Matching Your Waste Stream to Your Composting Method

Image source: Philip Cohen, Wikipedia.

Image source: Philip Cohen, Wikipedia.

This past weekend I taught a composting class at a local Waldorf school to a group of adults. When I asked the students to describe their living situations, I realized I needed to take a detour from the main activity of the day, building a large biodynamic compost pile, into a discussion of worm composting.

Why? A few of the attendees lived in apartments or had very small yards. The type of composting your household does will be determined in part from how you manage your waste stream and what you intend to do with the compost. If you live in an apartment and just have a few house plants, a worm bin is going to be your best option.

Even if you have a yard and a vegetable garden you may still need to maintain a few different types of compost methods. We have three kinds of composting methods at our house, determined by the types of waste streams our household generates:

Worm bin
Our worm bin is for the trickle of food waste that comes out of the kitchen on a daily basis. This consists of vegetable trimmings, tea bags and coffee grounds.

Advantages: Can be done indoors in an apartment. Produces a compost that is higher in nutrients than a conventional compost pile.

Disadvantages: Certain foods can’t be added like citrus and onions.

Conventional compost pile
If you have a vegetable garden and want to grow organically, you’ll need to generate a large amount of compost. This is a great way to deal with yard trimmings, grass, manure, and food waste.

Advantages: makes the kind of high quality compost needed in large quantities for a vegetable garden.

Disadvantages: a lot of work, can’t be added too once the pile is built, may require car trips to gather materials.

“Disposal” compost pile
There’s also stuff that can’t go in the worm bin. And once you build a big pile it’s best not to keep adding to it. For this reason we have a kind of “disposal” pile. It’s a compost bin that gets the materials that can’t go into the other two.

Advantages: reduces the biomass of all the stuff that can’t go either in the worm bin or the big compost pile.

Disadvantages: produces a low quality compost.

Alternatives
The labor involved in building a big compost pile for a conventional vegetable garden speaks to the advantages of what I think of as alternative permaculture food crops. In our climate that’s things like prickly pear cactus, pomegranates, certain types of grapes, olives and California natives (many of which are edible or medicinal).  These useful plants don’t need compost. They pull up nutrients from the ground and, if you let the leaves fall in place, do their own composting.

Saturday Linkages: Ducks, Bikes and Body Care

Bare-chested Russian orders ducks to attention, marches them into barn

Journey Around Copenhagen’s Latest Bicycle Innovations!

This is exactly why we make our own body care products:

The Flying Tortoise: The P-Tree. For When He’s There And Has To Go…

The Flying Tortoise: Wolfgang Feierbach’s Amazing 1960’s Futuristic Psy…

The Myth of Progress – A C-Realm conversation about cognitive dissonance with the ArchDruid, John Michael Greer!

For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter:

Virtuosic Bread Shaping

This video proves that to learn a skill one must repeat it 10,000 times. That was the advice of a chef friend when I asked her how she learned to shape pizzas.

The bread being shaped here is called Markook, In Arabic, مرقوق، شراك. It’s a flatbread found throughout the Middle East (an Armenian friend who grew up in Lebanon told us about it). A casual Youtube search will reveal many different Markook shaping techniques. Here’s a pillow free version making the rounds on Facebook:

Back to learning a difficult skill. In the case of shaping dough it’s often best to practice with a sacrificial lump of flour and water that you’re not going to eat. It takes the pressure off and you’re free to try and try again. This applies, of course, to many other skills. Once you get the basic motion down, than it’s time to put some pressure on and try it for real.

Get Baking and Share the Loaves

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San Francisco baker Josey Baker, who is the best example of nominative determinism I know of, was in Los Angeles this week to share his enthusiasm for whole grain sourdough bread.

Enthusiasm is an understatement. Baker always has a big smile on his face and spent hours, at a bake-off and book signing at LA’s new mill Grist & Toll, answering questions and sharing his knowledge. Baker’s love for bread making is infectious. Catch that infection and you’ll go down a very deep and geeky vortex of hydration ratios and cold proofing sessions.

At a panel discussion on Monday, moderated by KCRW’s Evan Kleiman, Baker announced that he’s working on an Einkorn baguette, the bread geek equivalent of proposing a new route up K2 sans oxygen. At both events he dropped a lot of advice for home bakers that I thought I’d share:

  • The refrigerator is your friend. Do a long proof in the refrigerator. This deepens flavor, allows flexibility in your baking schedule and can help a hearth loaf hold its shape in the oven.
  • Are you beginner? Make your bread in a loaf pan. It’s a lot more forgiving than trying to shape a boule.
  • Use a tip sensitive thermometer to determine if your rye bread is done. Baker didn’t discuss the exact temp, but I shoot for 210°F. For wheat loaves let color be your guide–you want just short of burnt. Baker said that most beginning bakers don’t bake long enough.
  • To keep dough from sticking to your countertop use water instead of flour. Wet your hands too. This way you also won’t be incorporating more flour into your dough.
  • Whole wheat soaks up a lot of water. Your hydration ratio could hit 100% or more. Wet dough like this can be tough to handle which is why Baker’s recipes in the book are around 80%. As you get more experienced you can start working with more water in the dough.
  • Baker said that he often gives a loaf of whole wheat sourdough to people who come in his bakery and say that they can’t eat bread. He says they come back and say, “Holy s***, I can eat this bread!”

To pick up the basics of home baking I can’t say enough good things about Baker’s book, Josey Baker Bread. Baker’s previous job was in science education which makes him the perfect person to write a baking cookbook. The book is laid out to teach you all that you need to know about bread sequentially. You go from a simple yeasted bread up almost to the Einkorn baguette level.

As Josey Baker says, get baking and share the loaves!