Monday, November 21, 2011

The Master Composter- A Guest Post By Tim Evans

Today's blog post is brought to you by my husband Tim, the composting genius of our family.  I'm suppling the photos and a thought that in spite of my family's enthusiasm for collecting our kitchen scraps in a clear plastic container, I myself might have made a less transparent choice.

The Master Composter
by Tim Evans

Kitchen scraps festering on our kitchen windowsill, 2011.
Susan has written here about a fascinating program for becoming a Master Food Preserver -- a newly-revived certification process that not only teaches the arts of canning, dehydrating and preserving, but also spreads the word.

But I may have found a Master program that's even cooler.

Master... of Compost!

Yes, you can be declared not only an expert but an official "Master" of rotting food!

Our family only recently discovered the joys and excitement of composting and while a Master Certificate may not be in my future, I'm enjoying the process of Apprenticeship and look forward to becoming at least a Journeyman in the craft.

It began with the offer of an inexpensive compost device from the County of L.A.  In early summer we learned that we could get a really cheap piece of cool-looking gardening equipment, and all we had to do was show up at Griffith Park.

We drove to the location behind the L.A. Zoo and got an interesting lecture and discussion on Composting for Beginners. There were about 30 people in the crowd, with questions ranging from whether wild animals could get into the compost to whether you could add full baby diapers to your pile ("yes" to the first, "absolutely not" to the second).  We learned the basic concept of "50% Green, 50% Brown" - which is the ratio of vegetable matter to non-vegetable matter - and got tips on aerating.  Then we got in line to purchase the $20 Compost Machine, which looks like a large modified plastic trash can turned upside down.
Our composter ready and waiting for kitchen scraps in our backyard, 2011.

This entire program is run by the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation/Dept of Public Works, and is designed to promote composting and recycling.  In some counties, a similar lecture and the cheap compost machine are all part of the Master Composter program -- and lecturers fulfill their requirements for Mastery by spreading the good word.

Composting has now become a favorite family activity.  We fill up a small, clear plastic bucket with rejected vegetable matter every night.  Our girls originally had covered the clear plastic bucket with crayon artwork, but we eventually decided that the rotting material looked more interesting if we could see it.  Every couple of days the girls and I march the bucket to the corner of the backyard, where our Compost Machine sits.  One girl gets to carry the bucket, the other gets to pour it in.  Once the food is tossed in, the girls gather dry leaves from the yard ( the "50% brown" material) and toss them in.  Then Dad turns the whole thing over with a rake to aerate it.

And it's truly amazing to see the alchemical process that is compost.  We start out seeing the banana peels, the cantaloupe rinds, the salad greens and the sometimes-chewed-then-rejected broccoli in the plastic bucket.  We can see it looking all gross and the girls can give a delighted "Ewwww!" when we dump it in.  But then, over time, as we dump in more and rake it up, that rotting material has somehow mysteriously turned into something rich and dark.  At the bottom of the Compost Machine, a thick, crumbly material begins to grow, and the transformation of trash into earthly treasure takes place.  It will be spring before our compost is truly ready to be spread around, but our 5-year-old daughter has already declared it "the best compost in the neighborhood!"

And I've become increasingly impressed with the idea of a Master Composting Program, and L.A City's compost program.  Simply by offering a cheap and cool piece of equipment, the program has created a bunch of new urban composters.  I knew nothing about compost before getting the Compost Machine... but this city-funded, volunteer-supported program taught me some basics and made me an Apprentice.  My trash is no longer going into a landfill, it's going back into our garden.  Our girls are seeing dinner-table refuse turn into soil... that will create more dinner once we use it in our garden.

If you're interested in a low-cost Compost Machine and instructions in Los Angeles, check out the L.A. City site.

And if you're interested in earning that certificate that declares you to be Master of Composting, regulations and classes will vary from county to county, but one good place to begin is