diy composter, make your own composter, trash can composter, trash bin composter, diy compost bin

DIY Trash Can Composter Tutorial

By Cat DiStasio

Composting food scraps from your kitchen is an easy way to reduce landfill waste and create nutrient-rich potting soil for your garden. You probably already knew that. Did you also know you can build your own composter for the cost of a movie ticket and less than 30 minutes of your time?

There are many, many different types of composters available for sale at hardware stores and garden markets (and online, of course), but they are often quite expensive. While there’s nothing wrong with buying one if that’s your jam, making your own is just so easy, cheap, and fast. It’s tough to come up with a reason not to build your own.

Using an inexpensive plastic trash can and supplies you may already have on hand, you can easily build your own composter. Some commercial tumbler-style composters sit horizontally, often on a large metal frame, and can be turned with a crank handle. This DIY version uses the same principles, but is designed to sit upright – which takes up less garden square footage and makes it easier to add scraps. You’ll be able to turn your round trash can on its side and roll it on the ground to mix the contents, replicating the handle-driven turning of a tumbler composter.

Here’s what you’ll need to begin. As you’ll see, it isn’t much.

diy composter, make your own composter, trash can composter, trash bin composter, diy compost bin

Supplies Needed:

  • 1 round 32-gallon plastic trash can with a tight-fitting lid
  • Drill and 1-inch spade bit
  • 3-4 bricks or cinder blocks
  • Organic refuse (uncooked kitchen scraps, leaves, grass clippings, undyed paper)
  • 2 bungee cords (optional, but recommended)

A note on trash cans: You can repurpose an old or damaged trash can, if you have one around, but you’ll have to scrub it very clean first to remove all traces of inorganic materials. A new plastic trash can of this style (lid included) typically runs around $10, though. If you prefer, consider spending a little more for a wheeled trash can, which may be easier for some people to tip on its side for turning.

diy composter, make your own composter, trash can composter, trash bin composter, diy compost bin

1. Drill air holes.
In order to decompose properly, organic material needs some oxygen to help the process along. This is why commercial composters have ventilation, and why many compost bins are slatted or perforated. To create a similar effect on your DIY composter, use a 1-inch spade bit to drill holes all around the walls of the trash can.

DIY Composter 003

It’s best to create several vertical lines of holes, with 6 inches between each hole. Space the lines 6-8 inches apart so you do not compromise the structural integrity of the trash can. Drill several holes in the bottom of the trash can as well.

DIY Composter 007

2. Add food and yard waste scraps.
To use your new composter, set your composter atop the cinder blocks to allow for drainage. Place equal amounts of brown and green materials in the trash can and mix them together. Green materials include vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, grass clippings, and used coffee grounds. Examples of brown materials would be dead leaves, twigs, newspaper, sawdust, and cardboard. For best results, keep composting materials damp—like a wrung-out sponge—but not wet or dripping. Typically, the moisture in your green scraps will be plenty, but if you live in a very dry climate, you may need to spray it with a bit of water as well.

DIY Composter 008

Do not put cooked food, oil, meat, or pet waste in your composter, nor anything treated with pesticides.

You can add refuse to the bin whenever you like (because nobody really loves a full scrap bin in their kitchen!) but be sure the close the lid tightly after adding new materials, and use the bungee cords to keep it closed. This will protect against scavenging critters, like raccoons and rats, who can be deluded into thinking a composter is a breakfast buffet.

diy composter, make your own composter, trash can composter, trash bin composter, diy compost bin

3. Turn your compost regularly.
At least once a week and always after adding new scraps, turn your composter by laying it on its side on the ground and rolling it around several times. This will mix up the contents and make for a more efficient composting process.

diy composter, make your own composter, trash can composter, trash bin composter, diy compost bin

In most climates, it takes between two and four months to turn scraps into usable compost. Many people are concerned about how a compost bin might smell. The good news is that, done correctly, composting should smell more like fresh dirt than like a back alley dumpster. If an unpleasant aroma develops, there is a chance your ratio of brown to green materials is off, or the compost mixture is either too wet or too dry. Although it may take a little troubleshooting to find the sweet spot for your area, rest assured, it will be a worthwhile effort.

