How Does Composting Really Work?

Most of us have heard of composting. Rather than throwing leftover food in the garbage, you toss it on a compost heap, where it eventually breaks down into fertilizer. Great!

But do you know how composting actually works? How does all that smelly food trash turn into something healthy for your plants?

How Does Composting Work?

The elements involved in composting

There are four main ingredients required for a successful compost heap: organic waste like newspaper, leaves, fruit and vegetable remains; soil which provides natural, beneficial microorganisms; water which is provided by rain and the fluids contained in the organic material; and air, which you provide by turning the contents of the compost heap on a regular basis.

What happens to the garbage?

The microorganisms that are contained in your soil break down the organic waste using a process called aerobic respiration. That’s why a traditional compost heap requires air – because aerobic means using air. Other forms of composting, like bokashi, use anaerobic respiration but we won’t get into that here!

To help the microorganisms do their job, large pieces of waste should be broken down into smaller bits. They also need water in order to thrive, so if you don’t get plentiful rain, you may want to water your compost heap. You want it to be consistently moist, but not soaking wet.

The composting process

Once you’ve combined your ingredients, and you’ve been regularly turning and watering the mixture, the composting starts to happen. Depending on where you live, your soil will contain different types of microorganisms, but the overall process remains the same.

As your microbes break down the organic waste, they release carbon dioxide gas and heat. When your compost heap is in full swing, temperatures will reach 100 to 150 degrees. There may also be some gas bubbles in the mixture, which you’ll notice when you’re turning it.

You may also find some bugs and earthworms in the pile, which is perfectly fine. They typically aid in the composting process.

As long as everything is going well, your compost heap shouldn’t smell too bad (once the process has begun). It should smell rich and earthy. If it smells rancid, grows black mold, or there are a lot of recognizable pieces of trash that aren’t breaking down, you might need to remove some of the waste from the pile.

When is it done cooking?

If the compost mixture is dark brown or black, and there are no recognizable pieces of trash that you can see, the composting process is probably complete. There are a few other things to look for, to be absolutely sure.

The temperature should have decreased below 100 degrees, meaning the microorganisms are running out of material to break down. The volume of the heap should have decreased by 50 to 75 percent, and it should have a crumbly texture to it. You also shouldn’t smell any of the waste anymore, so the compost should emit a pleasant smell similar to rich soil.

That’s it!

The overall process isn’t complicated at all. If you’re more interested in the science of composting, you can research different microorganisms and the way they react with specific types of organic material. You can also test the pH level of your soil and experiment with your microbes and waste to produce ideal pH levels for different plants.

Maintaining a compost heap is easy, beneficial to the environment, and provides free fertilizer for your garden (or somebody else’s garden, if you don’t want your own). There’s no reason not to get started now!

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6 Forms of Natural Mole Control

There are quite a few ways to control pests in the garden, but natural and humane methods tend to be harder to come by because it can be easier in the moment to use traps and poison. I’m going to talk about moles and gophers today, because we’ve just had to deal with an infestation. But some of these ideas will apply to any pest you find invading your home or garden.

pest control

The first step is to know your enemy. In my cases, the signs of moles and gophers are very similar, but the pests are actually quite different. For example, moles actually don’t eat plants, but they burrow under the soil in search of their favorite meals, grubs and earthworms. This isn’t too much of a problem because they tend to aerate and turn the soil, but they do leave visible tunnels, ridges, and circular mounds, which can be a nuisance in the garden. On the other hand, gophers DO eat plants and can really do a lot of damage to crops. Their tunnels usually aren’t visible, so it can be tough to pinpoint them as culprits.

Here is a list of 6 forms of natural pest control, with a bit of a focus on fighting against moles and gophers:

  1. Kill their food source

The best way to get rid of moles feeding in the garden is to take away their food, so they won’t want to come back. A combination of milky spore bacteria and beneficial nematodes can be used to destroy the grubs.

  1. Castor Oil

Castor Oil can be used as a repellent and does an excellent job of controlling moles and gophers as well as armadillos. Castor oil products don’t actually harm moles or gophers – it simply deters them, making it a great form of natural pest control. You can actually use the castor oil to control the direction that they go. Using a spreader, castor oil can be set down in granules over an area where damage has been particularly bad. You will only need about one pound per 1,000 square feet, so a small amount does the trick. The granules need to dissolve and release the repelling scent, and for this to happen they need to either be watered or rained on. Castor oil granules are an all-natural product made up of castor oil, soap and corncob granules, which are actually good for the lawn

  1. Build raised beds

Cover the bottom of the bed with a sheet of hardware cloth so gophers and moles cannot burrow around in the garden. You can also install underground rhizome barriers, which are usually used to control the rapid spread of plants, but they can also be used to keep pests out.

