Monday, 20 February 2017 00:00

At Kailash Ecovillage we make tons of compost with our large-scale compost system, so why would we choose to purchase a truckload full? There are several reasons.

1. The batch that we have at the end of our compost bin that should be ready is not. We have been putting so much material into our courtyard that by the time we get around to the other side, we find that it is not ready yet. This may be partially because we didn't chop in enough green vegetation in proportion to wood to chip, so it didn't compost as quickly.

2. I think we have become compost snobs! As we have continued to experiment with composting, a growing number of our members would like to start a new system to create a more perfected compost. The new system will probably be managed alongside the old one until we have a system we like better. Our old system was designed to process a large amount of compost with very little effort, which kept a lot of waste out of our waste bins. We would like to gear the new system toward making ultimate compost for our garden and not for just composting everything.

Here are some photos of our new "black gold" compost and our "old stickie" compost.


Wednesday, 09 November 2016 00:00

We are in the process of getting Humanure composting permitted in the city of Portland. At the ecovillage, we are working with Recode to create laws and codes so that everyone can safely compost everything we need to.

Our new Humanure Compound is completely sealed on the bottom with cement basins and drains. All of the liquid from the drains is caught and then poured back into the compost sections. The whole compound is covered and locked down with hooks and screens so that wildlife can't wander into it. At this point, we use the compost only on trees and ornamental plants and not on the vegetable gardens.

You can see our Lendable Loo toilet system in my previous article, "A Makeshift Emergency Toilet." You can also get an idea of our basic composting system in my article "A Large Scale Composting System."

Here are some photos of our humanure composting system.

Take a look at the video below for more info.




Sunday, 06 November 2016 00:00

Here at the ecovillage, we have gone through several types of composting systems, and have come up with a composting courtyard that works for us. We are composting kitchen scraps and garden foliage for 60 people, so we needed something that could hold a lot of compost and was easy to use.

Our current system is a courtyard of cement blocks. We have eleven sections of blocks that are around 6 blocks high and 3 blocks wide that are set up in a rectangular 3 1/2 sided courtyard. The blocks make it easy to take the compost out when it is done, as you can remove 3 or 4 blocks from any side for easy access.

Every apartment comes with a standard kitchen compost bin. When we have a full bin, we go down to the compost courtyard and pull a bucket from the clean stack, put a shovel full of wood chips in the bottom, pour our kitchen scraps in, put several shovels of wood chips on top, and then put a lid on it.

The buckets then pile up in the middle of the courtyard, and every two weeks a group of six to twelve people get together and process the compost. We pour the new matter in one of the empty bins, and layer it with chopped yard debris. We then change out the signs, labeling which bins are full, which are ready to harvest for use on your garden, and which are ready for garden waste.

We don't turn our compost; we just let it sit for several months until it has broken the larger bits down. In the past, we have had thermometers in the bins to see hot they get in the middle of the pile. The hottest get around 160 degrees. In the middle of winter, you can see the steam rising from the piles. This cooks and kills any pathogens, and creates a good soil base.

We have found this has been a good system for large-scale composting.

To learn more about our processes, you can watch the video below.


Thursday, 03 November 2016 00:00

Have you thought about what you would use as a toilet if the water system shut down? We have an emergency toilet system here at the ecovillage. It is a simple wooden box with a bucket inside and a toilet seat on top. The bucket has a bit of wood chip in it. You also keep another bucket of wood chips next to your makeshift loo, and a scoop so you can cover your deposits.

You can use the same system with two buckets if you don't have the wooden box or seat.

Many cities are now promoting similar systems for emergency preparedness like this one for Portland, Oregon.

Here are some photos of our Lendable Loo.

Learn more about our Humanure composting system.

Saturday, 21 May 2016 00:00

Saving kitchen scraps is a great way to enrich your soil through compost while reducing landfill waste. But what to use for your kitchen composting?

Kitchen compost containers range from less than $20 to triple digits. With all these options, it can be hard to decide what will best suit your needs without spending excess money. Regardless of specific needs, everyone can agree on a few basic principles: the container should be of adequate size to hold all your scraps for the amount of time you need to bring them outside, it should hold in odors, it should hold out pests, and it should be easy to clean.

Each of the composters I selected for my "3 best" made the list for very different reasons. I hope this will help you choose the best container best for your needs.

1. OXO Good Grips

I picked this up at Whole Foods for $20. Its small holding capacity served me very well at the time I bought it. It holds less than a gallon of liquid, which means more frequent trips. This can be annoying, but it also prevents buildup of bacteria and mold. The manufacturer claims that it is designed not to seal, which prevents mold, but any composter left too long will develop a noticeable odor. Its rounded interior makes cleaning much easier, as there are no corners where food gunk can get wedged.

