Composting Yet?

My brother and I were talking on the phone the other day and he mentioned the leaves in his yard. He was going to take them to a friend’s house and dump them there.

“Start a compost pile,” I told him, for the millionth time. I try to persuade everybody to do it, but usually get few takers.

“Seriously, the leaves are good material and no one will even notice,” I said. He said he would think about it. Lol. Damn right he will cuz I’ll keep bringing it up.

So, while there is all this lovely organic matter just laying all over the place, pick a spot, rake a heap, add some rotten food and boom, baby, you’re a composter.

Let me know how it goes 🙂

Composting with Critters

If you read my posts on composting, you might think: “So, you have a big pile of food in your backyard, and a smaller pile of dog shit?” Yes, I do. I have seen some passerby look at it, too. But I don’t care. Call the city. I would fight them on this. I would even throw food in my yard right in front of you, if it came to it. Also, the piles are separate. There are so many good reasons to compost, but I don’t get paid to do research, so I won’t list them here.

The dog shit pile is getting much smaller because we only have one dog now. This dog, our thirteen-year-old Westie, is a crazy dog, and I wouldn’t recommend the breed to first-time dog owners.

He barks incessantly, especially if we aren’t following the “rules” of the house. It’s my house, but my mom lives here and so, in the mind of her faithful companion, her rules are to govern. (He WILL bite you for horseplay, even me, his favorite).

He, his name is Joey, disappears occasionally, to be found on the front doorstep. “What a good boy!” we exclaim. We praise his achievement, only to find later that he was gone for hours. Much later we find that he was playing at a local football practice, wandering around the vet’s office, or (about two years ago) impregnating the female dog of a neighbor. We had a good laugh with Roger (the neighbor) and good homes were found for the puppies.

Joey also has a problem with…overeating and throwing up? I don’t think it’s bloat related (something that I have researched, and that you can find here on the AKC website) because he has done it throughout his life and survives. We always fed our dogs separately, as a way to combat this, but he continues to do it. We joke that he is bulimic, but it’s really not funny (for either species). Well, since I started the pile of food in the backyard, Joey has had a problem.

Joey won’t stay out of that damn, rotting food. I don’t care what it is, he’s out there in it. He, like most dogs, stays away from the dog poop, but he just can’t help himself with the leftovers and has had several tummy aches over the last few years. It really worries us, as it probably should. I rub Joey’s stomach, pat his back, and try to get him to burp before he vomits. This has helped in the past, but doesn’t always.

Also, I noticed a small skunk rounding the corner of our shed the other night. Joey and I were on the screened porch, the door locked. Joey didn’t see it, so there was no problem. I love skunks and leave them to their own devices. Joey loves them too, but they’re not allowed to fraternize.

My point is this: dogs and compost don’t mix. In addition, expect other animals around the pile. The birds love compost, as well as chipmunks, squirrels, skunks apparently, and who knows what else? I suspect a coyote has come around once or twice and I don’t even want to mess with the raccoons. I need an inventive solution and I suspect some chicken wire will do the trick. I don’t want to keep the birds from their feast, however. The raccoons will probably be able to tear down whatever I devise, and the coyotes can just stay away. My main priority is Joey, who is aging and eats just fine inside.

Watch your dogs around piles of rotting food. They shouldn’t eat it for the same reasons we shouldn’t. And fights around the pile aren’t safe either (I didn’t even talk about wild cats, one of which injured Joey’s eye a couple years ago). Dogs are pretty tough, but if you do suspect something off-limits has been eaten, take a list (mental or physical) of recent compost items to the vet with you. Check out the information from the AKC website about bloat, a serious condition that I have never witnessed but have often heard stories. Watch for bloat in all of your bigger dogs, as the AKC article states, and in dogs that tend to eat quickly. Please don’t allow your dogs to eat items that are not compostable: such as plastic bags, candy wrappers, other trash that ends up in the pile, or anything containing residues of chemicals or poison.

IMPORTANT: COOKED BONES DO NOT GO IN THE COMPOST PILE. Cooked bones can shatter within the body of the animal that ate them. Please dispose of these in the garbage. Other than supervising your dog around unsuitable food waste, composting with dogs and other animals around should go off without a hitch.

A Composting Confession

My compost pile has existed for almost three whole years now. I feel relief thinking about all the food I am keeping from the landfill. I’ve even used the dirt consistently this year: filling holes, building up the land around my pile, etc. But now, I want to do more.

Recently, I’ve been taking multiple, full buckets to the pile. These buckets are filled with all kinds of fruit and vegetable waste, leftover pasta and pizza, coffee grounds, expired dry goods, and some paper products (I won’t lie, I threw some shrimp pasta in, too). I am picky about the cardboard that I add because I’m not sure which boxes are treated and with what, or if they can be composted naturally. However, I’ve been somewhat ambitious in resolving another problem.

