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Help My Compost Pile! – Red Frog Beach, Panama

Help My Compost Pile! #1 – Red Frog Beach, Panama

While I was on vacation in Bocas del Toro, Panama, I discovered a compost bin at the Palmer Tent Lodge on Red Frog Beach.  It’s always nice to see a composting system in place when traveling, or anytime really.  Of course I had to take a peek!

It looked like the majority of the bin’s contents were food scraps, with all of the cardboard laying on top in sheets.  There was a good deal of bugs and the contents seemed a bit dry.  I decided to help out by shredding up the cardboard into smaller pieces and mixing it in with the pile.  This will help speed up the process a bit and get the pile in balance.

They also had a nifty finished compost bin next to it, with some truly nice stuff curing inside.  I hope that other hostels and lodges can pick up on this and get composting.  The problem is everywhere- we throw away tons of organic materials to the landfill that can be kept right in our backyards and mixed with fallen leaves and paper products to create some wonderful compost.

Bocas del Toro recently started a recycling program for their plastics/glass/aluminum- but it’s good to be reminded that the world’s oldest recycling program is right at our feet.

When Composting, Does Size Matter?

How important is particle size for the success of your compost pile?  Composting naturally occurs over time, so is it worth putting energy into chopping up all the contents now?

At the end of my street, a huge pile of leaves just sits there practically all year long.  That section of the block is rarely cleaned, and the wind ensures that the pile continues to grow in size over time.

Now that it’s spring, I went right for this mess at the end of the street, and it was interesting to see just how well the leaves had broken down under the surface.  It smelled similar to a “forest floor”, which is the aroma of fresh compost.

This was a natural, nice and slow leaf compost in progress.

I decided to create a new compost pile using leaves that I didn’t shred, because I was both in a hurry and also being lazy.  I knew better- I thought I would come back to it later, and I didn’t.  My pile just sat there.  If I would have shredded all the contents, I’d be warming my hands on it by now.

Particle size is crucial in getting the pile jump-started and productive.  Here’s why:

-Uniform (shredded) materials self-insulate and will heat up quicker

-Shredded materials are easier to turn in a compost pile

-More surface area is created by shredding, which also makes it easier for bacteria to decompose the material

-Shredded materials keep your pile from being overly damp

These attributes apply to your food scraps as well.  If you added a whole piece of moldy produce to your pile, vs chopping it up into pieces first, the latter will break down drastically faster.

The greater the surface area you create, the easier it is for bacteria to digest it, and for you to turn over the pile.  A little effort will go a long way in composting.