Moving the Compost Bin

Last week we had some warm days and I moved my compost bin. It is so hard to turn the whole bin of material adequately, that it’s better to just move the bin periodically and get a good mix of the materials (and take the ‘finished’ compost out for other distribution). The stakes that I’d used to hold the cylinder of rigid plastic up were leaning toward the center too. I decided to move the bin just a few feet away on a bare patch of dirt – still under the red maple.

I got side tracked looking at the haze of yellow in the forest: spice bush in bloom.

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And the baby ferns in the mossy area under the deck.

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And a shell that had collected some water (probably need to turn it over so it doesn’t become a mosquito nursery).

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And some robin nests (neat enough to be from this year) on the deck support beams.

I pulled the stakes out from inside the bin - then lifted the plastic and repositioned it. I put the stakes back in using some branches from the brush pile to cross brace too. Then the material that still needed to decompose was moved with a pitchfork to the newly placed bin. Lesson learned: pine needles and egg shells take longer to decompose than kitchen scrapes and shredded leaves/paper!

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I found something that had sprouted in the compost as I spread the compost from the bottom of the bin around under the red maple in front of the brush pile. Maybe a beet top from last fall’s harvest?

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Spring Cleaning – Outdoors

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It’s still a little cold to be out and doing big projects in the yard but we’ve made progress on a few this past week. They were the ‘easy’ projects. We took the lawn mower for pre-season servicing at the local hardware store first.

Then we planned to take my daughter’s old bicycle (not ridden for over 10 years) to donate. It had been on the covered part of deck out of direct weather but still exposed to temperature changes and some moisture during blowing rains. My husband discovered it was coated with green dust/slime when he went out to walk it around to put in the car. We decided to wait until we could clean it off.

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A little water and some rubbing….and it looked much better. It got donated the day after I cleaned it.

Then there are projects that I’ve just identified and am waiting for a good day to get them done – like cleaning up piles of tulip poplar seeds and leaves that the wind had blown into corners of the deck and moving the compost bin to allow a thorough turning of the compost still ‘cooking’ (and distribution of the compost that is at the bottom and is probably ‘done’).

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The hardest projects are where I’ve identified an issue but am not sure what to do yet. The most challenging is an area of our backyard that used to be very grassy but the record rain we gotten over the past year has washed away the grass and it’s now a small muddy stream. Maybe the grass will recover as the weather warms. If not, I’ll probably be looking at rocks and water loving plants for the area.

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Gleanings of the Week Ending March 2, 2019

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Good News for Eastern Monarch Butterfly Population - The National Wildlife Federation Blog – Now to sustain the improvement into a trend….and stop the decline for the western population.  

Joshua Trees Could Take 200 to 300 Years to Recover from Shutdown Damage | Smart News | Smithsonian – A very sad result of the shutdown.

Physician-targeted marketing is associated with increase in opioid overdose deaths, study shows -- ScienceDaily – Hopefully with the opioid crisis getting more attention…the targeted marketing is reduced or eliminated. The study used data from before 2016. Things have gotten a lot worse since 2016 but maybe there is a lag between prescription opioid use and opioid overdoses.

Rocking Improves Sleep, Boosts Memory | The Scientist Magazine® - A research topic….and maybe a trend in new bed purchases.

America colonization ‘cooled Earth's climate’ - BBC News – More than 50 million people died and close to 56 million hectares (an area the size the France) they had been farming returned to forest. The drop in CO2 is evident in Antarctica ice cores and cooler weather.

The World’s ‘Third Pole’ Will Lose One-Third of Ice by 2100 - Yale E360 – The Himalayas and Hindu Kush mountains are the source of water for nearly 2 billion people. The region has lost 15% of it’s ice since the 1970s. The current estimate is the river flows will increase until 2060 (flooding) but then will decline. There will be more and more bare rock rather than snow covered rock.

Oregon Launches First Statewide Refillable Bottle System in U.S.: The Salt: NPR – It’s starting with beer bottles. Reuse is better than recycle is better than landfill. If given a choice between buying something in glass or plastic…I choose glass.

BBC - Future - The ‘miracle mineral’ the world needs – Phosphorous. Thermic compost piles rather than mineral fertilizers. It’s economical and environmentally a better way.

Top 25 Wild Bird Pictures of the Week – Raptors – As usual – great photographs of birds from around the world.

What happens to the natural world if all the insects disappear? – Big perturbations of food chains. The article ends with a question: If we dispossess them, can we manage the planet without them? It would be a very different planet.

January Composting

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Egg shells, apple cores, popcorn (the kernels that didn’t pop), a potato and collard stems…not a lot to go back to the pile these early weeks of the year. I picked a sunny day earlier this week to take what I had collected from the kitchen. I put on my boots since we’d had enough rain, I expected it still might be muddy in places. As it turned out, it wasn’t that bad, but I tried to stay on the grass as much as possible.