Be sure to check in with us regularly for more composting tips! We’ll be sharing an article soon about how to transform an old nightstand into a vermicomposter (worm composting system), and how to use compost tea to nourish your growing plants.

soil, garden soil, garden earth, acidic soil, compost

Seeds n’ Soils

By Catherine Winter

Just about every person who’s tried to grow vegetables or herbs has had to deal with “failure to thrive”, whether it’s from seed failure or seedling death. It’s disappointing (even devastating if someone’s dependent upon gardening endeavours for their food), and there are a number of different reasons why it happens. One of the most common reasons is that the plants haven’t been cultivated in the right soil, so it’s important to determine what type of earth your plants need so you can give them the most optimal conditions from day one.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that you’ll find different plants in different areas. On my land, there’s a ton of coltsfoot and mullein growing in the sandy soils around the creek, but I’m not going to find those plants tucked in amongst stands of birch in the loamy forest soil. They’re growing in the areas that are best for their development, and will fizzle out and die if forced to swap spaces.

peppers, capsicum, hot peppers, chili peppers, jalapenos, piri piri, banana peppers

Acidic Soil

Radishes, peppers, and potatoes all thrive in acidic soil. You can add sphagnum peat moss into an all-purpose organic seed-starting mix, and the sphagnum will increase the soil’s acidity and increase the chances that your plants will germinate successfully.

Sphagnum is a good option for container gardening, but if you’ll be planting a large garden’s worth of food, you can get sulphur at your local garden centre and work that into the soil you’ll be planting into.

Here’s a tip: If part of your land is naturally acidic, take full advantage of that area and plant a bunch of perennial berry bushes. They’ll grow really well there, and you won’t have to put any extra effort into making the soil a happy place for them to be.

Cabbage

Alkaline Soil

Brassicas, peas, beans, and most leafy greens (like chard, lettuce, and spinach) prefer alkaline soils, but can do just fine in pH neutral soil as well. If the earth in your garden is on the acidic side and you’re really keen to have a ton of broccoli and beans, you can add some pulverized limestone to increase alkalinity.

If you’re uncertain as to just how acidic or alkaline your soil is, you can test it with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and plain white vinegar: take two samples of soil, and add a bit of baking soda to one sample, and a bit of vinegar to the other. If the sample with baking soda in it fizzes, then your soil is acidic. If the vinegary one fizzes, it’s alkaline. If nothing happens at all, it’s neutral.

You can, of course, also use pH testing strips, but this is an easy way to test your soil using items you likely already have at home.

carrots, root vegetables, roots, orange carrots

Sandy Soil

Root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, and beets tend to do best in sandy soils, as do aromatic culinary herbs like thyme, summer and winter savoury, oregano, and sage. Just like amending your soil with sphagnum, you can work sand into your soil prior to planting your seeds.

*Note: root vegetables can also be stored in sand in a cool, dry place over the winter. If you have a root cellar or cool, dark basement, try this method after you harvest them.

squash, squash seeds, heirloom squash, cucurbits, organic squash, Baker Creek

Rich Soil

Squashes, pumpkins, zucchini, melons, broccoli, and cucumbers are heavy feeders that suck up a lot of nutrients from the soil, so it’s important that whatever they’re planted into is very nutrient-dense and rich. Work aged compost into your seed-starting mixture, and work a good fertilizer into the soil they’ll be planted into about 3 weeks before transplanting them. Once they’re in the soil, it’s good to re-fertilize every few weeks (compost tea is ideal for this), but along the “drip line” (around the edges of your plant) so you don’t burn or damage the plant itself.

 

Many seed companies (especially organic and heirloom dispensaries like Baker Creek) have in-depth information on the backs of their seed packets: they’ll tell you exactly what type of soil is best for your plant, as well as their sun and water requirements. If your seed packets don’t give you this information, a quick Google search should work wonders. We’re in the process of compiling a rather large database of information that will let you know exactly what each species needs, but it’ll take us a little while to get all of that sorted out.

Have you had to amend your soil to suit different plants’ needs? Which techniques did you use? Please let us know in the comments section below!

Cherishing Food as Sacred

By Catherine Winter

How diligent are you about not letting any food go to waste? Do you find yourself throwing out wilted greens or furry fruit on a regular basis? Or letting leftovers go bad at the back of the fridge because you didn’t want to eat the same thing two days in a row? If you have, you’re not alone. Most of us have allowed this to happen on more than one occasion, and although we might have felt a pang of guilt, we may not have felt the solid gut-kick of irresponsibility and remorse that we should have felt at the time.

