Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rotting Sculptures

Where should we put the compost pile? Maybe behind the shed. Or behind this, or behind that. And what kind of bin should we use? Should it be surrounded by wire fencing, or made out of wood? Maybe we can put it in an elaborate barrel that is turned by a super complicated computer program and series of motors.

These are generally some of the things that people think when considering starting a compost pile.

It really can be much simpler. You don't need a container. And you really can put it right in the center of your garden where it can be seen and admired.

My friend, and former employer Allen developed a technique of building compost piles that requires no structure (other than the compostable material itself). And these piles are so aesthetically pleasing that they can be placed in highly visible areas. In fact, they really possess a sort of sculptural quality. We frequently placed them throughout gardens, as sort of art pieces that could be disassembled and used where they were needed the most. They always elicit questions and comments. They frequently become departure points for in-depth discussions.

Below are a few photos of these piles. These, unfortunately, are not in the middle of a garden, but in a utility area. The piles are constructed from bags of leaves that have been placed on the side of the road in nearby neighborhoods for the garbage men to pick up and haul to the county landfill. We simply liberate these bags prior to the garbage trucks arriving. Most piles contain an average of 300-400 bags of leaves. Our record is 717 bags. The pile was ridiculously huge, something like 18 ft in diameter by 12 ft high. We had to build a scaffolding to work on it. It was mildly amusing, but impractical.

Note: These piles do not contain any structural support apart from the material being composted. No, there is not any wire surrounding the piles.

In addition to the bags of leaves, all garden waste is put in the piles. Weeds, clippings, branches, etc. Some piles are built all at once. Some gradually grow as garden waste is generated. The below picture shows a newly constructed pile. The sides have not yet been shaped. Notice the cardboard. Anything that will rot gets put in the pile. The garbage truck almost never stops at this garden.

This pile is being slowly built as garden waste is being generated. Green (and orange) materials are placed on top. When this layer reaches about 6" in depth, a layer of leaves is placed on top of it. This cycle repeats until the pile is at a reasonable height. Then the sides are shaped and the pile develops a sculptural quality.

After about 4-6 months, the piles are fully composted and ready to be spread. Black gold!

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