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  • Composting: The Other Black Gold (part 2)

    Composting: The Other Black Gold pt 2

    You’ve read the first part of our composting series, Composting: The Other Black Gold, now you’re ready for some more details.


    A Note on Using Manure or Feces
    Is all poop created equal? Technically any fecal matter can eventually be used as a fertilizer, but should be composted first. However, when incorporating brown organic matter into your compost don’t use human, dog, cat, or pig feces because these types of fecal matter frequently carry pathogens and parasites. When you’re making compost to use in growing edibles, it’s best to stick with waste from herbivores like rabbits, sheep, goat, horse, or cow manure. Here’s a simple explanation of why.

    Turning your compost pile
    When you’re building your compost pile, keep in mind that you’ll have to turn that stuff over. You’ll also want to be rotating out the finished compost. Don’t build it bigger than you can manage. The best height for your compost pile(s) is between 3 to 5 cubic feet. It all depends a lot on what you’ll be able to turn – don’t make it too big! We recommend making multiple piles; that’ll make your timing and turning a lot easier.

    When you’re turning compost, remember that the point is to bring stuff from the outside (edges) in. It will decompose without you turning it, but it will take a lot longer – often up to a year! Turning the compost introduces oxygen, which helps it break down.

    Don’t turn your compost pile more than every two weeks. When organic matter decomposes, it builds up heat, which is part of the breaking-down process. If you turn the pile too frequently, this heat is lost and the whole composting process takes a lot longer. Since the point is to get compost onto your garden as soon as possible, turning every two to four weeks is ideal.

    If you're looking to speed up the composting process, consider adding composting activators. Many are manufactured, and a few you can make or grow yourself. If you're putting in the right balance of green and brown organic matter (ie nitrogen and carbon), and building the pile correctly, then you don't really need a composting activator.  But if you do want to hurry up the decomposition go ahead and use one, with this caution: because you're adding nitrogen you'll probably notice an increase in odor.

    iStock_000014570870XSmall_Compost or Fresh Soil

    How do you know when your compost is ready?
    According to this article by the University of Illinois, “compost is ready to use when it is dark brown, crumbly and has an earthy odor. Compost should be fluffy, but not powdery. The original materials that were put into the compost pile should not be recognizable, except for small pieces of stems.” This should take about three months, depending on what kind of composting you’re doing.

    Composting is a wonderful way to cut down on waste, create your own fertilizer, and increase your garden’s production. Come harvest time you’ll find that your table scraps were worth their weight in gold!

    Happy composting!


  • Composting: The Other Black Gold (part 1)



    Think gardening is okay but composting just isn't for you?  Here are some basics to get you drawing on the other black gold – compost that is, not Texas tea. This information was compiled from books we offer at Emergency Essentials, The Sense of Survival and The Encyclopedia of Country Living, as well as from informative websites (links included in article).

    Tips for Beginners

    • Wait until your organic material is composted (decomposed) before you put it in/on your garden. Table scraps are great, but don’t chuck them right into your garden. You’ll learn why below.
    • Cutting your organic material into smaller pieces will speed up their breakdown. For example, instead of leaving the entire banana peel, tear it into fourths (or smaller if you have time).
    Compost should be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge.


    Four Basics

    To compost, you need four basics: organic matter, moisture, oxygen, and bacteria. You provide the organic matter (and occasionally a little water as needed) and Mother Nature provides the rest. If you’re building your composting piles on the ground, Mother Nature will also provide worms which are the best composters ever. They will help speed up the composting process by breaking down organic material, aerating, and fertilizing so don’t get rid of them!

    But you don’t just have to build your pile right on the ground. You can also keep your compost in a bin, and there are lots of different types of composting bins to choose from. If you do start your compost in a bin, layer it like lasagna. Make sure you add a bottom layer of soil, and a little water to keep the organic matter moist.  Add your organic matter, and a little more soil on top.  Turn it every two weeks. Also important – the bin should not be air or watertight. You definitely want oxygen to get in there and do its job. Add a few earthworms to your bin and voila!

