Hot and Dirty Gardening

It was the 1970’s and This Old House was brand new, and this old man was much younger with lots of youthful energy (some of which still exists!). It was shortly after the first gas crisis, and our culture had begun to ‘raise its consciousness’ by reflecting on the results that decades of “the throw away society” had bestowed on our quality of life. At the same time the Victory Garden made popular by James Underwood Crockett was in full swing. So outside I began a composter, although it was a much smaller version of the Victory Garden’s and looked nothing like it. Someone had given me this creepy elongated  wooden box and I figured I’d give it a try as a composter. It consisted of three old doors nailed together in a “U” shape with chicken wire covering either end for some ventilation. It was creepy, because it actually looked like an open coffin. But after a few weeks of feeding it grass clippings and mulched leaves as well as organic kitchen scraps, it rewarded me with deep, dark healthy compost! Even better, it turned out to be “hot” compost. All I did was add some 10-10-10 occasionally, keep it moist, and turn it every few days with a piece of rebar. Totally ignorant of the ‘hot’ compost concept, I noticed after a week or two that when I pulled the rebar out of the center of the pile, it was hot (I mean ‘ouch’ hot!) to the touch. So, I did a little more ‘research’ (this was when research meant going to the bookstore or library) and discovered I had a working hot composter! The raw materials I added cooked down into a dark rich compost every couple of weeks, even in the dead of winter. So I never had to buy any mulch or potting soil for my postage stamp garden during the time I kept this baby in operation.

Fast forward to now, and I have a brand new composter built with the help of my good friend, Mike Denson. He was the handyman and I was the gofer. To my surprise Mike produced a copy of the original “Crockett’s Victory Garden” book from 1977 which he discovered to have the very best composter design (sometimes the original is still the best!). So he built his composter based on the design and layout of the Victory Garden Composter from 1977, and then helped me build mine.

Starting composter assembly!
Who needs Bob Vila and
Norm Abram?

With this set-up, we’re looking
more at Tim Allen
and his sidekick Al from
Home Improvement!
Uh oh, that drill is smokin’!
A little stain to match the house and this
composter is looking good!

 What goes around comes around! And guess what! I’ve been feeding it grass clippings, dry leaves, and some manure to kick start it and ….wait for it, I have version 2 of a HOT COMPOSTER after about a weeks worth of work!!  I also picked up a good deal on a chipper/shredder at The Trader, a great local second hand store, to mulch our leaves and tree debris, and have arranged with our coffee supplier, Smoky Mountain Coffee Roasters, to collect their coffee grounds for composting. That takes care of the ‘carbon’ ingredients. I have all the nitrogen I can handle in the grass clippings and other greens from our garden. So, I should be in compost heaven forever! 

The right mix and now the composter’s smokin’!
The 3 sections will allow for a lot of compost.

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