Why is that? Well, it’s likely because the average person is so far removed from the process of growing food from seed to harvest that they really aren’t capable of appreciating just how much work goes into growing everything they buy. They don’t consider how soil (black gold, really) is made from organic matter breaking down, and how the nutrients in that soil are sucked up by little seeds to grow into edible plants.
They don’t think about the diligence needed to keep little seedlings alive with regular waterings, or how vital pollinators like bees and butterflies are in order for these plants to develop and go to seed.

Plums

Growing one’s own food cultivates an appreciation that just buying pre-packaged items at the grocery store doesn’t provide. It can’t. There’s too much of a disconnect between the plastic-wrapped, pre-made items bought at the supermarket and the plant or animal from which it originated. It’s not until a person has taken part in the process of coaxing life from a seed and nurturing it to maturity, or drawn an egg out from beneath a clucking hen, that they can really comprehend how sacred food really is, and how devastating it is to let any of it go to waste, ever.

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, author and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer touches upon the “Honourable Harvest”: the idea of only taking what is given (and not more than what is needed), to use it well, to be grateful for the gift, and to reciprocate it in kind. When we pick wild berries, we only take our share, and leave the rest for our forest cousins. Similarly, when we purchase food from the grocery store, we should ensure that we’re not depleting the shelves for our own selfish whims, but leave enough for others. When we harvest items from our garden, we need to make sure that we let a portion go to seed: both so we can re-sow the following year, and to allow wild creatures to take their fair share as well, in exchange for having helped to pollinate and fertilise our gardens.

Children Gardening

There is an overwhelming sense of gratitude that occurs when one takes an active role in cultivating and raising food, and the awareness that food is a gift, and not to be taken for granted. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to get children involved in food gardening from a very young age: if reverence is nurtured from day one, they’re far less likely to be wasteful and irresponsible about food later in life. Hell, they might even become avid gardeners themselves, but we can only hope and pray that’ll happen.

It’s time that we re-learn what it is to treat our food as sacred, and revere it as such; to take a moment before eating to acknowledge all the work that was poured into growing every morsel on our plates, and have sincere appreciation for the sun, soil, rain, and toil required to feed us. It is with these small gestures that we can start to move beyond our consumerist leanings and connect more deeply with the world around us, and the life-sustaining gifts that we receive from it.

Water is Life.

By Catherine Winter

The average human body is comprised of nearly 70 percent water. Women are a bit more watery than men are, and children’s bodies have a higher percentage than those belonging to adults, but ultimately, we really are made of water. Without drinking water, we’d die of dehydration in 3-4 days, and just about all life on this planet—from insects to elephants—needs this glorious wet stuff to survive.

It’s precisely for that fact that so many of us strive so hard to protect clean water sources: without them, most of the life on our planet would cease to exist.

Anyone who has ever tended a plant knows that water is of the utmost importance when cultivating green life. (Yes, even air plants need to be spritzed on occasion.) Plants can wilt and die after just a day without being watered, especially at the height of summertime, and those luscious fruits and vegetables we are love are heavy and juicy because of their high water content.

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Did you know that the water within us also connects us with pretty much all the living beings who came before us? In his book The Sacred Balance, author, scientist, and environmental activist David Suzuki shares a story about the voyage of a single molecule:

“Suppose we were to follow a single molecule of water vented from an active volcano on a Hawaiian island. We’ll call this molecule Aqua. Liberated with a mix of other gases from deep within the planet, Aqua is blown skyward, buffeted by convection forces and atmospheric winds that are constantly blowing across the planet. Eventually, Aqua finds itself streaming east from the islands, 10km above the ocean, moving along a ribbon of moisture that is like a great atmospheric river.

Reaching the coast of North America, Aqua moves inland until it encounters the upthrust of the Rocky Mountains. The cloud Aqua is in begins to cool, condense, and finally liquefy, and the water molecule falls towards the land as part of a drop of rain. On striking Earth, Aqua slithers into the soil, pulled by the forces of gravity, moving erratically around grains of sand that loom like miniature planets.

