Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My new composter

I compost. A lot. It is really what I do when I wake up every day. I put on some PJ bottoms, loafers, and go out to check and turn the compost bins. It's like walking to the store to get coffee, or opening all the blinds in the house, or walking the dog. It's that little bit of relaxing exercise that prevents one from needing a 3rd cup of caffeine in the day.

I use a tumbler composter because it's fast (and it was cheap at Costco - an adult toy that I absolutely had to have). Rapid composting from what I can tell was invented by Robert D. Raabe, Professor of Plant Pathology, at UC Berkeley and summarized here (also on referencs page). It basically says, if you can control the temperature, oxygen, and carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio, and scrap size, and turn your compost pile a lot, you can reduce the time to prepare it from 1 year (52 weeks) to 3 weeks. Im a big fan of tools, because tools do two things: 1) turn apes into people and 2) make work suck less. Dont get me wrong, I own a pitchfork, but I also own a composter, so that I can turn a barrel on its axis 10 times in the morning before coffee instead of lifting 200 lbs of compost all afternoon. If you want to rapid compost, you need a bin. I am happily biased towards tumbler designs.

This winter I had some negative results from experiments in composting. I was putting in stuff at a constant rate and not getting anything back. My main composter, which I've had for two years is a Lifetime #60058 Black 80-Gallon Compost Tumbler. It's big. So big that if you have a half full bin of finished compost, it is very hard to turn (my wife who uses a sledgehammer like a sewing needle and my fencing coach brother both can't turn it). You also have the problem that if you only have one, composting has to be a continuous operation, which I found out from the amazon reviewers, is bad. It is apparently much better to do batch processing, where you put everything in, lock it, and turn it, without adding anything else till it's done (except for piss/urea and brown matter to adjust the percentage of water and nitrogen as the thing cooks).

So after reading a bunch about composting, I decided my habits of continuous processing and overstuffing the bin had to end. I needed more space for composting batches in progress. I saw two solutions to this problem. The cheapskate-cheaps-out solution would be to get another garbage bin (with a lid) which would act as a pre-composting bin. Scraps and any other household garbage that is compostable would go in there to wait until the composter was ready for another batch, and then the garbage bin would be dumped into the composter to begin another batch. I told my wife, who had just last week, found some rat holes on the property, and told me that was a stupid idea. I tried to politely defend the idea, but got one of those you-can-listen-to-me-now-or-pay-for-it-later looks. So we went with the second solution: we bought a second composter.

Except that the one at Costco, is not one composter like the one I had bought two years earlier, but two smaller ones stuck together for almost twice the price. I deliberated. I capitulated. I bought the damn thing. Another Lifetime product, this time a 60072 DUAL COMPOST TUMBLER

Cons: It is a lifetime product and comes with language independent instructions (think Lego and Ikea) except that the required tools involve inter alia: a power drill, mallet, needlenose pliers and eye saftey. Forget "some assembely required" the instructions explicitly say (in language independent form) that you need two people, and aren't allowed to use children. See for yourself:
(From page 6 of the manual)
Pros: It is a lifetime product and comes with language independent instructions. Like my other Lifetime tumbler, it is indestructible at any phase of construction. Almost all the features of the single tumbler I had come to find annoying over 2 years have been fixed in this iteration. The seams are not bound with metal plates which rust. The tumbler walls are more resistant to infiltration by water. The tumblers are smaller, which make it easier to roll when it's weighed down. The legs are sturdier. The middle axis  goes all the way through and is made of metal, not the POS PVC bar that bowed and deformed under the heat of the composter in two days.

The inside. The bin spins around the perforated metal bar in the middle, which adds air to the core of the pile, increasing the speed of the composting reactions. Not the double locking mechanism at the top of the above photo, and the twisting handle on the bottom photo.