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After dumping the fresh stuff, I used a pitchfork to turn the pile the best I could. There are a lot of pine needles and leaves…no need to add ‘browns’ right now. I can add all the food waste I generate until spring and just turn it under. In the spring, I’ll move the bin to a new place and put the parts that haven’t totally decomposed yet to it while distributing the compost around the yard.

In the Fall Yard – November 2018

We finally got some vivid leaf colors in the trees behind our house. The usual vibrant yellows of the tulip poplars were almost missing since those leaves turned brown quickly before they even left the big trees this year.  The pines were shedding some needles too.

A rain came, and a lot of leaves fell from the trees within a day or two of achieving good color. I let the leaves dry for a day or two then went out to rake. The temperature was in the 50s and the sky was clear. The trees still had a few leaves…but most were on the ground.

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My plan was to rake leaves that were on grass into areas where deep shade prevented grass from growing. The area between the compost bin and the red maple and then back to the forest is a great location for piles of leaves from the rest of the yard.

I didn’t put any more leaves in the compost bin because they were just raked…not shredded. I discovered that a lot of the pine needles had fallen with the rain, so I got a trash can full of them and put them into the compost. How nice to have pine scented compost!

Composting at Home – October 2018

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After 3+ months of use my compost bin no longer looks pristine.

I have started piling small sticks around it to cut down on the rain drop splatter from the bare soil under the red maple. The maple roots are very dense and close to the surface…the shade very deep…nothing grows very well there and the soil is eroding down to the maple roots. It has been a good place to put the bin and I’ll leave some of the compost in place with sticks to hold it ---- and hopefully encourage more vegetation to grow. The brush pile is having that effect further down the slope.

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We are just beginning to have leaves on the ground – oak and sycamore mostly.

I’ve been using the leaf blower in reverse with a bag attached to catch the lightly shredded leaves. The process works best when the leaves are dry (a challenge recently with all the rain we’ve been getting) and on hard services like the driveway, street gutters, and deck. I’ve discovered that a little shredding goes a long way speeding decomposition.

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I typically add the veggie scraps from the kitchen on top then turn some leaves over it. Recently I’ve had more because fall veggies tend to have seeds and skins compost. I’ve also admitted to myself that I don’t eat nearly as many potatoes as I used to.

Even though we’ve been getting rain, the compost probably needs to be watered to ‘cook’ as quickly as possible. The shredded leaves can absorb a lot of moisture, so my plan is to add water with every bag of leaves. The hose barely reaches from the faucet to the compost’s bin location. I’ll have to think about where else I might put it that would be easier to reach and not too close to the house.

Ferns under the Deck

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Our deck is over a story off the ground and it always in deep shade. I planted some Christmas fern a few years ago and it is almost overwhelmed with the splash from between the decking above. I think this is the first place I will put compost (as mulch) when it is ‘done’.

I thought he shade would be ideal for the fern and that it would propagate itself. But the muddy mess is not good for anything growing there unless I can find a way to improve the situation. Having mulch instead of mud should be an improvement.

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On the other end of the space under the deck there is some moss growing and maybe some little ferns. I’m not sure. I’ll spread some around them when I disperse my compost. The deer don’t seem to be bothering them so far.

Fall Yard Work – Part II

The rain held off last week, so I got 2 rounds of yard work. I’ve already posted about the first one. The second round started with me taking the kitchen scraps and a torn-up pizza box back to the compost bin. I noticed an Eastern American Toad on the way back to the front of the house. I managed to get close enough to get a picture of it with my cell phone before it hoped away.

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I finished getting the day lily leaves cut from the front flower bed along with some weeds; that totaled about half a trash can full.

I decided to try the leaf blower to collect and slightly shred leaves. It worked great on the drive way and the gutter at the street but just OK on the front yard. Some of the oak leaves on the yard were too damp to be picked up easily. The leaves from the bag the filled up the rest of the trash can to go back to the compost bin. At the compost bin, I mixed everything up and made holes to connect the layers with the pitchfork…then watered the pile since I wasn’t sure how soon it would rain again. Cardboard and paper shreds soak up the water and help the compost ‘cook.’

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The next activity was picking up sticks from around the oak tree; it self-prunes so there are always sticks around it. I collected an armload of sticks and took them back to the brush pile. I don’t put them in the compost because it takes so long for them to decompose without somehow reducing them to small pieces. One stick had a flower like fungus growing on it.

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I took a closer look at the oak tree trunk again and discovered a largish ant. I think it is a False Honey Ant.

The highlight of the morning in terms of wildlife started out as a mystery. I was looking at the lichen on the oak tree and noticed a piece that moved! It wobbled a bit but stayed on the trunk. When I put a leaf in front of it, the movement stopped completely.

