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  • December 2, 2010

Making Dirt

Two years ago, my wife and I stopped throwing all of our organic food waste into the trash. Instead, we purchased a composter and started tossing our food scraps into it. The intent behind this change was mostly selfish: we wanted a way to create nutrient rich soil to mix into the planting areas in our backyard. However, a week or two into using it, Decorative Illustration while pushing our trash can out to the street curb, I noticed another positive side-effect: the trash can was lighter and emptier. We were sending less to the landfill!

Our composter isn’t a complicated piece of machinery worthy of a TV appearance with Ed Begley Jr. It’s a black plastic dome that sits on the ground and acts as a food scraps cooker. On hot summer days in North Carolina it quickly heats up and breaks down anything we toss in it. Two years later, our three-person household has never managed to fill the composter up faster than it decomposes the food.

The composter we use is The Earth Machine. Set up was simple. I chose a convenient place to install it (one where I wouldn’t have to walk too far from the kitchen door) and secured it in the ground with stakes. Next, I shoveled in a small starter piles of dried leaves and mulch and then dumped in our first batch of food waste, which consisted of egg shells, potato peels and apple cores.

Composting requires some very light maintenance. You need to stir the mixture to keep oxygen in the mix, feeding the microbes that chomp away at the food scraps. You may have to add water so the mixture doesn’t get too dry. In the humid weather of the Southeast, however, I usually need to dump in a few pitchforks of dried leaves and dirt to help dry out the compost mixture. If the compost is too wet, it will stink and swarm with fruit flies (Did I mention the location of our Earth Machine is along the fence that borders my neighbor’s house?).

The benefits of composting to the local landfill are immediate: there is less trash to bury in the ground. For us, the benefits are delayed by several weeks while the pile of food is turned into compost. After that, however, the cycle repeats and your backyard crop of Blood Red Atomic Carrots will love you for it.

As a developer, the switch to composting teased my fancy for making small changes in our development projects to become more efficient and sustainable. Introducing efficiencies in a development system doesn’t require a whole new application framework, a new programming language or a new type of version control system. These wholesale changes rarely make you more efficient.

Consider automating project tasks that you have to do more than a few times. This could be in the form of:

  • a simple Ruby script to set up your basic SVN repository project structure,
  • finally automating that database backup you perform every Friday at 5 PM or
  • reducing the number of manual steps it takes to set up a new client project and subdomain on your development server.

Happy Cog’s own Jenn Lukas took the residuals of her experience building templates for ExpressionEngine and created a set of starter files that you can use to quickly get up and running on a project.

Beyond automating tasks, it’s also easy to save your own scraps of code by maintaining a code snippet bucket where you toss code you didn’t use in a project or may use later. Turn often used code into a plugin for your favorite application framework or content management system or just have it readily available in your code snippet bucket.

Simply put: Make your scraps work for you.

What have you done to make your website building more sustainable and efficient?

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