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.

Movie recommendation: DamNation

This weekend, Erik and I went to a screening and discussion of DamNation, hosted at the Natural History Museum. DamNation is beautiful environmental documentary about the history and impact of dams on our watersheds, and the growing movement to decommission “deadbeat dams.”

I don’t know if it was the PMS, but I was teary-eyed through much of it, moved by the beauty of the waters, the struggles of the salmon, and the passion of the people who love the fish and their rivers. Days later, I keep thinking particularly of one man who for the last twelve years (if I recall correctly) has lived in a camper six months out of the year to guard a special resting place for trout on their migration. He has Parkinson’s disease, and knows he will not be able to carry on his mission as long as he had hoped, but has faith he’ll find someone to take his place when the time comes.

I also learned a lot about dams–starting with the simple fact of how many of them we have. Holy cow! Like “No Child Left Behind”, it seems we had a “No River Left Undammed” policy for quite a few years. I also never understood how fish hatcheries work, but I now see them as a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to manage nature.

At any rate, Erik and I both give it the thumbs up. According to the producer who spoke at the screening, DamNation is available for sale as a DVD and Blue Ray. It’s also in the iTunes store, and the cable On Demand services, and will be on Netflix within a couple of weeks. It has been doing the festival circuit in the U.S., and will be doing more tours abroad. Finally, they also have a program to help community groups host a screening.

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

Josey_Baker_MAIN-800x375 (1)

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!

011 Cleaning, Long Crowing Roosters and Water Storage

Kosova long crowing rooster chick. Image: Wikimedia.

Kosova long crowing rooster chick. Image: Wikimedia.

In the eleventh episode of the Root Simple Podcast, Kelly and I discuss our new house cleaning routine, long crowing roosters and we answer a reader question about emergency water storage.

Cleaning
Apartment Therapy post on cleaning: How to Clean Your House on 20 minutes a Day for 30 Days.

Erik references the importance of processing your inbox, an idea learned from a book Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Long Crowing Roosters
The Wikipedia article on long crowing roosters.

A youtube playlist of long crowing roosters.

Musical break
“Banty Rooster Blues” by Charley Patton.

Listener Question: Water Storage for Emergencies
A correction to the podcast–the Food Safety Advisor is not free to download, but the information on water storage that I reference can be found here.

Amazon link to the water storage container we use.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on StitcherThe theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Quick Tip: DIY Decaf Tea

cat and tea cup

EDITED  8/6/2014

It appears we have been taken in by a popular Internet myth.  A reader comment  (Thanks, Laura!) brought alerted me to an excellent post on tea myths and includes findings from (apparently) the only two studies to every test this methodology of reducing caffeine levels in tea.  These show that the reduction from a short steeping would be more in the 9-20% range, as opposed to 80%. To achieve 80% the steep would have to be over 5 minutes. It’s an interesting article, worth a read–it also addresses the complex subject of how much caffeine black and green teas actually have.

I’m not sure if this is common knowledge or not– my acupuncturist told me about it years ago–but you can decaffeinate your own tea.

As someone who loves (loves loves) hot black milky tea, even in summer, but who no longer gets along well with caffeine, this is a very good thing. Commercially decaffeinated tea is indistinguishable from dishwater. The DIY version doesn’t taste as good as “real tea”–the undiluted kind– but it’s better than the store bought stuff.

An additional advantage is that you don’t have to stock two types of tea–one type becomes two, saving shelf space. Note that this works best with loose leaf tea, but can be used with bagged tea, too.

All you have to do is brew your tea as you normally would, but start counting as soon as you pour the hot water. After at least 30 seconds but no more than 1 minute you pour off all of what has brewed so far. And yes, that’s all the good stuff. But by doing so, you are pouring off about 80% of the caffeine. It’s sad, but being all headachey and jittery is sad too, so I do it. Then you top off the tea leaves with fresh hot water and start the brew again. This one you drink.

Commercially decaf tea is lower in caffeine than this homebrew–just to be clear.  According to the Mayo Clinic, one cup of commercial decaf black tea can contain anywhere from 0 to 12 mg of caffeine. A regular cup of black tea ranges from 14 to 70 mg.  With this DIY process, a 70 mg cup would be reduced to 14 mg. A cup of regular green tea ranges from 25 to 45 mg, and can be decaffeinated by this method as well.

Biodynamic Composting Workshop

compostworkshop

I’m teaching a hands-on biodynamic composting workshop at a local Waldorf school this weekend and looking forward to seeing some of you. We’ll go over the science of compost and the intention focusing thoughtstylings of Rudolf Steiner.

What: Biodynamic Composting Workshop
When: 8/9/2014, 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Where: Highland Hall Garden in Northridge, California

Learn how to create your own compost!

Compost builds soil, creates life, grows food and saves the planet! In this hands-on workshop we’ll build a compost pile out of materials commonly available in Southern California. We’ll also cover the use of and apply Steiner’s biodynamic preps.

Our workshop will be led by Erik Knutzen of Root Simple.

Erik Knutzen is the author, with his wife Kelly Coyne, of The Urban Homestead and Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post Consumer World. He blogs and produces a podcast at www.rootsimple.com.

Cost: $20 per person. Space is limited to 20 attendees. Children are free and welcome to participate under the supervision of their parents.  Register in advance here.

What to bring: hat, gloves, sturdy shoes – be prepared to get your hands dirty!

Refreshments will be provided.

Contact Bridget Kelley for more information: [email protected] or 818-398-6385

Sponsored by the Garden Gnome Society at Highland Hall.

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