Compost it!

The other day, my two-year-old wanted to light a candle.  After I lit it, he said, “let’s say blessings.”  I asked him what he wanted to bless, and he said, “Grammy and Papa.”

“Anything else?”

“Sally” (Sally is his teacher.)

“Anything else?”


I couldn’t not laugh.  And I’m with him 100%!  Blessings for compost!

Why?  It’s good for the soil, which means it’s good for the plants, which means it’s good for the bees and the birds (and people!), and ultimately, it’s great for the planet.  Win, win, win, win, win, and win!

So does composting have any down-sides?

[thinks for a minute]

Nope.  So let’s get you started!

First things first:  don’t over-do this.  You don’t need a big giant fancy composter to compost.  If you’re squeamish about natureish things, or you predict there may be problems with rats or other troublesome pests, you can opt for a rotating-style composting bin, which works well.   Or if you are all *for* natureish things and want to make some really high-end compost, I recommend a worm bin.  Here’s a nice one you can buy, and I’ll post sometime soon about the one I built (and give credit to our hard-working worms!)  Though it sounds counter-intuitive, you can even do worm-composting in an apartment!

If you have the yard space and are not concerned with critters getting into your compost, then feel free to just make a pile on the ground.  If you live in a place that gets lots of rain, it’s a good idea to cover it with something.  (A tarp? A bin? An unused kiddie pool?  Use what works for you.)  Your composting set-up can be as fancy (or as simple) as you like.  It’s not rocket science.  You’re just setting aside some space for things to decompose.

Because I have limited space in my yard (and because I’m thrifty), I opted for a simple hardware-cloth bin.  To make it, I bought a 10 foot roll of 48 inch high 1/2 inch hardware cloth, unrolled it, and secured the ends together with wire to form a cylinder.  Then I put all my compostables in it, and I just let them sit.

You may be wondering a few things, so I’ll try to address the most commonly asked questions about composting.

First, what stuff can be composted?  Anything that comes from a plant – and some things that come from animals.

Things that belong in the compost bin:  vegetable scraps, rotting fruits, peels and rinds and skins from fruits and vegetables, carrot tops, the spinach you intended to eat but didn’t, the zucchini that’s nearly liquefied in the produce drawer, shredded paper (nothing shiny – only matte papers), fingernail clippings, hair, coffee grounds, coffee filters (no k-cups!), tissues, paper towels, toilet paper, stale bread, leaves, grass clippings, weeds from the garden, egg shells, chicken, cow, horse, goat, or rabbit manure, animal bedding (No, not a dog bed.  Think something like straw used in a chicken coop).

Things that do not belong in the compost bin:  dog poop, cat poop, human poop, plastic, metal, oils, meat, milk, cheese.

NOTE:  If you’ve used chemicals on your lawn, don’t put the clippings on your compost pile.  And stop putting chemicals on your lawn!

There are some things for which you need to use your judgment.  When I lived on a rural farm, I buried five gallons of fish guts in my compost bin!  It reeked to high heaven for a few days, and it got so hot I thought I might start a fire, but then it turned into the best compost I’ve ever made, period.  But would I do it with neighbors nearby?  (Neighbors I like.)  No!

(I wouldn’t even do it with neighbors I don’t like.)

I collect compost in the house in a gallon-size plastic bin that was originally meant to hold cereal.  It has a lid that snaps shut, which keeps the compost from stinking up my kitchen, and it also prevents problems with ants or fruit flies.  I store mine under the sink, next to the rubbish and recycling bins, and – you might have guessed this – even my two year old knows what goes in it and what does not.  Well, mostly.  We have disagreements about whether playdough is compostable.

(It’s not!  Too salty!)

If you prefer to have a bin out on the counter-top and you plan to empty it frequently, you can opt for something like this stainless steel pail, which is attractive and convenient, and it has a charcoal filter to keep the fragrance to a minimum.

You can be creative with this, too, and use something you already have on hand.  Do you have a giant unused pickle jar with a lid?  That would make a great compost storage container.

If you already have issues in your kitchen with ants or fruit flies, I highly recommend keeping your bucket or bin in the freezer, and storing your compost there until the bucket or bin is full, and then you take it to the pile.

I generally do not stir or mess with my compost, and after about eight months, I pull the cylinder off and start harvesting compost from the bottom.  I sort out any un-composted matter and put it in the bottom of the bin in a new location, and start all over.  If you have a tumbling composter or regularly stir/turn/mess with your compost, it will be ready to use sooner.

How do you know when it’s done?  It will look like rich, crumbly black dirt, but feel lighter, and smell sweet.  (It won’t smell like rotting fish.  Even if you composted rotting fish!)  If it stinks, or if it has chunks of recognizable matter in it, it’s not finished composting.  Leave it alone for a while longer.

Some people say you have to use specific proportions of “green” matter to “brown” matter, and they spend a lot of time futzing with this and arguing about what things are brown and which are green.  I don’t bother, and my compost turns out just fine.  Just be sure that you add *some* amount of bulky dry matter (think leaves or grass or shredded paper) with your kitchen scraps, because if you do only kitchen scraps, you’ll get a pile of too-moist goo.  Use your judgment.  And your nose.  Does it seem too goopy and soupy?  It needs some dry matter.  Is it too dry and not doing anything?  Give it some watermelon rinds.  An occasional handful of soil from the garden is also a good idea, as it introduces helpful bacteria to the mix.  (Even better is a handful of finished compost.)

Don’t be surprised to fill your bin up and then come out a day or two later and have it look like you only put a couple gallons of stuff in it.  Compost is sort of magical in how much it shrinks and settles and turns a lot of fluff into a small pile of rich, loamy stuff.

Indeed:  compost is magical.  You take a bunch of rotting, ugly stuff that would otherwise be “waste,” and you transform it into something soft and sweet and rich with life, with the potential to grow amazing flowers and food… well that’s magic.

It’s that simple!  Now get to it… because I’ll be posting soon about how to use that compost to convert some of your lawn into an easy, no-till garden bed!

If you have questions about composting, ask away in the comment section!

And in the meantime… many blessings to your compost!

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