    Bits of vegetable, fruits and paper ready for composting.

    Choosing your Organic Matter

    What NOT to put in your compost:
    meat, bones, dairy, and oil.

    So your part of the composting partnership is to add organic matter. What can you put in and what should stay out? In general there are two types of organic matter; green and brown. Green organic matter would be table scraps (like your vegetables, egg shells, or coffee grounds) and lawn clippings. Brown organic matter would be stuff like manure, leaves, and twigs.


    Surprising things you can compost:
    hair, paper, and dryer lint.

    Keep a 1:1 ratio of green to brown organic matter. That balances the nitrogen (from green organic matter) and carbon (from brown organic matter). If your compost stinks, you probably have too much green matter. Add more brown organic matter to balance it out. And make sure that you always top your compost with a carbon (brown organic) layer, or a layer of dirt. Read more here.

    There are a lot of items that you probably didn't think could be added to the pile but that actually can be composted. Here’s an interesting post on composting hair. Dog and cat hair compost more quickly than human hair. If you are going to add hair make sure you spread it out – don’t let it clump in one spot.

    We have a lot more information on composting for you, check back tomorrow to read The Other Black Gold part 2.


  • Food Storage: Insurance You Can Eat

    Food Storage: Insurance you can Eat

    We use insurance to hedge against risk of loss in many aspects of our lives. We buy health insurance in case of injury or illness. We buy auto insurance in case of an accident. We buy life insurance to ensure our loved ones are provided for should we pass away. We can even buy homeowner’s insurance that covers our losses in case of a disaster like a fire or flood. But what if you are unable to buy food because of a natural disaster, job loss, or other crisis? If you’ve hedged against this risk by storing an emergency food supply, you’re covered.


    The Need for Food Storage

    The modern food supply system is efficient, but complex, putting it at risk in a number of ways. Supermarkets use a system called just-in-time inventory. A disruption at any point in the supply chain will mean that shelves will empty before replenish inventory arrives. A winter storm could limit the access of delivery trucks. A blackout could shut down a warehouse. Time and again, an approaching hurricane has sent people to the supermarket to stock up on food, water, and other emergency supplies, emptying shelves within hours. But a disruption in the food supply chain isn’t the only risk when it comes to feeding your family.

    During a major power outage, cash registers and debit/credit card machines will be out of commission. Unless you have an abundance of cash on hand, you’ll be unable to buy the supplies you need. The bottom line is there are many factors that could limit or prevent you from buying food at the supermarket.

    Even if the supermarkets are stocked and the weather is great, job loss, reduction in income, or loss of a spouse can drastically reduce your access to food.  If one of these happened to you, how many days could you feed your family with the food you have in your house? Hedging against a loss of income by storing food brings peace of mind now and relief in a crisis later.


    Finding a Food Storage Supplier

    Like other types of insurance, you need a reliable and trustworthy provider when purchasing food storage. Because you can’t see through the packaging of long-term food storage, you can’t assess its quality without opening it (which defeats the purpose of the packaging, i.e. long shelf life). You can determine a company’s trustworthiness for yourself by asking questions, talking to other customers, tasting their products, knowing how long they have been in business, looking at customer reviews, evaluating their satisfaction guarantee, etc.

    As the number of companies selling long-term food storage products increases, it’s increasingly important to research the company and its products before deciding where to buy your food storage. Don’t take any company’s claims at face value. You don’t want to discover that you don’t have the coverage you need in your moment of crisis.

    We recommend reading “Emergency Essentials’ 15 Tips for Food Storage Shopping” before deciding where to buy your food storage. These tips will give a better idea of what to look for in a long-term food storage supply. Hedge against possible disruptions in food supplies, the economy, and personal income with food storage—your edible insurance—and you’ll certainly be covered in a crisis.


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