Friday, May 20, 2011

My Big, Fat, Green Dilemma

When I was living in an apartment, I had a really short list of "pros" for moving into a house. I'm not going to lie; there are certain perks to living in an apartment. No yard work, for instance. Also, when something breaks you can have someone out within a day or two. You don't feel guilty calling and "bothering" someone. (yeah, I have issues)

On the pro list? I could have company. People could actually find not only my house, but a place to park that was nearby. I could have a garden. There would be storage. A yard means no more walking the dogs.

And, I could start composting.

I was super excited to get started with my compost heap after we got settled in here. There are lots of reasons to compost:

1. Waste reduction in the landfill - This is the main big reason. NOTHING decomposes in a landfill, so the less we put in, the better.

2. Methane reduction - landfills produce methane gas, which in turn contributes to global warming. Less crap in the landfill means less methane.

3. It's free fertilizer. Buying compost is NOT cheap!

4. Saves water - using compost in your soil helps in water usage reduction. Apparently it's like a sponge and will hold onto water so you have to use less in your garden and on your lawn.

The thing is, however, that once we were settled in we realized that we had a weed problem. A serious weed problem. I'm talking our lawn is probably 70-80 percent weeds. You can't tell when it's mowed, but let us go a couple of weeks without mowing? Yeah. It's pretty much covered.

Everything I have read or heard about composting says that you can't put weeds in the pile, because then you'll just be adding those seeds to your lawn and garden, creating a bigger problem. If I couldn't use grass clippings in my compost then I wouldn't have enough material to compost at all! I decided to go ahead and forget about my compost heap.

Well, a few more months into house living and I started to think about it again. Every other week when we mowed the lawn, we would end up with bags and bags of clippings. I started to think about all of these bags of clippings and feeling really bad about adding them to the landfill. I mean, roughly five bags of clippings, over 25 weeks in a year, plus all the kitchen stuff that I could be adding... that's a LOT of stuff! I decided that I would go ahead and start composting after all. I just wouldn't use the compost on my lawn or garden. I'd just have to find a place to dump it or use it as fill dirt. That would be better than it being in a landfill anyway.

So here is my little compost heap:

It just looks like a huge pile of grass clippings, right? I've had it for several weeks now and everything seemed to be going well. It's so cool to see how much the pile shrinks over time before you add more stuff to it. The material is breaking down and it doesn't smell like anything except damp dirt. I water and stir it every other day to make sure things are getting enough air, as oxygen is essential to the decomposition process. I was feeling pretty dang proud of myself for deciding to do this.

That's right. Was.

This is where it's gonna get gross, y'all. You can leave now and I won't feel bad, I promise. Here, I'll leave you with a photo of the pretty flowers I found on my tomato plants (yessssss!!!!) this morning:

Okay. Here it is.

A few days ago, when I went to stir my pile, about four or five 1" long cockroaches came running out from under it.

OMG, I just gave myself the heebie jeebies typing that. To say I freaked out would be an understatement. I can handle spiders, I can handle snakes. But roaches? Uh uh, no way. I almost have a phobia of those things. I see one and my instinct is to scream and run. That's it. You can rationalize with me about it all you want and it doesn't matter. I know I'm bigger than they are. I know I can kill them with one mighty stomp. I know they can't REALLY hurt me. Doesn't matter. I just can't handle them.

I called my friend who I know has been composting for a while to ask her about this. She said that she had seen dead ones in her yard, but never a live one or one in her house. She also uses a bin in the ground though, so it's possible that they are in the bottom and that is why she doesn't see them. She gave me a phone number and suggested I call to speak with a Master Gardener to find out if this is normal and if there is anything I can do about it.

I called the number that day and had to leave a message. I got a call back this morning from a man with just the cutest voice ever, who was super nice about it. Basically, he said that if you want to have compost, you're going to have roaches. He went on to tell me that they're harmless, more scared of me than I am of them (I don't know about that), and a beneficial part of the decomposition process. He then proceeded to describe the ones I saw perfectly - small, about an inch long, reddish to black brown in color, more rounded than the ones with wings that fly. They look more like those Madagascar hissing roaches than the ones people get in the house or that live near canals and such.

Oh, you didn't know there were different kinds? LMAO!!! At least I have the "right" kind I suppose.

So my dilemma is this - do I suck it up, like he basically told me to do, and keep the compost heap? I mean, it is working. It doesn't smell. I'm doing a REALLY good thing for the environment. We don't even have to set out our trash bin at the curb for pickup each week now between compost and recycling! The only downside to the compost are the "harmless and beneficial" critters living under it, but that's a big one.

I did tell him that I didn't actually plan to use my compost, because of the weeds. He told me that was actually a myth. Compost can get up to 140 degrees while it's decomposing and that will kill any seeds that are in it. It's fine to use on my lawn. (Even if it didn't, since my lawn is all weeds anyway it's not like I'd be making it worse, right?) He suggested that I use Round-Up on the weeds, and when I told him I'd rather not, he said that above 105 degrees, vinegar will do the same thing. Apparently it breaks down a waxy coating on the plant and it can't survive without it. If you spray a weed with straight vinegar at ten in the morning and it will be dead by 2:00 pm.

ARGH! I don't know what to DO!!!



Blogger Becky said...

OH EEEK!! Roaches! Blech. I don't know about you, but I probably couldn't handle it. I found a giant spider (looked like a mini-tarantual) in our powder room downstairs and proceeded to use the upstairs bathroom for a week afterwards! I hate bugs. Maybe you could save up for one of those drums that you just spin with a handle? Find one on craigslist or something?

1:31 PM  
Blogger Muffy said...

That's a tough call. We're composters too, but we bought a fancy pants above-ground composter. Like you, we really don't have a good even balance of things. I'd say keep composting, just don't let Jr. near it and maybe make a small wall of bricks around it?

2:57 PM  
Blogger Maggi said...

Nothing, NOTHING could get me to live with roaches anywhere near my home. But I'm not as green as you are so I really don't know what you should do, specifically. Dave won't even consider moving somewhere warmer because of roaches. In New York he used to see the gigantic mutant ones down in the subway -- we're talking the size of a small rodent. I just can't get over the roaches=filth association I've made all my life. I agree with Becky; maybe something contained would keep them at bay so you could have compost with out the pests? A drum or a large container or something?

3:47 PM  
Blogger Olivia said...

ick. omg. cockroaches scare the crap out of me. i'm no help here.

6:45 PM  

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