TELLURIDE – In the beginning of March, Yvette Henson from the Colorado State University extension office gave an introductory class on composting at the Wilkinson Library. The room was filled to capacity. From the discussion at the end of the presentation, it was clear that there were experienced – and quite innovative – composters in the audience. Henson started her presentation with a startling statistic: 75 percent of the stuff that is trucked to the landfill could be composted. We all know that landfills are running out of land to fill, so let’s do our part! I attended because I was hoping to find a solution to my own composting problem: a bear cub digging through yard waste and vegetable scraps while his big, fat, absolutely gorgeous mama watched from my entry deck. Part of me was in awe, but the other part was scared, very scared. I knew I would not want to meet mama bear when walking home at dusk. My compost heap was an open pile of carefully stacked nitrogen parts, namely leaves, deadheaded flowers, the occasional dead plant, vegetable peels and cuttings from the kitchen – usually green, moist, sloppy items – and carbon parts, such as broken down twigs and branches, dried up leaves, torn up newspaper and egg cartons (the dry, brown stuff). Sawdust or wood shavings would be good here, too, if you have them. I had done my homework and followed the instructions in Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening to the letter, watering the pile slowly on hot and/or windy days, so it would always be moist, but not wet, “like a wrung-out sponge.” I turned it occasionally (which is backbreaking labor!) and it worked. At the end of the season, I was digging out soil nice enough to sleep in. So all was well until baby bear smelled something delicious.
High-country composting rule 1: Do not put any fruit or vegetable scraps in your compost pile (or, if you must, bury them deeply in the middle of the pile). That leads me to Telluride resident Chris Myers’s ingenious composting method. He digs a hole in the ground right next to his house, dumps his vegetarian kitchen scraps in, covers the hole up again and walks away. The next time compostable stuff has accumulated in his under-the-sink lidded plastic bin (those plastic clamshells for organic greens in work great!) he digs another hole just next to the first one. Six inches or one-shovel-deep is enough, he says. When he has made his way down the length of the house, Myers starts again, from the beginning, finding only lovely, crumbly dirt.
Myers is certain that the residual heat from the structure and the rainwater/snowmelt dripping down from the roof help speed the process. Obviously, he isn’t overly concerned about getting the carbon/nitrogen mix just right. Tumbler-type composters would probably help with the bear problem as well – although, as Henson pointed out, everything that goes into the barrel has to be fairly small in size; turning the tumbler does not really mix up the stuff inside; more compost cannot be added while one batch is brewing (anywhere from several weeks to several months); and turning the tumbler is really hard work.
Maybe we are back to the 3x3-foot wood-slatted box… And here is another interesting tidbit from the class, for anyone buying compost for flower or vegetable beds: In Colorado, anything can be sold as “compost.”
Another reason for making your own.