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I’ve marked the first picture. Can you see it in the others? It is a lacewing larva! I’ll be looking for these little critters from now on. They have great camouflage.

Fall Yard Work – Part I

Yesterday I got a head start on fall yard work. My first target was the front flowerbed with common milkweed (no caterpillars left) and lots of day lily leaves. I took a before and after picture. It’s not entirely cleared yet but the bird bath near the porch is more visible. I tried to leave the black eyed susans to finish seed production for next year. I pulled tulip poplar sprouts and a largish poke weed that has grown low enough that it wasn’t obvious how big it was until I started looking for its main stalk.

I took some rocks and shells out of the flower bed and put them on the corners of the porch to get cleaned by rains.

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My second target was the day lily foliage around the oak tree. I took a before and after picture again. That filled up the trash can with greens for the compost bin.

I stripped the larger stems of leaves since I’ve learned that the stems don’t decompose very rapidly…better for them to go in a brush pile than in the compost bin where the leaves were going.

I carried the arm load of stems (some of them milky with milkweed sap) to put just outside the the compost bin with the pitch fork in the other hand. The compost bin has been decomposing. I turned it – stirred it. Decided a lot had decomposed but I could still just add more on top since there is still plenty of room in the bin.

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I put the kitchen scraps on top and carried it around to the compost bin located the back of the back yard. It was a little heavier than I expected…but I managed.

I put the ‘greens’ in to the bin followed by some brown sycamore leaves cleaned from the stairs up to the deck (reducing the hazard on the stairs) and the paper shreds from house.

I didn’t water the compost pile yet since everything was so wet from recent big rains. The paper and leaves were dry, but I used the pitch fork to some holes through the layers and reduce the height of the additions to the pile. If it doesn’t rain again in the next few days I might check to make sure it is moist enough to ‘cook.’ There is still a lot of fall yard work to do…but I felt good about the progress I made in two hours.

Yard Work - August 2018

I did some weeding in the front flower bed (pulling up weeds and cutting vines that were opportunistically growing into the bushes or climbing the brick façade of the house) earlier this week.

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I filled a trash can full of ‘greens’ to take to the compost pile; I also had some paper shreds and veggie scraps from the kitchen to add. I took the pitchfork to punch the material down and turn it over. The compost in the bottom is already looking ‘done.’

The next job was to cut some horizontal branches in the cherry tree – trying to reduce the risk of the tree splitting if we get an ice storm this winter. I noticed a spider in a web between the house and the cherry trees…some long silk lines that I tried to avoid. It was an interesting spider although I haven’t been able to identify it yet. I’ll have to take better pictures next time.

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As I walked around the house dragging the branches to the brush pile – I noticed that the sycamore had several collections of fall webworms. At least they were the native webworms and not the exotic ailanthus webworms (I saw the moth a few weeks ago at Mt. Pleasant).

Most of the branches with web worms were low enough for me to cut with the long-handled pruners. There was one higher branch that my husband cut using a ladder and saw…with me pulling the branch downward to stabilize it.

On the way back from the brush pile with the sycamore branches – I noticed a blue jay feather…a little the worse for wear but worth photographing. I left it on the stairs to the deck so I could photography it late. I picked up handfuls of sycamore leaves to put in the compost bin.

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I carried my tools up to the covered deck after I was finished and awakened the cat that was enjoying a morning nap there. He seemed more curious than grumpy!

Ten Little Celebrations – July 2018

The little celebrations of every day add up to far more joy that the big celebrations of the years. I always find it easy to highlight 10 each month. For this month – I celebrated

Being home again after being away the last 3 weeks of June. I always appreciate being able to have my quiet time…sleep in my own bed.

The CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) bounty. I sign up for the smallest share but it is still a lot. Still - love the fresh veggies and find it easy to ‘eat healthy’ with the abundance and variety.

 

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Compost in Howard County. I learned a lot when I toured the compost facility in my county and celebrated that they are building a second phase.

A free compost bin. I picked up a free compost bin from the county and have started my one composting – so far so good. I trained enough to be dangerous.

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Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC). I’m always exited to find new/interesting places that are close enough to where live to explore again and again. I am waiting until it is a little cooler to return.

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Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. One of the places we’ve enjoyed in June-July for the past few years. Lotuses are always worth celebrating.

Photo shoots with summer campers. It’s been a summer volunteer gig for the past few summers – always some results worth celebrating. This year I discovered that it was still good even with it rained.

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Wings of Fancy. Butterflies area always worth celebrating…and being At Brookside frequently enough to notice other people celebrating too.

Saddleback caterpillars and sawfly larvae. I always celebrate when I see organisms I’ve heard about but not seen before (I’ll be writing a post about these soon).

Cleaned out flower beds. The vegetation in front of our house was overgrown by the time I got back from Texas. I celebrated when several mornings of work begin to make it tidy.

