i went to a composting workshop sponsored by our city this weekend to learn how to compost. i was inordinately excited about this because i had halfheartedly tried composting before without any success. it's not terribly difficult but apparently there is a "right" way and a "wrong" way (or rather, a more efficient way) and i wasn't doing it "properly" which is why i was not having a lot of luck at it.
the workshop instructor called composting "nature's recycling program," because there are no landfills or recycling centers in nature to haul away the dead crap and waste. composting is just the process by which nature breaks down all the stuff it doesn't need anymore and transforms it into this nutrient-rich stuff called humus which is not soil but a very nice soil amendment. so it wouldn't be a great idea to fill my proposed raised beds (for my garden, i'm so coveting raised beds AHEM brian) 100% with compost, but mixed with other dirt it will be great.
compost needs four things: carbon materials, nitrogen materials, air, and water. carbon materials are "brown" things like dried leaves, newspaper, sawdust, coffee filters or tea bags, and dryer lint (!). nitrogen materials are "green" things like kitchen scraps, grass cuttings, coffee grinds, and fresh prunings. you need about a 3:1 ratio (50-50 at most) of brown things to green things. aha! my previous compost pile was mostly green things, which can make the pile kind of stinky and doesn't break down as quickly as if there were brown things in it. the instructor said to think of the green things as fire and the brown things as fuel: you can't have a really good fire without the right proportions of each, even though you might have a fire.
part of the composting workshop - and what really drew me in, i'll admit - was that every participant got a free composting bin and free compost. so there are two delicious bags of compost sitting in my garage (awaiting my raised beds, AHEM brian) and i set up my new free bin yesterday. i filled it first with some old trimmed branches (to create a nice airspace on the bottom), then with grass clippings, then shredded newspaper, and then watered it on top. the water helps sustain the decomposition process and has the nice side benefit of keeping the newspaper shreds from blowing away. then another layer of grass clippings, another layer of newspaper shreds, and a bit more water but not so much that the pile is soggy. i'll turn it (basically stir it up) every week or so and (supposedly) in a couple months i will have beautiful black compost for my raised beds! (AHEM brian)
again this was all sponsored by our city and i would bet it's not unique to us. another cool thing was that they subsidize the purchase of two fancier composting bins, this one for only $20 and this one for only $40. both have lids which would be wonderful for us as i do hoard kitchen scraps for our clean greens bin, but they can go in the compost pile. without a lid, i need to be careful to bury our kitchen scraps so we don't get rodents or yucky flies. i am coveting that bio-stack one.
you do not need a bin to compost; you can just do it in a pile in the yard. or you could make your own. be sure not to put "icky" things in it like pet droppings, diapers, or meat or bones; remember, you are (theoretically) using the compost to provide nutrients for your vegetable garden (AHEM brian), so you don't want that stuff in your food supply. more information about composting is here.
by the way, did you know that newspaper has a grain? this now makes sense to me - it's made from trees, and wood has a grain, so. if you tear your papers lengthwise, along the grain, they will tear into nice strips, but if you tear cross-wise they will just rip into chunks.