Monday, December 1, 2008

The Circle of Life in a Compost Bin

Hard to believe now, but there was a time when gardening didn't interest me. I think it must have though - on a subconscious level - because I can think of instances that stick out in my mind that do have to do with growing things.

In 1987, Romie and I were fortunate enough to get to visit the pen pal from Switzerland that I'd had since 1969, when we were both 12. All through our growing up years, we'd exchanged letters and photographs with the hope of getting to meet each other someday.

We met for the first time in 1974, when my grandma took our family on a tour of the Alps for my high school graduation. Then in 1987, Romie and I spent a week with Therese , Hansruedi, and their three children at their home in Reichenbach (near Interlaken). We're still in touch, now through the internet.

There are three things I remember about that trip that have to do with gardening:

  • There was a caution about eating vegetables from the gardens grown that summer, because of the fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, which had occurred the year before.

  • I noticed all the gorgeous, colorful flowers that every house seemed to have growing and was told that in Switzerland, it was considered lazy if you didn't have them. I can tell you, there aren't many lazy people there! We even saw a dog house that had window boxes with flowers in them!

  • My pen pal had a compost bin.

I've seen many compost bins since then, of course, and it wasn't too long after I started gardening three years ago, that I decided I wanted one. I knew I threw away a lot of good stuff from the garden and we burned an awful lot of leaves in the fall. So building a compost bin was on the list of 2008 projects and earlier this year, Romie built a two-section bin.

We had a pile of compost we'd started the summer before and I didn't like the looks of it. To me, it was a big lump of dead stuff that was unattractive. Romie thought it looked just fine like that. "As long as it works," he said. Men.

It was originally supposed to have a divider for the two sections, but we've found that it works for us to have one big section and generally try to act like it has two. At the end of the summer this year, there was plenty of wonderfully black, crumbly goodness at the bottom to put on the garden where we needed it. We stirred the rest and by spring there will be more.

When we started shoveling the compost pile into the completed bin this spring, we came upon a winter hibernator. Now for someone who's absolutely terrified of snakes, Romie surprised me by picking this one up. His rationale? "It's just a garter snake." I can remember when we encountered a rattler while hiking in Arkansas a couple of years ago. He was so upset he couldn't drive the car.

This year, we had so much stuff from the garden and yard to put into the compost bin that it was overflowing and we had to burn some of the leaves instead of adding them to the bin. What did we put in it? Deadheaded flowers, dead plants, kitchen waste (no oil or meat products!), sawdust from my dad's woodworking shop (no black walnut dust though), leaves, grass clippings, and shredded newspaper.

It was nice to have compost so conveniently handy when we needed it. Not only does having a compost bin give us good nutrients to add to the garden, it makes me feel good to be a proactive part of the circle of life - returning to the earth that which came from it.


Brenda Pruitt said...

I found a small snake in the leaves while I was gathering them last week. Scared me to death!

Anonymous said...

That's a nice looking compost bin. I started a compost pile this spring and I've been thinking about building a compost bin for a couple of months now. If I could just lock onto one project I might actually get somewhere sometime.

I have a penpal too, she's from Japan. One day I'd love to go visit her, but she's come to visit the US twice.

jengod said...

Lovely bin. And I'm so jealous of your garter snake! :)

Amy said...

What nice big bins! I'm having compost bin envy - now only a fellow gardener could write that!

My husband spent some time in Switerland two years ago and came home with the most gorgeous photos of flowers!

Earth Girl said...

Yeah, Kylee! While the bin is nice, the black gold from it is even better.

Kylee Baumle said...

Brenda ~ I would be scared too, if I came upon one up close and personal like that. Romie found this one first and then showed it to me. Isn't he cute? :-)

Cinj ~ I'm ADD when it comes to a lot of things, too, and the garden is definitely one of them.
So have you met your Japanese pen pal then? How long have you been writing?

jengod ~ I get excited about garter snakes, too!

Blossom ~ Compost bin envy! LOL! Oh believe me, I totally understand that!
Switzerland is a beautiful, beautiful place. I hope to return there some day!

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

Very nice bin. I bet the snake was warm and snug there.

Anonymous said...

That is a very productive looking bin. It looks easy to use too. Very nice

I like your story about a pen pal. After reading your blog for a long time now, it doesn't surprise me that you would be so faithful in things. It just shows on you. Beautiful at everything you do.

TYRA Hallsénius Lindhe said...

That is what I called a nice looking compost, I would very much like to have one of those. I have snakes in my garden as well and every time I encounter one I jump high up in the air sceaming.....I do not like them one bit!/ Tyra

Lisa at Greenbow said...

That is one big bin Kylee. I am envious of the black gold you harvest from there.

Robin's Nesting Place said...

No snake is harmless if they cause heart attacks! LOL

I like your compost bin.

Shady Gardener said...

Kylee, Great compost bin!! I've composted for about a "billion" years, now. I'm kind of lazy about it... turning it once or twice during the warm seasons. But it still works! BTW That's not a garter snake in your photo... could it be a Brown Snake?

Naturegirl said...

Now that is the BEST compost bin I've seen! So fortunate to have the space to build it..I am sure your garden benefits greatly! Kind hearted man giving the snake a chance to get on.

Kylee Baumle said...

Earth Girl ~ It's amazing what all that stuff turns into! And it actually smells good!

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom ~ I'm sure the snake was cozy. It was actually in the compost pile that had sat all winter before the bin was built. I wonder if we'll get any this winter.