  1. Humane traps

Gophers and moles can be caught unharmed with specially made humane traps and set back out into the wild. Although regular mole traps are apparently a very efficient way of getting rid of the problem, the humane traps seem to be less effective. So, this may not be an efficient solution if you have a large number of pests.

  1. Build fences

Gophers and moles cannot climb, so building a fence around your property may help with these pests. Even just a one-foot-high solid barrier is enough to prevent pests from getting in.

  1. Sounds and vibrations

Gophers in particular are very sensitive to any kind of vibrations and noise in the ground. Special devices are available which create these deterrents and keep gophers away. Different types include battery models that use solar panels.

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The cloth diapers decision: pros and cons

The decision between cloth or disposable diapers is very much an individual one. Parents schedule, budget, and personal opinions about what is best for themselves, the child and the environment must all be taken into account before choosing one over the other, but because of the cost, safety, health, and other benefits, I am going to build a case in favor of using cloth diapers.

cloth diapers

Cost

Cloth diapers are the most cost effective option. Instead of spending up to $3,000 during your child’s diaper-wearing years, you would spend usually less than $500 for even the most expensive cloth ones. If you have multiple children, this is an outrageous amount to spend on diapers if you don’t have to. Cloth diapers can be a huge money saver, allowing you to spend the extra money you would have spent on disposables on more important things for your child.

Safe and environmentally friendly

If you’re worried about the dyes and chemicals used in disposable diapers, cloth is a natural and safe option for your child. Organic cloth diapers are available in cotton, microfiber, bamboo and hemp, and can come as either cloth liners or an all-in-one model (a diaper and cover that looks like a disposable diaper), giving you the choice to use what would work best for your needs and making an earth-friendly choice easy. For the organics, hemp is said to be very absorbent but less soft than bamboo.

For potty training

Many people feel that when children wear cloth diapers, they are more likely to start potty training earlier because they can feel wetness more easily, and don’t mind the switch to underwear at a younger age. The fact that disposable diapers are more absorbent means they can be worn longer (cloth diapers need to be changed more often), but this often results in more diaper rash from the skin being exposed to wetness longer.

The cons of cloth

One of the only issues that come along with cloth diapers is the lack of convenience. Obviously if you’re not using disposable diapers, you’re going to be doing a lot more cleaning and washing- usually up to two or three extra loads of laundry per week. The money you’ve saved from not buying disposable diapers might have to go to electricity and water bills. And cloth diapers can get quite messy, sometimes needing more than one wash. If you are someone who does not have a lot of time, this can be strong argument against cloth diapers. Disposable diapers are also very easy to change, thanks to the strips that attach the back and front, and the fact that you can buy them based on your baby’s age and size, for a good fit every time. They are convenient while travelling because they can simply be thrown away, versus needing to carry dirty cloth diapers with you until they can be washed.

 

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10 All-Natural Slug Repellents

Slugs aren’t just gross and slimy, they’re also harmful to nearly every type of plant you might have in your garden.

They live in damp areas, and come out at night, especially when it has just rained. One slug can eat twice his body weight in just one night, meaning one family of slugs can destroy a flowerbed in a matter of days!

Slug - natural slug repellent

 

As much as we may hate slugs, however, it’s important that we don’t use harmful chemicals to get rid of them at the expense of other wildlife. Many commercial slug repellents use Ferric Sodium, which is harmful to other animals, including pets, and beneficial pollinators like bumblebees and butterflies.

Luckily, there are many all-natural methods of repelling slugs, that are cheap (or even free) and safe for beneficial wildlife.

  1. Beer

Beer has been a popular method of trapping slugs for many years. All you have to do is put a couple inches of beer in a shallow container, then bury it in the soil up to the rim. Slugs will be attracted to the beer, then fall into the container and drown.

  1. Seaweed

If you have easy access to seaweed (such as living near an ocean or lake) this is a free way to keep the slugs out while also nourishing your plants. Lay the seaweed around your plants in piles 3-4 inches deep. When it dries up, it will be very salty and rough, which will deter slugs. As it decomposes, it provides lots of nutrients to the soil to help your plants grow even stronger!

  1. Diatomaceous Earth

DE (or “insect dust”) is a powdery material made up of the crushed skeletal remains of microscopic creatures. The granules have jagged edges that lacerate slugs’ skin, causing them to dehydrate. Simply sprinkle it around your plants during dry weather, and it will kill or deter any slugs that come near it.

  1. Red Clover

This is an easy, fast-growing plant that slugs love to eat. You can buy it in bulk, or as “seed bombs” to spread the flowers around your garden. Not only are they beautiful, but slugs will be drawn to them and away from your other plants. Once one of your clover plants has been destroyed by the slugs, you can mix the remnants in with the soil for extra fertilizer, and more clover plants will grow in to fill the space.

