Rehash your trash
So we've taken a look at the garden, a mixed bag of "hey stuff is growing!" and "I am such an idiot". But at the heart of my effort has always been COMPOSTING.
As I said in my initial blog post, our patio was a blank slate of awkward stone tiles and loose stone with partially painted fences but I knew I wanted to do some planting. I also knew that I wanted to try composting now that I finally had the space. I've been compost-curious for quite a long time and this was my chance.
Luckily, the City of San Diego offers a rebate on compost bins (and other environment-friendly initiatives). You can find out about it here. A quick google search might yield similar results for whichever city you live in. There are also several DIY options for compost piles, particularly if you have more space than my mini-garden.
Now even though I wouldn't be planting for several months, I needed time to build up some bulk in the compost bin. So let's take a look at this process below. In the pictures, you can see the compost bin I picked out, your basic boxy black bin. In the bottom of the bin, I added a scattering of twigs and branches to keep air flowing through the base of the pile and from here I would roughly add equal parts "browns" and "greens" (more on this below)
In the house, I began a three-headed approach to gather these so-called "greens", I use the large tupperware pictured below to collect food scraps (fruits and veg rinds and leftovers, egg shells, coffee grounds, seafood scraps, fresh trimmings from plants), I collect liquids in this old pitcher (leftover coffee, juice, spoiled milk, etc) and finally I add many other organic materials we would normally toss like pet hair (our cat sheds a TON), human hair, nail clippings, etc. For "browns", I shredded our junk mail and cardboard, and I collected any dried vegetation like twigs or leaves.
So I let scraps accumulate over a few days then take them out to the bin. I usually take a rake, shovel or pitchfork to the pile to toss it a bit letting some air in. I also do this to create a "pocket" for the new compost. This helps because the center of the pile will reach the highest temperature, ideal for breaking your scraps down. It is also important to make sure your pile doesn't dry out, so each time I add new scraps, I generally hose down the pile a bit.
"But it's gonna smell!" you say. Nope. My compost bin over 10 months of use has never "stunk"; it has a pleasant, earthy odor. Might dab a bit behind my ears. Also, by eliminating these scraps from your trash, your waste bin won't be stinking up your kitchen anytime soon. You'll go weeks without taking it to the curb.
One additional purchase I made to improve the process was a bucket of Red Worms. Worm Castings are sold as plant food, so why not make your own and speed up your composting. A bit of a win-win and now you can throw around a cool word like "vermicomposting" at parties. Other critters will find their way to your compost bin as well like pill bugs, earwigs, crickets, spiders, but I really only see these when I am tossing the compost and they are all part of the process.
Bonus vocab word: "Detritivore" - (noun) all the insects, fungi, microorganisms eating all this decomposing matter and turning it into poop-fuel for your super-garden.
It's surprising, among all the flowers, the tomatoes, the herbs, everyone who spends a minute on our patio zeroes in on the compost bin. "Is that a compost bin? How do you use it? I've always wanted to try it!" The interest is out there and it isn't the enigma some might think. Give it a try. With minimal effort you will see a huge effect on your contribution to the landfill and, if you garden or landscape, you'll see a major difference in the health of your plants when you add compost (or compost tea!). Composting is strangely rewarding and I hope you will think so as well.