I noticed a particular improvement on my previous containers, one of which was also nicely rounded but had a detached lid that I had to hold on to while shaking out the contents, and another with a filter in the lid. Many containers advertise a filter as a way to reduce odors, but I have found that they only absorb mold and bacteria, very rapidly becoming disgusting and requiring replacement. The little filter insert also makes cleaning the lid exasperating. Additionally, I noticed no decrease in odor using the filter compared to my OXO.

2. Nine-gallon paint bucket

Strikingly different from my first pick, the nine-gallon paint bucket recently supplanted my OXO as my favorite composting container. The only reason I didn't use in first place, and the reason I love it so much, is much less common usage. In addition to kitchen scraps, I carry my paint bucket around while weeding and while cleaning my guinea pig cages. It fills extremely fast (usually in three or fewer days), and much of the material is dry material, not prone to rapid molding, despite having an airtight lid. However, some of the material has enough odor to start with that a non-airtight lid is insufficient to block the smell.

I recommend paint buckets for anyone who accumulates unusually large amounts of compostable material within a few days. Owners of rabbits or guinea pigs should find it especially appealing, as you can easily tip their pellets into the large bucket. The cash drainer value is also quite nice, as most hardware stores will have them for about $12, lid included.

There are a few drawbacks, however. As previously mentioned, the OXO smooths its entire interior, so there are no corners to clean. A paint bucket has round sides, but the bottom is still flat, and it can require a bit more cleaning. You will also want to avoid it if you don't use it enough to empty it at least once every three days.

3. Countertop worm tower bin

My third and final pick holds a special place, as it goes beyond being a compost container and dives straight into the realm of the composting process. My tiny countertop worm bin is my favorite bin, but it requires a bit more work than the others.

I love this option for several reasons. As something you can assemble yourself for less than $5, this is the cheapest kitchen composting container you will find. I made mine with three plastic shoe boxes from a local dollar outlet. I made holes in the bottoms of the two top bins (you can poke holes with a nail, or burn them with a lighter—either way, use caution, and only do this if you're an adult) and in the lids of the two bottom bins, and stacked them. Then I emptied some shredded bills from my paper shredder into the bins, as well as coffee grounds and tea leaves. Then I added a handful of earthworms—you can order these online, or borrow them from your garden. One of the other reasons I love this is that it's a great way to increase your local earthworm population: as you keep them well fed, they will rapidly reproduce, and you can return many back to your soil. The "tea" that drips down into the empty bottom container dilutes nicely to make a great fertilizer. It is also fun to look at the worms in the tower.

There are a few drawbacks, however. First, I have yet to find anyone selling professionally-made mini-countertop worm towers. Because of this, you will have to make your own. The second drawback is that insects tend to hatch out of peels, etc., a problem that is normally irrelevant, as compost is emptied outside within days. With the worm bin, you introduce the potential to breed invaders inside your house. One method I found to avoid this was to boil or bake all my scraps before adding them to the bin. However, this was a huge amount of work, so eventually I settled on separating my coffee grounds and tea (which seemed not to carry any hidden eggs) into my worm bin, while putting the rest of my scraps in my paint bucket.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016 00:00

As California’s drought conditions and water usage limits continue, gardeners have discovered alternatives for making their gardens flourish. Composting is one such solution. Compost and fertilizer help make gardens grow healthy and strong, providing plants, flower beds, trees, and vegetable gardens a wealth of nutrition, even when water is scarce. 

Even someone who doesn’t have gardening skills can create a quality compost. It’s made using organic materials—plant and animal materials. Just about anything can be used as compost, including banana peels, egg shells, and even coffee grounds. These materials turn into humus, a sticky matter that improves soil condition and beautifies any garden. Weed seeds are sometimes introduced in composting, so gardeners should take steps to keep them out. Unwelcome critters and bad odors are another risk when composting, but can be easily kept in check. 

Mulching is the most popular type of compost, although it has its drawbacks. It must be churned every so often, which can be tedious. Still, it is rich in nitrogen, a necessary nutrient for plants. Mulch includes biodegradable materials, such as leaves, pine needles, straw, or hay. These materials should be allowed to decompose and soften before they’re added to soil. Gypsum is inexpensive and can help break up the soil. Other minerals can work as soil and fertilizer, and help balance mulch, although they can be harder to find and take longer to decompose. Soil amendments and fertilizer will improve the appearance of a garden and provide texture immediately.