This weekend, during a brief break in the spring hail and rain, I got dressed in my gardening attire and addressed the jungle of weeds that has been taking over our backyard. While I was out there I checked up on the rain barrels and our compost.
About the rain barrels: A couple years ago, I started thinking that it was a shame that we have so much rain in the northwest but it all goes to waste. Wouldn’t it be great if we could capture the rain and use it during the summer, when rain is sparse and we water our plants and lawn daily? I did some research via google and discovered the rain barrel. A rain barrel is simply a container (usually a used food barrel) that is attached to the downspout on the gutter. As it rains, the water flows into the barrel (a mesh fabric is placed over the opening to prevent debris from getting in) and when it fills, the overflow gutter directs the excess water away from the house.
I found two 55-gallon food-grade barrels on craigslist (about $40 each) already fitted with faucets and openings on the top for the incoming water. Curt and my sister’s fiance, David, rigged everything up in a few hours. The barrels, which can weigh up to 400 lbs when full, now sit on cinder blocks in the front and back of our house. They are a hideous, bright blue, and I keep telling myself I’ll paint over it, but who has the time. Our backyard slopes down toward the back, making it easier to water because we aren’t working against gravity. I’m not sure how it would work if you had to water uphill. How long will they take to fill? According to a number of websites, not long. One inch of rain on a 1000 square foot roof will yield around 600 gallons. I noticed ours were overflowing after a week in November.
We hooked up a hose to it and use it to water our plants, flowers, lawn, wash the dog (Mango didn’t like that, it was cold), clean our shoes, rinse the grass off the lawn mower, you get the picture. Click here for more info, or google “rain barrel”.
You cannot live in the northwest and not have a compost. Most people I know here have a compost bin of some sort. Why waste all the nutrients in food scraps by throwing them away? When we first moved here we used the compost bin that the previous owners had set up in the backyard. It was great until one of our dead trees fell on it and broke it apart. I did some research (thank God for google) and found different designs of compost bins. We settled on a two container bin and Curt built it with scrap wood from the Rebuilding Center in PDX.
What is a compost? It is a heap of organic matter piled up and allowed to break down naturally by insects, bacteria, microorganisms, etc until it is decomposed into really nutritious dirt. The great thing about composting is it doesn’t require much in the way of maintenance. We have a couple old containers under our sink that we throw our food scraps in (banana peels, onion peels, apple cores, any scrap food, paper towels). Once those fill, usually once a week, we then empty those into bigger bins on our back deck. We walk them out to our compost bin when those fill and throw it all in. If it’s a nice day, we mix up whatever is in there with a pitchfork, to distribute the insects and bacteria and oxygenate the pile. If the compost is too dry (it should be just damp), I’ll also water it with the rain barrel water. Then we let nature do her thing and wait until spring or 3 or 4 months later (while continuing to add more food scraps to it). I just checked on the compost a few days ago and transferred the contents of one side to the other. It is full of earthworms (a good sign) and is almost fully broken down into “dirt.”
According to composting websites, the carbon to nitrogen ratio of the organic materials should be near 30:1, but I only half-heartedly pay attention to that. The balance in ours is probably off, but I do add fallen leaves, paper towels and occasionally cardboard. In a month, this batch of compost should be ready, full of earthworms and a nice dark color. It’ll be spread all over our veggie garden for, hopefully, good veggie crops this summer. If not (our crops were pathetic last year), I’m just happy that our food scraps aren’t going to waste. We’ve been doing this since we moved here and I’ve definitely noticed a difference in the consistency of the dirt around our yard.
What do we throw in the compost? Actually, “What don’t you throw in the compost?” might be an easier question to answer. The big no-nos: meat, manure (that’s just disgusting), fatty scraps, treated wood, aggressive weeds (morning glory, I hate that stuff) and diseased plants. Everything goes at our house: food scraps, egg shells, cardboard, cut grass, leaves, corn husks, napkins, dead weeds (with no seeds), and on and on.
Recycling doesn’t just have to be beer bottles and soda cans, it can also be rain water and food waste. We can easily reuse what mother nature gives us, try it!