Anna ~ Oh gosh, Anna, what nice things for you to say! But you would be surprised how many things I've started and abandoned. I'm ashamed to have so many! There are at least five "open" projects I have going right now and I don't know if I ever will finish them, although I hope to.

Having pen pals when I was a kid was something I really enjoyed a lot, and I continued to do that as an adult. I'm not in contact with very many of them, sad to say. I still write (online) to two of them - Therese in Switzerland and Elaine in Australia.

I've had pen pals from England, Lithuania and Estonia (both still part of the USSR at the time we began writing), France, Germany, The Netherlands, and Denmark. I learned a lot about so many different cultures and when Lithuania declared their independence from the USSR, I got to hear about it firsthand.

That pen pal eventually immigrated to the US and she and her family now live in Chicago. I was her contact person in the US, just in case immigration needed the name of someone here. I never was called. They later came to visit on a Sunday and we spent a wonderful day with them. I'd like to get to Chicago to visit them there one of these days.

Tyra ~ I rarely see snakes here, though I know they're plentiful. I was excited to see this one!

Lisa ~ Some good stuff comes out of that bin! :-)

Robin ~ True, that! My son-in-law Adam is terrified of them. All you have to do is TELL him there's a snake nearby and he gets very upset. He doesn't even have to see it.

Shady Gardener ~ I don't turn ours very often either. During the dry summer, I kept forgetting to water it now and then too, but we still had some pretty good compost.

Thank you for your ID on the snake! I know next to nothing about them and Romie and I both just figured it was a garter snake, since they're common around here. But you're right. After looking, I think it's one of the two kinds of brown snakes we have around here. Here is another photo of the snake with me holding it.

Naturegirl ~ My husband is quite handy! My dad is, too, and I've told people I don't think I could be married to someone who wasn't good at fixing and building things, because I got so spoiled growing up having a dad who could fix or build anything. And yes, you're right - he's got a very good heart. I'm so blessed!

Lythrum said...

I think that is so awesome about your pen pal. I always wanted to have one, but the few that I got always petered out and stopped writing. And I do love your compost bin. Mine is a very small black plastic one from a catalog. I figured I'd start small and work my way up. :)

Cindy Garber Iverson said...

I'm so glad you posted this with photos of your bin! We're getting ready to construct our own that will have very similar dimensions as yours. I like the hinged front on yours and really appreciate the idea.


Anonymous said...

Have you had trouble by any pesky critters climbing into the top and snacking on all of your compost?! With a property that size I don't blame you for wanting a bin that size.

Kylee Baumle said...

Lythrum ~ I know exactly what you mean about the pen pal thing. I've had many that have gone by the wayside, too. :-(
How do you like your small composter? I always wondered how those might work. How long does it take you to get usable compost?

Cindy ~ It seems to work well for us. Notice that the doors don't go all the way to the bottom, which helps when taking compost out. It doesn't all spill out. I'll be anxious to see your new bin!

Terra backyard composters ~ No, we haven't had a problem with critters. Not so far anyway! Just the little snake this spring, and that was in the pile we had before the bin was built. Now when you say critters, which kind did you mean? Mice? We have nine cats and the neighbors have a couple, too. ;-)

Barbara said...

Wow Kylee, you were afraid of the so called "garden snake" as I am when seeing the fieldmice running in my compost bins ;-) !! By the way I had to smile about the sentence, that there weren't many lazy people in my country with regard to the flowers they have in front of their houses. That was a good joke ;-). But it is true, still now a lot of houses in the country (especially farmhouses) have flowers outside the windows (mostly pelargoniums). But when visiting Austria and Germany you'll see the same.
Thank you for leaving your comment! Have a good time, Kylee!

Kylee Baumle said...

Barbara ~ Hi Barbara! Oh, I wasn't afraid of the snake at all. I think he's cute! My husband is the one who is afraid of them, but for some reason, this one didn't bother him a bit.
Yes, I did notice that homes in Austria and Germany had lots of flowers as well. Almost everywhere we went on that first trip in 1974 was that way (France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and Luxembourg). We were just in Switzerland and France in 1987 and for France, we only traveled through the eastern edge by train, from Bern to Basel to Luxembourg.
We had such a good time on that trip!

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Great post! I love my compost piles and the snakes that live in and around them. I don't pick them up, but my son does if he gets a chance to.

Your compost area is prettier than mine. LOL

Muum said...

I can get very excited about compost, myself ! We have been 'shopping' the neighborhood for bags of leaves. I just leave them in the bag over the winter until I have some grass, etc to mix in with them in the spring, summer. People are surprised and happy thatI am willing to take those bags o'leaves away. I am surprised they don't use them. mmm. compost - black GOLD!

Anonymous said...

It's wonderful making your own compost. I'm going on my second year, and I've found the more often you turn it, the quicker most of the pieces break down. However, sometimes you just have to let it sit for a month to give things a chance to really decompose - and to give your back a rest from all that shoveling!

Kylee Baumle said...

Sue ~ So snakes are a regular inhabitant of compost piles? Cool!

Muum ~ That's funny, because I told my neighbor to dump his grass clippings in our compost bin rather than burn them. At first, he thought I was a little crazy, and then I explained. LOL

Jason ~ My husband does most of the turning, and we neglect to do it as often as we should, but it doesn't seem to matter a whole lot. I don't care if it is totally broken down before I incorporate it into the soil. If it's close, it still works!

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Yes, snakes are here in Nebraska, anyway. I am like you, in that I don't wait for the compost to completely break down before using it.

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