Friday, October 17, 2008

How to Compost: Expert Q&A with Fred Horch

For those of you who have been following the How to Compost series here at Please Come Flying, I have a special treat for you today.

Meet Fred Horch, a former corporate attorney, computer geek, private pilot, and professional environmentalist. Not to mention he's the friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable owner of the F. W. Horch Sustainable Goods shop here in Brunswick. [By the way, they're having a sale this weekend...if you're in Maine, I would definitely check out this flyer (.pdf).]

Fred's blog, Green Tidings, is a great place to get tips on things like indoor air quality, weatherizing your home, and yes, composting. Which is why I've asked him here. Fred has graciously agreed to answer a few basic questions about composting. Later this Fall, he's also agreed to write a guest post on his recommended home composters. Thanks for joining us, Fred!

JC: What is the most common composting problem people seem to have, and what is the best solution?

FH: People usually have one of two problems:

1) "I keep adding stuff but nothing is happening." This usually means the compost is too dry. You can preserve things for centuries if you keep it dry! The solution is to add water. Even better, add water mixed with an activator. The results are often spectacular.

2) "Help! My compost stinks to high heaven." This usually means the compost is too wet, and probably acidic. Add dry materials like shredded leaves, wood chips, clean sawdust, chopped up cardboard or shredded paper. It also helps to turn it and mix it air (this makes the smell temporarily worse, but then it gets better). If you want to compost kitchen scraps without odors, a dry source of carbon is not optional -- you must add all the ingredients (greens, browns, water and air) to make a successful batch of compost!

JC: Why should I compost? Is it worth the hassle?

FH: There are two main reasons to compost: 1) It's one of the few things you can do for the planet that literally makes the world a better place. Feeding your soil improves its fertility, which benefits all living things. 2) What else are you planning to do with your garbage? In a word, all the other alternatives suck. Landfills are expensive and pollute our water. Incinerators can't burn wet garbage. Dumping at sea is now illegal.

As far as being worth the hassle, that depends on you. Most people find it's not a big deal. If you don't have curbside garbage pickup, it's probably less of a hassle to compost than to haul big bags of stinky garbage to the dump.

JC: What is the most common misconception people have about composting?

FH: Most people think you need a lot of room to do it. The fact is, you can compost in an apartment if you want. We have self-contained worm bins, bokashi buckets, and NatureMills that all work inside.

JC: What is the strangest composting question anyone's ever asked you?

FH: We just had a guy ask us how to compost fleece. This summer one of our employees took a week-long course on industrial scale composting, so he was ready with the answer. (He'd be happy to tell you how to compost 200 cow carcasses, too, if you really want to know.)

JC: Thanks a million, Fred. I really appreciate everything you do in the community...we're all very lucky to have you around!

1 comment:

Tammie said...

Oh wow I have been seriously considering buying the Sun-Mar 200! It was expensive enough though that I thought I would look into it. Finding many reviews period was not easy! I am sure glad I came across your blog. So we have a very small yard with high clay content soil so I'm thinking so good compost would really help my garden. What have you done now? Are you having much luck in the composting department? What would you do if you were me?

Thanks a bunch! Your post have been so helpful!