Notes from Windward: #66


      Watching a batch of diverse organic materials transmogrify into marvelous, aromatic, soil-enriching compost is a joyous experience for any organic gardener. Unfortunately watching this happen in most non-systematic backyard composting projects can take Buddha-like patience: months or even years of dedicated watching. Fortunately, tumbler-style composters can speed the process up considerably.

      The author wore out a $400 Original CompostTumbler some years back in the process of feeding a backyard vegetable garden, so he knows that tumbler-style composters can do the job quicker than his previous piles and bins and with a lot less effort.

      We recently started looking for was a composter design that was right for Windward, a much more spacious place than the typical suburban backyard, and also blessed with an ample supply of raw materials, including well-aged manure from our small flock of sheep.

      After scrutinizing virtually all the available commercial designs -- and also sketching and rejecting at least half a dozen of our own ideas for a homebrew tumbler-style composter -- we settled on the design we're about to start building. None of the commercial designs we looked at were quite right for the unique community setting that is Windward. Besides, as you can see from Blogging the Yurt, we're inclined to design and build our own stuff. We also have a batch of interns this summer who are interested in all aspects of creating a sustainable, healthy lifestyle and composting certainly plays a role.

      The Compost Tumbler design you see here is built around cheap and readily available surplus railroad ties and 55-gallon steel drums. A supply of these items is available for recycling right here at Windward. If it works out as designed (but what ever does?) this approach will be simple and cheap (about $50 per module for off-the-shelf hardware) to construct and operate…and also expandable.

      Expandability is important to us. For one thing, we're going to be growing lots of organic vegetables this year as we start experimenting with the year-around harvest concept and have our ten interns participating in the process. Our orchard is expanding, too, so we can use plenty of high-quality compost to improve the fertility and productivity of our garden soils.

      Research is also important to us. We have a wide range of raw materials (including growing supplies of high-potency Community Compost Activator) to work with and want to be able to evaluate what combinations work best; so it would be great to have multiple batches "cooking" at the same time. The design we're going to prototype allows us to do that; as soon as the first prototype is cooking, our crop of bright and passionate interns can start fabricating the next units in what will probably turn out to be a string of four 55-gallon units at this particular location. In keeping with the kaizen approach of continuous improvement, we trust that the design will evolve as we gain experience building and operating these puppies.

      Stay tuned as this project progresses.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 66