Vail Daily column: Making free dirt year round
January 12, 2013
I opened up the refrigerator, looking for leftovers, and found a plastic bag full of garbage. Not figurative garbage but a real bag of rotting fruits, vegetables and some other unrecognizable stuff. Another man might have thrown it away; I brought it to the garage.
My mate and I love winter. When those first cold days of August arrive in the high country, we both get excited. It is in our blood: Ellie is Swedish – for her people, skiing is both a sport and a way to get to the store to buy lutefisk when the Saab breaks down. My heritage is French Canadian and Irish Catholic; we thrive on cold, damp and guilt.
Certainly we both enjoy the warmer times of year. We love to bike and hike, and we do spend time in the desert and on the beach. But it is winter when we feel most alive.
Unfortunately, when we put away our bikes, shorts, sun hats and hiking boots, we also de-commission our compost-bin. That changed this winter.
For those of you unacquainted with the practice of composting, let me explain. You have a container where you place your household waste – rotting fruits and vegetables, along with leaves and grass – and wait until it decays enough to turn into dirt. Hopefully this container is not located within smelling distance of your home. If you wait long enough – and bears, skunks, crows or your neighbors, don’t knock it over – in a few months time, you get some free dirt.
I know what you are thinking, free dirt! I got to get in on that program! But full disclosure demands that this does take effort and can cause some hardships. Invariably, you have a bunch of garbage in your house waiting to be brought out to the composter. Often the time between something is declared compost worthy and when it is taken from your kitchen to the composter is a few days (or until I notice it). That ripening swill often smells badly and attracts fruit flies. On occasion my mate has hidden the offending compost in the refrigerator.
So as to not simply deem the entire enterprise a fool’s errand, it is crucial that you keep your eyes on the prize: free dirt. Otherwise one might question the effort, smell and inconvenience. Last summer alone we created close to a bucket of fine soil that would have cost us more than $5.
So it is understandable that when the mercury drops and the snow falls, for us it is a mixed blessing. Yes, soon we will be sliding on snow, but on the down side, the compost bin is frozen solid. You can imagine my surprise and delight when Ellie brought home an electric indoor composter that not only heats the garbage but stirs it as well. And even more joyful, this is all done in the convenient location of your home.
The owner’s manual warned that initially you might notice a slight odor emanating from your new apparatus. They didn’t mention that they considered “slight odor” one that could set your nose hairs on fire. We decided to suffer through it and hope for an improvement. You would think after about seven weeks that we’d get used to it – not so.
Smell aside, the indoor composter was convenient. No longer was garbage left on our counter waiting to be placed in the outdoor bin. Now peels, rinds, scraps and the rest could go into the heated, indoor bin to spin, fester and percolate. You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs, and you can’t have a container of decomposing food-stuff without it smelling like, well, decomposing food-stuff. After much pleading on my part, our new composter was moved into the garage.
Before then, I wasn’t aware that a vehicle could absorb odors. To be honest, after having the composter in our home for a couple of months and now in our garage, where we keep our vehicles and recreational gear, I can hardly smell it any more. But I have had hitchhikers ask to be let off in the middle of nowhere only minutes after I have picked them up.
My mate is fairly stink tolerant (our nearly two decades of marriage can attest to that), but when our cars and ski gear began smelling, we almost gave up. Lucky for us there is a fair amount of composting information online. After spending hours in a chat room commiserating with other composters from around the world, Ellie found that the secret ingredient that we were missing was simple sawdust. Now whenever we put a fresh batch of slop in our composter, we lightly season it with sawdust.
Currently our garage has a rancid, rotting smell with a woody undertone that is much preferred.
There has been talk about once again moving our new composter inside. My worry is that there is not enough room in our refrigerator for both garbage and sawdust.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.