Composting Made Easy – Tips from an Unlikely Composter

Composting is an easy way to take part in caring for our Earth. Even unlikely composting candidates, like me, can and do enjoy it. So can you.

You are an unlikely composter if you:

  • Think composting is a great idea for other people to do.
  • Wear rubber gloves to take out the trash.
  • Fear creepy crawly things.
  • Have a low tolerance for yuckiness.

Author's Two Compost Bins, Circle Hoe, and AeratorIf you answered yes to the questions above, then you are in luck because I used to be an unlikely composter too.

This is the second of a 2-part post that began with Composting Can Change Our Culture. Part 2 provides practical advice about composting equipment and tips to make composting easy.

Composting is a Good for the Soil and Good for the Soul

Composting is good for the soil and good for the soul. That may sound silly, but it’s true. Healthy soil is like healthy people; both need water and nutritious food. Composting turns supposed waste into compost (hummus), food for the soil. As far as composting being good for the soul, there is something magical about participating in nature’s process of turning a banana peel into food for a lavender bush.

Composting Reduces Waste

Food scraps we put down the drain end up in a water treatment plant with all the other stuff we flush into the sewer system. Food and yard waste we toss in the garbage is collected, transported, and then dumped in a landfill. Imagine the massive amount of water, electricity, and fuel we waste and the pollution we create just to deal with our food and yard waste.

Composting Basics for Unlikely Composters

Composting requires green vegetation, dry brown material, air, and moisture. We live in a Monterey Pine forest and our yard is mostly wild so we don’t have turf grass clippings or leaves. We compost fruit and vegetable scraps (green) mixed with an endless supply of pine needles (brown).

Choose your compost materials and then get started. Below is a list of equipment you will need and a few suggestions on how to use it.

Compost Bin

Author's Compost Bin with Critter Paw Prints on TopGrass clippings and yard waste can be composted in a pile or open U-shaped enclosure, and technically so can food scraps. I prefer a closed compost bin with a screen on the bottom to minimize critter visits (note the paw prints in the photo).

If you do buy a compost bin, don’t cheap out; my first bin fell apart during the compost removal process. Look for a bin made out of sturdy material that can withstand years of weather and being dug around in.

I use a two compost bins. I fill one a half to three quarters full and then stop putting in new material and start filling the other bin. Periodically, I dig around in the first bin to keep the compost mixed up and sprinkle it with my watering can if it seems too dry. I wait until the whole bin is completely converted before emptying it.

Compost Pail

Author's One-Gallon Stainless Steel Compost Pail with Lid on Trivet on Kitchen CounterA basic one-gallon stainless steel pail with a lid works well for collecting and storing food scraps (I’ve had the same one sitting on my kitchen counter for three years). Don’t get suckered into wasting money on fancy pails, charcoal filters, or compostable liners. A large plastic food storage container with a lid will work too.

Compost pails do not stink. You may get a whiff of onion or banana when you lift the lid, but that’s it. Pails are small by design. I empty mine at least every few days. If your kitchen stinks, it’s probably meat scraps, bones, or other gunk in your garbage can (unless you put meat or bones in your compost pail, which I don’t on account of the critters).

Gloves

Rubber gloves or work gloves are optional, but I don’t touch my compost bin without them.

Shovel

A shovel is useful for turning over compost materials and removing the finished compost. I have a shovel down in the garage, but I use a circle hoe to mix in new scraps and break out the shovel to empty the bin.

Aerator

Close up of Author's Circle Hoe and AeratorAn aerator is an optional tool for mixing up compost. It has propeller like device at the bottom. The propeller folds up when you jam the tool into the compost and unfolds as you pull it up, bringing up some of the compost with it. I found it difficult to turn over compost materials inside a compost bin with shovel, so I bought an aerator. It works great.

Watering Can

Nothing beats a watering can for sprinkling water on compost when it gets too dry. If you use a hose, remember the idea is to keep the compost moist not wet.

Wheelbarrow

In a flat yard, a wheelbarrow is the ideal device for moving compost from the bin to the garden. My yard is not flat so I hand carry compost via a 25-gallon plastic party tub with handles (the kind used to hold ice and sodas). It’s good exercise.

Composting Tips for Unlikely Composters

The tips below illustrate how easy and even fun it is to compost.

  1. No matter what you do or don’t do, compost will happen (eventually), so don’t stress out about it.
  2.  A compost bin will smell earthy, moldy, or maybe a tiny bit like rotting vegetation. If your compost smells bad, it’s probably too wet so add some dry brown material. I leave the lid open a few minutes to let flying insects out which seems to help too.
  3. Those little scanner labels put on fruits and vegetables are sometimes plastic and won’t compost so remove them before putting peels in the compost pail. I had to pick them out of my completed compost the first time.
  4. Unlikely composters do not open compost bins in the dark (creepy crawlies climb to the top at night).
  5. Corn cobs, peanut and pistachio shells never totally disappear in our compost bin. To me dried corn cob pieces and nut shells in the yard are like pine cones, natural.
  6. Your compost workers are microorganisms and bugs so help them out. Cut up or tear materials into smaller pieces for faster composting. The top of a pineapple will take a forever to compost if you just throw it in.
  7. For variety, I toss in dryer lint, hair, nail clippings, and vacuum detritus.
  8. Tear dry materials like coffee filters, onion skins, and paper into smaller pieces or they may take a long time to compost.
  9. Dried up bread can be composted, but I tear it up into little pieces and throw it in the yard for the birds.
  10. Composting can be fascinating. For instance, peanut and pistachio shells tend to rise and form a layer at the top of the compost in the bin that is “resting”. Is this because the pill bugs don’t like shells and push them out of the way on purpose or is it just the commotion in the bin that moves them to the top? It’s a mystery.

I hope after reading this 2-part post, you will be inspired to give composting a try and contribute to changing our culture.

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information, spark conversation, and convince people to take action to keep earth habitable for all. She believes our individual actions do matter—it all adds up.

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