Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Global Warming Wednesday: Composting and bears

One thing I really liked in Toronto was the green bin program. In our first apartment, all of our organics could go into it. With a kid in pull-ups and a dog, after whom I religiously scooped, our family could nearly fill 2 green bins every week. By diverting so much to the green bins, we had very little garbage, not even a full can every two weeks.

If we'd had access to the yard and the owner's blessing, I would have supplemented with a compost pile. I would still have used the compost bin for all those things that would be hard to compost--meat, fish, dairy, diapers, dog waste--but certainly all of my fruits, vegetables, and other compostables would have stayed with me to provide nice mulch.

Now we have the yard and even the compost bins with some old yard waste already decomposing. I've been happily adding kitchen waste since we moved in, finally able to make use of our sink-side collector again. Soon I will start turning the pile, as it's finally warm enough that the outer parts of the piles are no longer frozen.

But I'm faced with an interesting problem that I would not have encountered in Toronto. Bears. While not frequent visitors, they have made occasional forays into our yard, drawn by the fruit trees. (Note to self: when the fruit ripens, eat it fast enough that there's none left for the bears.) And from what I've been reading, kitchen scraps on a compost pile are also likely to draw them.

I've seen a number of solutions that I've been weighing:
  • Only compost yard waste. Not a full solution since the whole point of composting for me has been keeping our kitchen waste out of the landfill.
  • Lime. Sprinkling lime on the compost pile helps it break down more quickly and masks some of the smell. But the resulting mulch is usually alkaline and not necessarily good for using in the garden.
  • Vermicomposting. That is, feeding kitchen waste to worms. Problem with this is that we don't have a good place to maintain a worm colony year-round.
  • Indoor composting. There are now indoor composters that create heat via electricity. But they are expensive and use energy. I'd rather harness the sun.
  • More secure composting containers. These can also be a bit pricey (though less than the indoor composter). Plus it will be hard to determine how animal-proof a container is until I put it to the test.
My tentative plan right now is to start with the lime for the piles we already have. I can balance out some of the alkaline with the pine needles that are around. And even if all I do is pile the finished mulch off to the side of the yard, at least I haven't sent our kitchen waste to the landfill. The next step is to research outdoor composters and see if anybody has anything to say about them in terms of bears specifically. I've long wanted a tumbler anyway and have my eye on a couple already.

And just so I can add this into the "Home Audit":

To do in the next month:
  • Buy lime at the hardware store and add to the two piles.
  • Begin turning the piles.
  • Research compost tumblers.
To do in the next year:
  • Buy said compost tumbler.
To keep in mind for the future (and in general):
  • Try to generate less food waste by buying and preparing only what we will eat.
What I'd like to hear from you:
  • Anybody have experience with bears and compost?
  • Torontonians and other urban dwellers can weigh in too. I'm thinking specifically about raccoons and how people might be keeping them out of their bins.


Lisa b said...

Bears are a lot harder to keep out than racoons! did you ever notice the nylon snaps on the green bins? those seem to be enough. That's not going to work with a bear.
I just have the craziest impression of where you are living now.
Bears? I had no idea.

Mouse said...

We had problems with raccoons opening our green bin, though I vaguely remember that green bins went through a redesign once we moved into our condo.

I'm kind of imagining the main test for any container will be sturdiness with bears. But I figure raccoons aren't out of the question either.

This is a smallish town, but it's laid out in such a way that many neighborhoods are on the edge of the wild. We're only about two houses in from a very wild area, so bears don't have to deal with much human contact to get at the apricots.