From the beginning I was faced with a dilemma that any pet owner is all too familiar with: what to do with, well…dog shit. We are supposed to pick it up and throw it away, right? And I usually do that, unless the dog relieves itself in a hidden or less traveled area. But it appalls me to pick up dog poop with a little (sometimes dyed or scented) plastic bag, wrap up the bag and tie it, and then throw it into the trash can, destined for the landfill. How will it decompose there? How will the flies reach it, or the air? Or the sun and rain? What happens to the poop inside of the plastic bag after five, ten years? These questions are disgusting to ponder but entirely interesting to me.

I know it is not safe to add a large amount of dog poop to the compost pile. An instinct of some kind tells me NOT to do it. What is seeping out of the dog poop? Will it mix into the dirt that I add to the vegetable garden? For those reasons, I don’t put the dog shit there. I started thinking of a place for a poop pile.

New grapevine grows around and over my dog poop pile. A few vines stretch toward a blue-painted trellis (bottom right).

After a lot of thought (I’ve actually been thinking about this for years and years), I started putting the dog waste at the back of the yard, in a separate area, beneath an old grapevine tangle and some junk trees, eternal victims of the invasive grapevine. Its darker here and the weeds grow where they can beneath the grapevine. As of yet, no one has noticed the new cloud of happy flies and I’ve kept a few warm, plastic bags out of the landfill.

The thing is, poop has been decomposing on Earth for…..well, I’m not sure how long, but there has to be a responsible way to do it. I’m just trying to do what I can.

My Composting Journey

I want to start writing about my compost pile. What a topic, I know. But composting is something I love to do and now that I have had some success at it, I want to write something that I can read again one day, when I am no longer capable of traipsing out to the pile, a 5-pound bucket full of rotting food scraps in tow. I also have found a few interesting things, and I am sure I will find more. Hopefully this log will continuously remind me of all the glory in it.

So about two years ago I was reading things on Pinterest about composting. What to toss in, what to leave out. How to build a system for it. Ya know. Well, I became so excited. I come from a farm in Northern Illinois. My mother would toss things out, to the dogs, to the elements. My grandmother, who is originally from West Virginia, composted all of her vegetables by throwing them out the back door into the wooded area next to her house, which was in the middle of a nice neighborhood in Rockford, Illinois.

I wanted to compost! But we were renting a small duplex, in a small town in Southern Illinois. Our house was one of the first on the block, and there was not much of a yard or any trees to camouflage a pile of rotting food. Too bad, I thought. Mother Nature doesn’t care about curb appeal. So I started collecting some old food while I searched for a suitable vessel. I guarded the tomatoes carefully, and still do, because I once read that if not allowed to “breath” and decompose properly, tomatoes release methane gas. I would have to confirm this with some research, so don’t take my word on it. However, this scared me into putting my foot down and vowing to help all food that entered my house to leave it in a natural way.

I quickly spied a container for my tomatoes, and some old frozen hash browns, and a pile of newspaper. Our trusty neighbor Roger, who lived across an empty lot that occupied most of our block, had some old plastic bins sitting outside of his garage. When he got home that night, I asked him for the big, gray one. “Of course!” he laughed, before changing the subject to his new litter of bastard puppies. I scooped up the bin and brought it home. My “material” quickly went in. I placed the bin behind my house. It was one of the first things a person would see as they drove onto our street.

So it began! I was the curator of a plastic bin of rotting organic material and I loved my position. When it rained heavily, I would sneak to the back of my house and dump out some of the brown, smelly water. Flies buzzed all around me as I added all of the “green” and “brown” I could get my hands on. A lot of times, so no one would suspect, I would clean out my fridge on Wednesday nights (garbage pick-up is Thursday ’round here), and take the rotten spoils to the bin in the dark. In the hot, summer daytime, a stiff breeze would threaten to bring about the downfall of my whole operation.

The bin was full and heavy by the time we decided to move the hell out of there. We found a place with a great yard, one of our main wants in a home. On moving day, my husband and mother gave me pleading looks. “What do you want us to do with the ‘dirt’ you’re making?” they asked, fearing my answer.

“Well, I’m not leaving it behind,” I said, with a shrug and a sheepish grin. I had worked too hard on that compost to dump it out now and leave it behind. My dear, dear husband, lifted the smelly cocktail into the back of our truck and drove it the fifteen miles to our new home. I unpacked it first, sieving off some of the water before dumping the entire bin over onto a pile of brush and weeds.

I still have the compost pile and its bigger than ever. I’ve also still got that gray, plastic bin.