The legs are made from hollow rectagular steel beams, not the bent galvanized steel conduit of the last one. To lock the bin in place, pull up on the green handle near the axis. A pin slides into place so that you can open the bin without torquing plant shit onto your shoes or forcefully into your nose.
Here is my first experiment in the new bin. Weeds, used bunny hay, kitchen scraps, shredded paper and large undigested pieces from the last compost batch, and a bunch of water. Like the other model, the bottom will leak to an extent, so fell free to soak your pile to start with, the excess will leak out.
My laboratory. The old big composer is on the left, and the new one with the two bins is on the right. These were taken two days ago. The compost batch was already steaming 2 hours later, and today (2 days later) has already reduced in volume, has white fungus patches and is browner. Batch processing is totally the way to go. Next step is to check the temperature inside, and see if it is hot enough to kill weed seeds.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Introduction: The First Post

College Park

College Park is a suburban town dominated by two influences: The University of Maryland, and the Washington DC metro area. The University ensures that the town will always be populated by young students and every business and traffic pattern must bend to that reality. The Washington DC metro area is divided into 3 parts, the area that includes everyone that works in DC, the area inside the DC beltway, and Washington DC proper. The proximity to DC means that there is a subway system with a station in walking distance of my house, and I generally get the services of a large city.

More importantly it means hat everyone has around 1 degree of separation from the federal government:

  • If you live in DC, you live on property of the federal government.
  • If you are a fed, you are...the man.
  • If you are a contracter, you work for guys who sell to the fed.
  • If you are a lawyer, there isnt much you do that isn't political or connected to the federal government.

There are old timers too here, from a time before the beltway, when this area was farmland ready to be bulldozed into outer boony burbs for a new wave of pregnant mothers who needed cheap houses in which to raise the baby-boomer offspring of federal employees.

How I got here

I'm from New York City originally; born, raised, and hastilly emigrated. I went to RIT out of high school, and after 2 quarters there, decided two things: RIT was “Hell in an igloo” and I never wanted to see winter again. So, my then-future-wife and I picked some state schools south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and ended up at UMD. I love it here and loved attending UMCP, the architecture, the people, the climate, the scholarship, the money that falls from the sky at this campus, spent intelligently on things that make one proud to be a Terp.

After school, I got job at the US Patent and Trademark Office, and stayed in the same apartment I had lived in in college. After my wife and I got married, she got sick of rental service living (and more importantly, our third annual $100 rent hike in a row), and we started house hunting.

By this time, we had thoroughly explored the beltway and firmly decided on college park as a place to live. We wanted to live in Maryland (as opposed to Virginia or DC), and we both hate Montgomary county, and needed to be inside the Beltway.
While it's a long story in itself, we picked a cute brick box of a house that was in need of some TLC and vision. The house was a dump when we got it, but it quickly became a home, and eventually became a very relaxing place for anyone who visits.

What we like doing

Cooking – Kim and I are avid cooks. We catered our own wedding of 40, with 14 dishes that stuffed to the brim, the carnivores, vegitarians, and allergics (gluten and onions).
Drinking – There are 4 kinds of drinkers:
  1. Beer: Correlated with beer-guts, testosterone and sports
  2. Wine: Correlated with women and people that live in Mediterranean climates.
  3. Soft drinkers: Correlated with Muslims, recovering alcoholics and children. If you are in this category there are only the aforementioned three reasons why.
  4. Mixed Drinks: correlated with every american idol of the baby boomers, hardcore drinkers, and people for whom cooking includes alchemy without solid ingredients. My wife and I meet each criteria.
Gardening – Im big into composting, my wife has the eye and flare for the actual plants. We will get really good at it eventually, but right now we are really young. This blog will be about the transition between the two.
Entertaining – Cooking and drinking for oneself is impolite. So we make other people fat and drunk because we are debaucherous pushers...and great hosts.
Video Games – We play video games. A lot. But blogging about an imaginary world you interact with by yourself is pretty boring, and indicative of people I dont usually like.

What the blog is about

Blog came from weB LOG. This is exacly what it will be, a log of experiments in cooking drinking and gardening. I suppose I will write at least one book on at least one of these topics later in life. This will be the notebook from which published material will be honed into a product that someone might decide to pay me for.