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Learning by Doing

Composting 101

I’ve been an “Organics Engineer” for over 33 years and when it comes to composting, I’m pretty much at the learning stage where “I don’t know what I know”.  As we approached our November Newsletter, we were scheduled to discuss “Rule 9: It’s Critical to Make Mistakes” and I couldn’t help but think about how this rule applies to me in my personal life. 

Five years ago, my wife and I move to Edmonds, Washington, a small town located on Puget Sound. Two years ago, we joined The Freedom Boat Club. The challenge was that neither of us had any real boating experience. Sure, we had been on friends' boats over the years, but we had never been responsible for the boat or the outcome of a boating adventure.

The boat club required that we pass the Coast Guard’s on-line safety course and, following that, we were required to take a series of training classes provided by one of the club’s captains. The classes reviewed the dos and don’ts of boating in open water and focused on safety, leaving the marina, and returning the boat to its slip (undamaged). When we first took a boat out “unchaperoned”, we were quite nervous. But after several trips to destinations further and further from our home marina, we became increasingly confident.

This year, we decided to learn how to troll for salmon and to set out crab pots. This is when we started learning the hard way - by making way too many mistakes. 

  • When I used a down-rigger for the first time, I learned that if you don’t let the line out slowly, the reel will spin very fast and the fishing line will immediately create a “bird’s nest” which puts an end to that pole for the day.

  • When you have a “Fish On”, you immediately need to stop the boat (i.e., put it in neutral and then kill the engine), retrieve the other fishing gear, and focus on bringing the fish close to the boat so that you can net it. Otherwise, you might clip the cable to the down-rigger weight and get all of your gear tangled up with the prop. That was an expensive mistake, to be sure.

  • When starting up again, you want to be at trolling speed (~3 mph) before deploying the fishing gear, otherwise you may (will) get tangled up in the prop.

  • When bringing the boat into the marina, you want to pay close attention to the current and the wind as well as the other boats around you. I can assure you that colliding with the dock and other boats does not leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling.

  • Getting too close to crab buoys can also get the rope tangled up with the prop which, in one case, required one of us to go in for a very cold swim.

We have now established a set of simple rules that keep us out of this type of trouble.  Despite our steep learning curve, we caught six salmon this fall and over 20 Dungeness crabs. It’s been fun, despite learning the hard way.

So, how does this relate to composting?  As I write this I find myself relating to our clients who are brand new to composting and perhaps fearful of making mistakes. Yes, you will make mistakes - that’s a given. But when you make mistakes simply remind yourself that it’s all about the learning process and that, after a batch or two, composting will become second nature to you. 


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