As Aqua sinks into the soil, it encounters a slender rootlet of a tree, which slurps Aqua up into its xylem tissue, drawing the molecule by capillary action up through the trunk into the branches, and eventually Aqua ends up in one of the seeds in a pinecone. A bird pecks at the cone, dislodging and swallowing the seed containing Aqua. As the bird flies south on its annual migration, it absorbs Aqua into its bloodstream.

Resting in a tropical rain forest in Central America, the bird is preyed upon by a mosquito. Aqua is sucked into the mosquito’s gut, and as the blood-laden insect drops close to a creek, it’s snapped up by a fish, which incorporates Aqua into its muscle tissue. An aboriginal fisher spears the fish and triumphantly carries it, and Aqua, home for a meal. And so it goes, the endless, eventful peregrination of every molecule of water.”

…kind of amazing to think about, isn’t it? Now, consider that you have an average of about 4, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 water molecules in your body. Each and every one of those has gone through a journey similar to Aqua’s… which means that inside you right now are molecules that likely sloshed around inside people like Shakespeare, Genghis Khan, Beethoven, Julius Caesar, Buddha, Marie Antoinette. The molecules within you have passed through dinosaurs, eagles, and ancient trees. Every one of those lives depended on the water molecules that now make up our own bodies right now, connecting all life on this planet inextricably.

How’s that for the oneness of all living things on Earth?

world water day, clean water, waterkeepers, waterkeeper, clean water protection, drinking water

Today, March 22nd, is world water day.

Let’s make a vow together: every time we, or water our plants or take a drink (or offer one to our animal companions), let’s take a moment to appreciate just how important water is to all life. Let’s respect it more, appreciate it more, be more proactive about protecting our natural clean water resources, and more generous about sharing what we have with those who need it.

For additional information about clean water initiatives and how you can get involved, check out:

fallen leaves, autumn leaves, fall leaves, leaf mulch

Leave Your Garden Alone for the Winter

By MK Martin

Unpopular opinion: Every stage of life is beautiful. Every year the inevitable panoply of frilly, autumn leaves begins. Its confetti like their snowflake cousins, no two displays alike. It is something I look forward to, and other homeowners seem to dread.

While I sip coffee from my back door, eyeing the seed progress, thinking of how I might find room to grow squash next year, watching the bunchy adolescent squirrels from the next door eaves eagerly cram whatever they think is food into the ground, my neighbours are arming themselves. Arming themselves against the enemy of leaf litter and general disarray. It is their duty to contain the fearsome consequence of decay by Any Means Necessary.

Usually a leaf blower.

Daytime collar wearers arrive home, attach their arsenal to their backs, pull-cord or electrically powered or even Dyson, they all line up to mechanically blow the leavings of the trees around them off their grass. If each leaf detonated on impact, I could imagine the urgency one might have in removing them. There is some wisdom behind fall leaf cleanup: leaves can transmit blights to soil, and too many covering your grass overwinter can lead to snow moulds. However, your trees are not dropping their leaves for no reason. A layer is meant to provide moisture and a winter blanket for resting roots, while insects and fungi break down the leaf matter to feed them.

dead-hydrangea

Flowers are similarly ripped up on schedule, before October comes to a close. Echinacea cropped to the quick, vines ripped up and cleared away, leaving each parallelogram somewhat like a Who house in the Grinch’s wake. Blank slates, whispering: there used to be life here.

Tree leaves are at their most nutrient dense right when they fall. Each has its own pH balance and some, like ash, are much higher in pH and nitrogen. The leaves of black walnut and eucalyptus contain natural herbicides that can keep seeds from germinating. Keeping caveats in mind, it’s easy to create your own mulch with fallen leaves and grass clippings, by shredding them with your lawn mower. If you have a reel mower like ours, this is pretty good resistance training. It only takes a few passes with a mechanized push mower, and the resulting mulch is perfect for your soil’s winter slumber.

