Sustainable Green Mountains: DIY Farm Projects and Compost Systems at the B&B

We care a great deal about our environmental footprint and we try to keep a pretty low impact here at the B&B. Our electric source is solar, we hope to switch to a wood heating source soon, and we have always taken our recycling pretty seriously.

We are happy to share a greener experience with our guests who visit from around the world and want to see why the Green Mountains are extra special.

Vermont recently passed a mandatory recycling rule where, starting last summer, the disposal of recyclables was banned. Beginning in the summer of this year the disposal of leaf and yard debris will be banned; and 4 years from now the disposal of any food scraps will no longer be permitted. Go Vermont! We love that sustainability is a shared value in here.

The view of the Green Mountains from the front porch of our Vermont Bed and Breakfast

The view of the Green Mountains from the front porch of our Vermont Bed and Breakfast

We're proud to say we have also been recycling our food waste since day one. When we opened the B&B, the first (well, almost first) order of business was to build a compost bin near the garden to hold all the leaves, sticks, extra food, and garden waste. Let’s face it, while we serve up some pretty delicious breakfasts, serving up all those meals has a tendency to produce a lot of extra scraps. We like to think that the extra bites of French toast or eggs left behind on a plate can be cycled back into our garden and help us to feed our guests next year.

Our compost bins includes 3 compartments, which show "No vacancy" when they fill up!

Our compost bins includes 3 compartments, which show "No vacancy" when they fill up!

Here are some details about our DIY compost system:

Our main compost bin consists of three compartments, side by side. The two outer bins are 3 feet wide by 3 feet deep by 4 feet tall, and the center one is 4 feet wide by three feet deep by 4 feet tall. (The only reason for this different dimension is because lumber does not come in 9 foot lengths, so to avoid cutting extra material I made the overall length 10 feet!) The main framing is 2x4's and the whole thing is wrapped in 1/2 inch construction mesh. To keep the mesh in place, and to keep the sides from bowing out too I added some decking boards. To build the front I screwed a small spacer to the face of the 2x4 supports and then screwed a wider flat piece of wood to that, leaving a channel, then cut 1x6 stock to fit in the channel. The whole thing it topped off with 2x4 frame covered in polycarbonate panels, which was intended to track heat and keep it warmer so the decomposition process happens faster. If I were to do it all over again I may have left off the cover or had it open in another direction. In high velocity winds it acts like a sail and tries to rip off the bin. I've had to put a few latches on it to keep it down. Plus, with no rain getting to the pile, you have to be good about adding extra water to your compost. With every project, I learn something!

With the overall size of the bins and the way you access them, by pulling out all the front panels, it's somewhat difficult to turn the pile on a regular basis. For this reason we've been treating it as a "no turn" system. We fill one compartment at a time and then let it sit. After it’s had some time to decompose, we get in there once in a while and flip it, but overall we leave it alone. The first bin (all the way to the right) was filled up in roughly late September or early October, (at the height of the foliage season and our busiest period of guest visitors and leftover pancakes). Once the first bin was full, we closed it up started filling up the middle bin. There has been a definite change the compost process, and we’ve noticed how much it has slowed down over the winter. We’re hoping that when we get in there to turn it this spring, after it thaws, it will be ready to spread on the garden and replenish the soil. With our second bin filling up quickly we are ready to get going with projects in the garden!

Wire mesh protects the pile from furry guests and visitors who might want a midnight snack. The front slats slide out from the top, so we can turn the piles and spread it on the garden.

Wire mesh protects the pile from furry guests and visitors who might want a midnight snack. The front slats slide out from the top, so we can turn the piles and spread it on the garden.

 

This year, we’re going to start another type of composting project, utilizing the power and unique talents of worms. That's right, the little red squiggly guys you usually find on the end of fish hooks. They are super-efficient processors and they produce a sort of gold-quality fertilizer that can be turned into the garden to improve the soil.  One pound of worms can eat a half a pound of food scraps in 24 hours. By comparison, if we threw a pound of food scraps in our main compost it'd take several months to break down.

Here's an example of the type of container we'll set up for the worm digester (source: Working Worms).

Here's an example of the type of container we'll set up for the worm digester (source: Working Worms).

 

The addition of the worm farm changes our game, especially through the cold winter months at the B&B, when the outdoor compost bins slow down. Now, with the addition of the worm processing system, we have a back-up plan that will improve our compost recycling rates significantly! Plus, feeding the worms some of the food scraps will help us to strike a better balance, helping us to maintain an optimum ratio of food and plant material in the main compost bin. (Right now we are heavy on food scraps and light on "green stuff," meaning sticks, leaves, vegetation, etc.)  We are excited to see how these two systems can support each other and help us to produce high quality fruits, veggies and flowers in our garden that we can share with guests at the B&B.

Art by Anne Gedes

Art by Anne Gedes

The worm compost “worm casting” byproduct is coveted amongst gardeners, so we’re looking forward to building it into our recycling efforts on the farm. We are happy to welcome these little guys to the family. The only challenge is that ordering a pound of worms means we’ll be starting out with about 1,000 worms... what will we name them all!?

-Luke McCarthy