  1. Copper

I wasn’t sure if I should mention this option or not, since there is some debate over whether or not it works. Many people swear that using copper strips or copper tape to form a barrier around plants will keep the slugs away. However, copper metal is non-toxic, even to slugs. And the myth that copper will shock slugs when they touch it has been proven false. It seems that the only reason some slugs will not go past copper barriers is because it’s a pain for them to climb over any barrier. Using cardboard or plastic barrier walls would probably be just as effective.

  1. Coffee

At least this method has been proven by science! In 2002, a scientific journal published a study proving that caffeine is toxic to slugs. Coffee grounds are also biodegradable, so sprinkling them around your plants is beneficial in two ways: it will repel slugs, and break down in the soil for easy (non-existent) clean up!

  1. Egg Shells

Egg shells affect slugs the same way Diatomaceous Earth does, by lacerating the slugs’ skin as they move over it. Simply crush up the egg shells into small pieces and sprinkle them around your plants. Like coffee grounds, the egg shells will break down into the soil and provide fertilization.

  1. Citrus Rinds

Some people would rather trap slugs than harm them, and one way to do that is with grapefruit halves. Place it upside down (with the fruity part face down), and the slugs will be attracted to the fruity smell. They’ll climb in there, and then stay there to protect themselves from the light in the morning. Then you can pick up your slug-filled grapefruit (yuck!) and get rid of it however you please.

  1. Adjust Your Watering Schedule

If you don’t want to kill or trap slugs, you can try to avoid them altogether by changing your watering schedule. Slugs are attracted to moist environments, and they come out at night. If you stick to watering your garden in the early morning, the ground will be dry by evening, and slugs won’t want to come near it.

  1. Hand Picking

This is the tried and true method of getting rid of slugs. If you see them in your garden, pick them up! You can toss them in a bucket of soapy water to kill them, or gently place them in your neighbor’s yard if you’re feeling humane (and spiteful). You can combine this with the grapefruit trap, or place a flat wooden board outside for the slugs to hide under. You’ll find most of them in the pre-dawn hours, or at nightfall.

 

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Three reasons why natural living will make your life better, today and tomorrow

1. Eating whole and natural foods makes you stronger than you know

The old saying “You are what you eat”, seems to feel more and more real every day. The mass-produced, chemical-laden packaged “foods” that began taking over grocery stores over four decades ago are now being scientifically proven to be far worse for our health than we ever thought. Since that time, there have been ripples in the water, people doubting that this was a good direction for us to be going in and advocating for a lifestyle of natural living. Those ripples turned to waves, and now, a tidal wave of talk and information is telling us that our previous diets were making us fat and sick.

Junk food now has a new meaning. Once meant to categorize tasty foods with little or no nutritional value, now junk food is seen by many as literal junk- something they would be no more likely to put into their bodies than trash from a dumpster.

Diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, and cancer can all be traced back to a diet of ultra-processed foods and a lack of essential nutrients that the body needs to function properly. Even non-life-threatening conditions such as acne and chronic heartburn are often the results of simply eating the wrong foods. Many people are in fact, overeating junk food and starving at the same time. A change in diet, away from processed foods and back toward whole, natural foods and natural living can be the cure from disease that our society needs.

natural living

2. Using natural products keeps birds, bears and fish healthy

Similar to being conscious of what goes into the body, it is important to also think of what is being used outside of the body. Skin is extremely absorbent, so what is put onto the skin and hair is also taken into the body. Similar chemicals in processed foods that can make our bodies sick are present in many beauty and cleaning products, so it is important to choose household and beauty products that reflect a natural living lifestyle.

Beyond damaging ourselves, we do damage to the earth with all of the chemicals we use. Certain sprays and aerosols strip away natural resources in the air that protect us from the sun, and are also redistributed around the globe in water sources and air after during freezing and evaporation cycles. This exposes plants and animals all over the earth to our man-made mess, often killing off species and harming entire ecosystems.

3. Re-thinking where we get our energy and resources will help stabilize important ecosystems

We humans see the world as our oyster. We take what we want without a lot of thought about what it might do to the delicate balances of organisms, ecosystems and the future world. Our love of paper and paper products has led to massive amounts of rainforest destruction, and the amount of drilling we do for crude oil has a huge impact on marine life as well as life on land.

Recently we’ve been exploring other options for products and energy, such as reusable, chemically-safe plastics and metals, and other sources of natural energy, such as biofuels, hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, solar and wind energy. The more that society embraces these new, better methods of getting the resources we need and natural living, the more sustainable and healthier our planet will be for us and for future generations.

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