Composting at Home – June 2018

I got a free composting bin when I volunteered with the Fishmobile; the Fishmobile was part of a larger event at a local nature center that included a composting demo. The county gives bins away as part of the demo (GEOBIN Composting System) to encourage backyard composting by residents. A Master Gardener talked about what was required to successfully compost (mixing ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ – mixing) and I felt confident enough to give it a try. The bin was packaged rolled up in a cardboard box although the Mater Gardener recommended that stakes be used to provide some structure to the bin; I remembered that I had some at home…so no barrier. The hardest part of putting it together was the tightness of the roll; the material wanted to stay rolled! It might have been easier for two people but I managed on my own. The plastic has slots and the kit came with plastic keys to fit into the slots and turn to lock the two ends together. I made it a little smaller than the maximum size. I put it under the maple tree in our back yard….positioned to the hose from the house can reach it in case it needs to be moistened during a dry period.

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I had two longer metal stakes and a flag pole that had broken into two pieces to use as stakes. There were dried leaves from last fall that were already on the ground and I simply left them for the first layer of material in the bin (the area is so shady that no grass grows under the tree so I started leaving the leaves to provide some protection to the soil). Then I added some veggie and fruit scraps from the kitchen, shredded paper and cardboard. Later I added some soil from a pot that had broken.

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The bin looks very large right now. It will be a challenge to keep the greens (veggie and fruit scraps, grass clippings, bush clippings) and browns (paper, fall leaves, small twigs) balanced. I might feel the need to get a shredder for the yard waste since smaller materials will decay more quickly. I’m going to get through the rest of this year without one…just to see how the well the minimalist approach to composting will work.

Fishmobile – Take 2

My first experience with the Fishmobile was back in April at an elementary school in Carroll County (posted about it here). I got an email just after I returned from Texas asking if I could help with the Fishmobile’s visit to a nature center near where I life for a weekend event. I still had committed to anything else so I accepted. The day started out well when I checked the milkweed in my front flower bed and found a good-sized Monarch caterpillar!

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The day was not too hot and my ‘shift’ was from 10-12 when the temperature was in the mid-70s. Most of the animals that were there for the school were in the tanks again: horseshoe crabs, Larry the diamond backed terrapin, a blue crab, and a box turtle.

The American eel was silvery and was more active this time. The only thing I missed from last time were sea horses but there were some preserved ones to talk about with the families that came through. In the two hours I was there, almost 200 people came through. Some of the children came through the exhibit several times (after they built up their courage to experience the two touch tanks).

During one lull I stepped off the Fishmobile bus and photographed some bees on the plants just outside. The bees were very active and focused on the flowers…not flying amongst the people coming to the Fishmobile.

After my shift was over, I walked over to the compost demo and filled out the form to get a free compost bin. After the tour yesterday and further education today, I am going to do my own compost. My plan it to put the bin back near the forest and start it off with some shredded paper and veggie/fruit scraps from the kitchen. This time of year taking the watermelon rinds to the compost bin will be a lot easier than lugging them to the curb in a trash bag that might leak! Stay tuned for posts about my compost adventure.

Howard County Composting Facility

I attended a public tour of the composting facility in the county where I life yesterday morning. There is an expansion of the facility being built now but the pilot program has been going on for several years – lots of ‘lessons learned’ being applied to the expansion that will allow more of the county – hopefully the area where I live – to have curbside compost pickup.

The part of the facility that is currently in operation starts with piles of compostables collected from homes and some farm waste (like horse manure).

 

After being chopped up, it is made into piles. The material is processed for about 45 days in the piles – moved around with bulldozers to get air to all the material so that the decomposers can work. The temperatures in the piles are high enough to kill seeds which is important to the users of compost as a soil enhancer.

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The piles are made over two pipes that pull air from through the pile and then

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Through wood chips and finished compost (the large pipe in the foreground has pipes that push air under the wood chips/finished compost on the other side) – an effective strategy to reduce odors. The only period when odors come through that filter – so far – has been after Christmas when the discarded trees are in the piles; the pine smell is not one that people are likely to complain about so kudos to the design!

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While we were there, there was a pile that was ready to be moved to the area where the compost cures; the work was done with a bulldozer…making multiple trips.

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The piles are covered with tarps during rains; the compost does need water, but the amount must be controlled. Run off from the piles and the area around them is controlled.

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The new facility under construction will have bunkers rather than piles which will increase the capacity per area over the design in use now. The design capacity must be sufficient to handle the large volume of leaves in the fall. In my case – I wouldn’t send most of my leaves to the compost facility since I have forest behind my house that has absorbed the leaves from my yard quite well. If my area is one of the lucky ones to be included in the expanded service, I’ll decide if sending the front yard leaves to composting is easier than raking them to the forest!

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