Thursday, January 24, 2008

Garbage! Who'd "a thunk " you could write a post about that?

In the book, Thrift in the Household (circa 1904), the author recommends using even garbage in economical ways. Some methods, such as composting, we are familiar with today. Other ideas are unusual to our time, but they might actually be more modern than you might think. Her ideas for this are not only thrifty, but possibly "green", as well.

For the garden compost, the author recommends digging a hole, putting in a layer of garbage, throwing dirt back on top of that, and possibly adding lime if your soil needs it. I presume she intends for you to dig in this hole and move the composted material specifically to the garden.

Atlanta newspaper columnist, Celestine Sibley, just buried bits of scraps here and there around her yard and just left them there to compost into dirt. This can work. However, if you do this in the garden, the business of composting material can draw needed energy away from the growing of plants. For that reason, I think the ideal would be to use mature compost in the garden.

However, the principle that you don't need a fancy compost bin is sound. A couple of years ago, here is what I did. We had an old outside garbage container that we brought with us from a previous dwelling. Where we live now, the city provides us with an official garbage container and a recycling one, so we really didn't need this old container. So, I decided to turn it into a makeshift compost bin.

I drilled holes in the sides and top of the container. Then, as it was in the fall, I collected lots of leaves. To make the best compost, you need both leaf type materials, as well as leftover veggie type materials. I placed the leaves in the bin. To that, I have slowly added bits of kitchen garbage, including coffee grounds and used tea bags. I avoid throwing in scraps of anything containing dairy or meat, as these attract wild animals, and I and use only plant material instead. I also avoid throwing in anything that could contaminate the compost with unwanted toxins.

My original goal was to turn the compost with a shovel every few days or so, and to water the compost as well. Instead, I now let nature take it's course, while turning it only once in a long while. I continue to add to it.

Anyhow, this makes an easy container for compost. I have known people who selected a spot in their yard that wasn't up close to the house and just started throwing scraps there, until they formed a big heap. As the material gradually composted, they shoveled the more mature compost over to the garden.

Of course, there are compost bins that you can buy, including ones that have a handle on the side to turn the compost -- saving you the labor of shoveling it .

There are a variety of ways to compost, and there are many instructions on the Internet for how to do so.

The author of "Thrift in the Home" also suggests burning scraps for fuel, adding to the home's warmth in winter, and then using the ashes in flower beds. I knew a family that had a wood burning fireplace, and they used the ashes from the wood in their strawberry beds. I would imagine that burnt veggie scraps would make even better ashes for that purpose, though I don't know.

Tomatoes! Now we're moving on to something more appealing. In the book on thrift, it mentions that women used to grow tomatoes inside purely for decorative purposes. At one time, the tomato fruit was thought to be poisonous, since other parts of the plant are dangerous to digest. But, people found tomatoes and tomato plants to be pretty, and they grew them as houseplants. The author suggested that if people could grow them indoors for their appearance, anyone could grow a tomato plant in a sunny spot and enjoy the fruit to eat.

Now, I've grown herbs indoors. And, I've grown tomatoes in pots on my deck. But, I never thought about growing tomatoes indoors. I wonder if a tomato grown indoors would produce even in winter. Has anyone ever tried this?



Anonymous said...

We use our compost bin it's getting nice and rotting now, lol!

Tomatoes will grow indoors and produce in winter. Here's some advice:
Grow Tomatoes in Winter


Anonymous said...

I always thought you had to have worms in your compost?

Elizabeth said...

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for the link!

Hi topaztook,

You can compost with or without worms.

jules said...

I'm a bit late in commenting but wanted to say that my Nanny used to dig a hole in her flower bed, about 2 feet deep or so, with the pile of dirt next to it and an old gargage can lid on it. She would keep all her household scraps in a pot on the counter and at the end of the day, she'd go out and dump it in that hole, cover it with a bit of dirt and put the lid back on (with a brick on top). When the hole got filled up, she'd put the rest of the dirt on it and dig another one somewhere else. I guess this was the old fashioned way of composting her garden beds without the big compost bed.

Elizabeth said...

That sounds like a wonderful way to do it, even if it is old-fashioned. Sometimes, the tried and true work best. If I had it to do over again, I might try that instead of my garbage can with holes in it.