a pretty laid-back composter. I simply toss any appropriate kitchen or yard waste into a pile, throw on the occasional shovel of dirt if I'm digging something up, and let it sit until it turns into compost. I don't worry about all of the fancy technical stuff. My method is often called cold composting. If you're more into composting, you can do hot composting, worm composting, and probably a lot of other kids that I don't even know about yet.

Our next-door neighbors gave us a tumbling composter last year, and that's been wonderful to have. It speeds up the process immensely, especially if you have the proper ratio of brown to green matter. 

So back to brown matter: it's nice to have a mixture of green matter (kitchen scraps, green lawn cuttings, etc) and brown matter (fall leaves, paper, etc) on your compost heap. But we've always had trouble finding enough brown matter except for the fall months when leaves were falling. So this year, we took apart an old chain-link fence that we're getting rid of and made part of it into a huge leaf/compost pile.

Eric cut the four posts out of the top rail (we have a metal cutting chop saw, so it's quick and easy to cut anything metal) and pounded them into the ground with a fence pounder (which we bought years ago for installing metal fence posts). That way they're pretty solid, but not cemented in. Which is nice because I don't want to have to dig them out if we want to move the pile! He made the enclosure about 10'x5'. He cannibalized other parts from the old fence to make an enclosure with a makeshift gate. Not fancy or pretty, but definitely functional. The leaves in our back yard went into the leaf container. The front yard leaves went into the street for leaf collection; we had plenty just from the back yard anyway. The leaf container is even fuller. After I took this photo, I did another round of raking.

And from a slightly different angle, here are our raised beds, which are on a sunny, graveled area in the back of our yard.

After my first year of vegetable gardening (we've always worked in France during the summers until this year), I have a better feel for how much of each vegetable to plant. Mostly I want more of just about everything. More beets, more kale, more peas, more carrots, more onions. more green beans, more tomatoes, more melons, more squash... One of the few things I might not grow next year is broccoli. Now I adore broccoli and I can't eat enough of it. But it takes up a lot of space and has a very small yield for all of the time and work involved. Anyway, I hope to double my garden space next year by adding a few more raised beds, tilling up some of the back yard that doesn't have gravel on it, and planting raspberries along the back (south) side of our garage. I also want to add fruit trees and fruit bushes next year: apple, pear, cherry, gooseberry, & red currant at a bare minimum.


  1. looks great!

    red currants...mmm...

  2. I'm jealous; we'd like to compost but are still renting and can't. But I was all ready for a good old-fashioned poop post!

  3. Wow looks wonderful!!

    We don't have enough land for a garden, but it is on my someday list...

  4. Thats cool, Rixa! Thankls for showing us that it isnt all complicated or doesnt have to be...maybe we will start one, too.

  5. Rixa, hooray! I love what you've done. :)

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  7. We've been composting for a while, but I've a similarly laid-back approach to it. Cold composting like that takes a while to finish, and you're right, our main problem is lack of year-round access to adequate brown material.

    We save our leaves too, and ask friends who do woodworking to save us a bag or two of sawdust when they can. That helps. I hear sawdust (from untreated wood) is also good for topdressing blueberries, which need acidic conditions.

    Have you considered activators? We are thinking about a tumbling composter and maybe even adding some biological activators, but don't know anyone who does this. Let us know if you experiment with it; we'd love to learn more about it.


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