Sunday, October 19, 2008

Compost Therbligs

Composting is certainly something I feel morally obligated to do--we all know the many environmental and organic gardening bennies to it, so I won't go into it here. However, the real reason I like composting is because I get to make and use compost bins. I do like neatness and tidiness in the garden (even though various people have described my ornamental garden as "wild"---something that I am not entirely sure is meant as a compliment...), and, as we all know, I also like to build things--compost bins perfectly satisfies those two desires, creating an orderly look in the Farm just by their very presence.

Even so, I've found it difficult to use them. Oh, I put an amazing tonnage of pecan leaves in there every fall, and on the few occasions that I actually mow my "wild" yard, I throw some grass clippings into the mix. But I've always been sort of lazy when it comes to turning it, and as for composting my kitchen waste, well, that little exercise just hasn't happened the way I'd like it to.

It's not that I don't want to compost the kitchen waste. Certainly it would improve the nitrogen content of the compost pile, which tends to be carbon-heavy from all the leaves. (Of course, I wouldn't have to worry about that if Walu would let me get a couple of hens. ) I've gone through the motions of saving it up in a container, only to forget about it and having it turn a stinking, toxic soup (sadly, this has happened often enough that Walu has been driven to order composting out of the kitchen...).

I'm a big believer in Therbligs--you know, the time/motion studies to improve workplace efficiency. Whenever there is something I'd like to do that I'm resisting doing, I find it useful to consider why, exactly, I don't want to do it. Nearly always it has something to do with inefficient or uncomfortable motion. So when I considered the problem of not composting, I turned to Therbligs for the answer. And here it is:

A) Leaving the kitchen waste in a pail to compost later is a sure way for me to forget about it. I need to compost every evening, as part of the dinner-making chores. However,

B) In the time it takes me to run out to farm, open the gate, run to the back corner of the Farm (where the bins were located), toss the scraps in, run back to the gate and then the house, I am eaten alive by mosquitoes. And,

C) Ideally, I should be hot composting, but this requires turning the pile every day or so. However, see B) above re mosquitoes. (How they torment me!)

I don't like to lather up with Deet more than I have to, so it seems silly to do it for a two-minute exercise in composting. On reflection, I realized that the answer was to move the bins closer to the house, so that I minimized my time in the mosquito zone. Therbligs!

So on Sunday I moved them. First, however, I decided to fix something that had been bothering me for awhile. They were not quite the same size, a small detail that offended my sense of symmetry. So I took the bigger of the two and resized it using my reciprocating saw:

Then I moved the operation to just beyond the picket gate that separates the farm from the backyard, on a path that is a straight shot from the back door to the gate leading to the alley:

I think they look rather spiffy there, as if they are standing at attention.

Like all projects, it seemed like I eventually dragged every tool in the shop outside to complete what I thought was going to be a relatively straightforward, simple task:

I think that moving them to this location will help motivate me to get those kitchen scraps out there where they will do some good, and since I pass by the spot on the way to take out the trash or water the crops, it should be easier to give the piles a quick turn. And, not coincidentally, the bins are also closer to where most of the leaves fall, so loading them up should be easier as well. Therbligs again.

In any case, it was a pleasant enough way to spend a beautiful autumn day. Now if I can just talk my neighbor out of some of the manure from his chickens...


  1. Never heard of Therbligs before! I need more of them in my life, I'm way to inefficient. Cool compost bins, also love the coldframe (did you build that too?). As a super un-handy person, I admire you for hauling out the tools and making something that is both functional and lovely to look at. Congrats!

  2. Hi Karen--

    Thanks! I love to build things. Yes, I made the cold frame for my carrots--I'm already thinking of building another one for arugula...

  3. Erica (Bird) OswaltFebruary 28, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    Dr T,

    I love your compost. I recently started a vermicompost. It is in a tub inside my kitchen so that my little worms don't get too cold. I put EVERYTHING in it, save animal products. It doesn't smell at all, and I love using the compost product to grow herbs for cooking. We are about to move down to San Antonio, and I would like to do an outdoor compost heap. How large are your compost bins and did you line yours with anything? I ask because I am planning on building my own.

    Anway, I hope all is well.

    Erica (Bird) Oswalt


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.