By contrast, and to the chagrin of each of my neighbours, fat brown zinnia seed heads wobble in the breezes of the last days of Autumn in front of our house, receiving frost, snow, rain and warm afternoons, sometimes all in the same day. The yarrow’s withered leaves look like black teeth where their green feathers used to be, grinning, wilting. The drapey sweet pea ropes having yet to give up, still defiantly green next to a yellow rosebush laden with fat red rosehips. Just one makes a tart sweet pot of tea for days.

rosehips

In the back, morning glory skeletons lace through a laid bare lattice, seeds resembling hazelnuts hanging precariously over the soil; kamikaze pilots asleep until next spring. The massive hydrangea, adrift with snowballs in the summer, now sports skeletal flowerheads, each tiny petal a tiny example of the finest lacework. These are particularly comfortable to the lingering songbirds on windy days, where they dine on seeds from other plants left behind.

Learning to recognize the beauty in this chaos has taken work. Our yard sticks out like a lush, floral green thumb next to annual petunias and perfectly contained peonies. We can understand. The human desire to contain, redesign, reconstruct is powerful, and countless hours reading garden design books can muddle the best course of action. Which, in winter, can simply be to remain at rest.

Photos via Unsplash, and by lia_k and Ario Gaviore – Squall87 via Flickr Creative Commons.

If Not, Flowers

By MK Martin

Our little corner of the earth sits atop one of the highest elevations of the Province. This is where wind is born. Zeus sometimes hangs out here, in the winter, zapping a few trees here and there, while the winds swirl and gust through hidden crawlspaces, resulting in sounds best left to Halloween.

As such, it can be pretty tough to grow food here. Alternating years of heavy rains, lost from some other continent, and drawn out drought have compacted most of the dirt into a stubborn, grey clay in which sturdy, local potatoes grow and not much else. Our yard seemed at first, an abyss. A grand stretch of land we’d run across fields and fallen into rivers and rolled over our hems for. One season of too many tomato plants told us otherwise.

We planted seed after seed in little peat pot after egg carton, grinning at the tadpole tails and embryonic leaves that emerged after a few days’ simmering in humidity and moisture. But then, they all become seedlings, and I could not bear to just ‘thin’ them out. So I planted them, green beans and another mistaken monster, oregano, in the same place and watched as the tomato jungle took hold. I knew nothing of pruning, or pinching. I knew nothing at all. And we drowned in tomatoes, were drunk on the scent of tomatoes in the air and giving away tomatoes with pleading croaks, ‘Surely you can trade us a zucchini!’

When I had the first, shiny green eyes of garden planning, every scene was a Monet before me: the idle buzzing of insect wings around plentiful flowers, trailing bean tendrils looping through a lattice, fat little squashlings basking in a not too hot sun, for exactly seven hours. What bucolic, Antoinette bliss it would be, as I pop myself into the picture, dressed in linens, harvesting crops in a fine wicker basket. The reality looks more like the yoga pants I wore during the early stages of labor, covered in dirt as I tried to hack enough organic materials into unrelenting clay, hair in my eyes, itching my nostrils, black flies biting my ears, picking rocks, just so I can get seedlings in the ground. No matter how much we amend our soil, it insists its true makeup is clay.

bachelorbutton

Each year, for the past eight years, something goes wrong. One neighbour started using Roundup. The other neighbour mercilessly cut down every tree in his yard, ripped up every plant and installed a chemically fed lawn, which he cuts every other day for one hour. Both yards run right into ours because we are strangely situated lower. The year after the Tomato Jungle, we wanted to grow kale, and were besieged by flea beetles. No natural remedy worked, and the consensus was clear: unless we took care of it in the early stages of spring, we were out of luck. Our early tomato jungle became wilted, pale and blossom rotted, no matter where we planted them.

This year, I planted flowers. Flowers upon flowers, fragrant flowering herbs and let the weeds grow where they may. Our garden was bursting with poppies, bachelor buttons, clovers, melilot, calendula, zinnias, marjoram, sage, thyme, rosemary, nasturtium, morning glories, yarrow and borage. The dream of hovering bees was realized, and we were not plagued by insect destruction.We had very little rain for most of the spring and summer, a possible monsoon season is our future reality. Our zone has changed from 4b to 5b in the time we’ve lived here, so each food plant needs babying to survive. Where a cultivated species fails, a wild bloom flourishes, sending its encoded roots down to heal what it can. We may not see the the fruits of letting our ‘field’ lie fallow in flowers, but we know the possibility is there. Putting my ear up against the ground, I inhale quietly, hold a breath and listen to them work.

bee_on_borage-pollinator