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Going on a Library Binge

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Ever Heard of Library Binge Boxes?

Did you know that sometimes a library will have “binge boxes” filled with movies of particular genres?  They’re supposed to be for that emergency sick day or for a week’s worth of movies. I’m inventing the library book binge!

What a great concept to apply to learning something new via BOOKS!  This method could conceivably combine three of my favorite things: books, libraries, and learning!  And it’s reminiscent of old-fashioned learning before the Internet existed because sometimes you just have to compare several different angles to see the direction you should go in.

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Some people binge at the doughnut store, I binge at the library. 

How to Binge at a Library

You need a library card, a library and a subject on your mind. Libraries are, after all, one of my top recommended resources if you homeschool. And even if you don’t!

I had 15 minutes of free time in my library and I also had a project on my mind. I would take out every book I could on my subject that was available at that moment on the library shelves.  A simple, one-time search—just locate the Dewey decimal number that I needed and get my books.

My Project: Compost

I need more compost for my garden.  I need better methods, containment, and more consistent results. And I want to build a bin.

Composting is the process of turning organic material into humus—a microbe-rich soil/loam filled with nutrients for growing vegetables. Not to be confused with hummus—a garbanzo bean-rich paste filled with nutrients for growing people.

Experienced Gardener?

I’ve been gardening for almost 20 years now, which I find hard to believe.  I’ve gardened in 2 different climate zones, and I’m currently in a suburban Zone 5 with semi-arid conditions (about 16 inches of rain annually) and with clay soil.  I’m trying to apply permaculture concepts to my ¼-acre yard so my biggest problem is really the soil at this point (if you don’t count the lack of water!)

My gardening has always been tailored to what I could grow in the space I had.  For instance, my first garden was in our postage-stamp sized yard in one of the most densely populated cities in the country.  Given our lack of dirt (yet enough to start a 25 sq. ft. “garden”—later expanded to 50 sq. ft!), I was encouraged to only plant high-value herbs and vegetables.  I concentrated on tomatoes (because the price of a REAL garden-fresh tomato is priceless) and herbs like basil, oregano & thyme.  Back then, I didn’t have the space for composting, so I didn’t start composting until later when we had a genuine suburban plot.

It’s Time to Learn to Compost Effectively

Over the years, I’ve composted with all different styles: the big round black eco-bin, tumblers, loose piles, the Berkeley method of fast composting, in-ground buried composting, green manuring, chicken-aided composting, leaf mold, continuous composting, vermicomposting…  All of these methods have failed to give me enough high quality compost.  The one method I have not tried is the three-bin system.

It’s time. 

I’m now ready to commit to making a triple-bin composting system.  Composting is the project that is on my mind.  But I needed more information.

My Goals

I wanted to brush up on my composting knowledge, compare compost bin designs, select a DIY inexpensive 3-bin system, make it and ultimately have compost by mid-summer.  I probably could have done this by researching online, but sometimes books are better.

My Book List

These are the books that I found on my binge at the library:

Home Gardener’s COMPOST: Creative Homeowner Specialist Guide by David Squire

Compost by David Squire

While the outside of this book reminds me of the Popular Mechanics guides of the 80’s, the inside of the book is much more visually appealing.  With color-coded chapters, two-page spreads on each topic, inset boxes for detailed explanations or asides, and easy-to-understand graphics, I really enjoyed this book.  In the section on compost bins, the book showed how to build a basic 3-bin design, and it also compared 10 other do-it-yourself (DIY) bins.

What’s a 3-Bin System, Anyway?

A basic 3-bin system, by the way, has 3 composting bins lined up in a row.  In the first bin, you add new garden and kitchen waste materials.  You’ve already filled up the second bin and it is starting its decomposition.  The third bin contains the oldest material and usually finishes by the time the first bin fills. Then you rotate through the bins.

All in all, an enjoyably presented book full of good information.

Composting Basics by Eric Ebling with Carl Hursch and Patti Olenick

Judging a book by its cover

Book Cover Composting Basics
Composting Basics: by Eric Ebeling

Composting Basics: All the Skills and Tools You Need to Get Started has a beautiful modern-looking cover, so despite the promise of the title that this would be a basic book, I had high hopes of learning something.  And I was not disappointed. While thumbing through the book, I had to stop continuously due to the eye-catching photography. 

In addition to covering all the basics in this book, I saw pictures of 2 different types of DIY bins that I have not tried before—the Garbage Can Bin and the Wire Mesh Composting Bin.   I still favor the 3 bin system, and if I make it out of free pallets, I will refer back to the thorough step-by-step with pictures in this book.

Again, a great boon from the binge and the library.

Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis

Book Cover Teaming with Microbes
Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels

Just from the title of this one, I expected a heady book with tons of science.  Which I wasn’t sure was my purpose, but I felt I should give it a chance because who doesn’t want to learn more about microbes?

So I skimmed the table of contents.  The book has 2 parts: “The Basic Science” and “Applying Soil Food Web Science to Yard and Garden Care”.  Immediately I could see where this book was going – with the final chapter titled “No One Ever Fertilized an Old Growth Forest”.  This book had to have permaculture principles wrapped in it!  However, with only a small chapter on compost, I didn’t expect much in the way of my project goal.  So I readjusted the expectation for this book – just skim through it without being distracted by fun science or by permaculture principles. (Permaculture has been one of the subjects that I have done a lot of research on, and I’m currently working towards applying the principles in a suburban yard – but that is another story!)

Tons of fun science

The book is definitely science-rich, but not overwhelmingly dull – the authors have made it interesting and readable if you want to go deeper into microbes and how they make your soil work.  Alas, not too much on a composting bin system.  “This is a chapter, not a book on composting” (Lowenfels, 119). I also enjoyed the brief historical reminder of how we got to such depleted soils since industrialization.

But I was especially lured in by the appendix “The Soil Food Web Gardening Rules”. I may have to post that list in my gardening shed!

The Organic Book of Compost: Easy and Natural Techniques to Feed Your Garden by Pauline Pears

Another Pretty Cover

This book rivals Composting Basics for beauty of layout and fabulous photography.  You know, if you like pictures of dirt. 

Cover: Organic Book of Compost
Organic Book of Compost by Pauline Pears

You know I’m kidding about calling soil “dirt”, right?  Some people are particular about that!

And besides, the photos depict much more than just dirt.  But the book mostly discusses the techniques in making and using compost, with not that much on how to build a bin.  It did mention another type of composting I haven’t tried specifically – the straw bale bin, where you use straw bales for the bin’s walls and the composting material goes in the middle and eventually even the bales compost.  It also mentioned a two bay wooden compost bin called a New Zealand box, which I might have to look into since I can’t imagine having that third bin full of ready-to-use compost and not using it as soon as it is made!

I also learned from this book that there is such a thing as Master Composters!  Hmmm… maybe someday!

Compost, by Clare Foster

Cover: Compost
Compost by Clare Foster

I think I can’t help myself judging the book by its cover!  I’m more of a visual/kinetic learner and super-wordy “how-to” books can be tiresome sometimes. Compost looks like a book that is more word-than-picture intensive than a book. This sometimes puts me off when I want to learn HOW to do something – like build a compost bin. 

But I was wrong.  Foster has a lot of information packed into this book – not many photos, but a good smattering of graphics and inset details.  And the chapter on compost bins showed a bunch of styles and described a New Zealand box in detail.

Altogether, a nice book.  The chapter on the “Art of Composting” was especially informative on various methods with how and when to use each method.  And it used straightforward language. Sometimes, instructions on composting methods make me feel like it would be impossible to get carbon to nitrogen ratios in proper amounts.  I picture measuring out my kitchen scraps compared to the small twigs I find in my yard – too much work! This book made composting seem very achievable.

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant & Deborah L. Martin


Image: Going on a Library Binge book cover Compost Complete Guide
Complete Compost Guide by Pleasant & Martin

The final book from my library binge had all the beautiful photos, charts and detailed insets, with a lot of explanations.  Truly, they aren’t kidding when they say complete.  It even covers some of the microbial world that is described in Teaming with Microbes. This book also had some fabulous charts including one showing the benefits and disadvantages of open vs. closed composting systems, as well as a chart comparing the materials in a composting pen.

While I think this is probably a great book to have on hand for a reference book or at least for a thorough reading or two, it actually didn’t show HOW to make a compost bin. So for my immediate purposes, it confirmed that I want to try a 3-bin system.  I’ll try to get back to this book at a later date for a thorough reading.

Quite a binge!

All in all, a binge at the library can be a great way to gather synergy or to brainstorm without a group.  On the other hand, the biggest problem you face without a group is staying on track of your original project. I enjoyed my library binge.  I’m hoping you may have been inspired to try it the next time you need to jumpstart some information gathering.

If you need an idea of what to binge on, try your own binge with some living books in the math genre – I’ve listed our favorites in this post. Or you can find out more about a specific topic, like sprouting or growing microgreens. The world is full of books! Read some today.


I ended up making a one-bin system from a recycled pallet. Someday, it may grow up to be a three-bin system. Either way, I love it. Though it doesn’t make compost faster than I use it.