Composting Part 2 — Doing It

I was very enthusiastic about composting and I told my family and friends about my new adventure. Some of them were highly skeptical as they know me and I’m not a likely candidate for composting.

Composting Process

Every day or so, I walked up the hill and dumped the contents of the food scrap pail in the compost bin.

As I mentioned in part 1 or this 3-part post, I am not a fan of creepy crawlies so I usually wear pull-on rubber boots when I walk around our yard, which is much more like a wilderness than what many people think of as a yard.

So emptying the food scrap pail required a change of footwear for me during much of the year, as well as donning the rubber gloves mentioned in part 1. When it rained, emptying the pail was a wet and cold operation and brought the creepy crawlies to the surface (yuk).

Dry versus Green Materials

For maximum results, composting requires a balance between several elements:

  • Fresh green vegetation
  • Dry brown vegetation
  • Air
  • Moisture

As far as fresh green vegetation, we had an ample supply of fruit and vegetable scraps and the occasional specimen past its edible stage.

The brown vegetation part proved more challenging. We live in a Monterey pine forest so have lots of pine needles and very few deciduous trees. Although compost bins will munch down pine needles, it takes much longer than with dry leaves. I began to covet piles of dead leaves and bark chips I saw around town in other people’s yards.

Compost Aerator Tool

Compost AeratorAs far as air, I realized early on that rotting vegetation is heavy and difficult to turn over with a shovel or pitchfork when it is encased in a plastic cube.

So I went back to the store to purchase an aerator, which has a propeller looking device at the bottom and a handle. The propeller folds up when you jam it in the pile and unfolds as you pull it up bringing some of the material with it. So stuff on the bottom gets shifted to the top.

Moisture was easy. When the compost seemed dry, I sprinkled it with my watering can.

Wonky Compost Bin Door

The slide up door on my compost bin apparently was to be used to shovel out the material at the bottom because it would become compost first. The model I purchased was not very sturdy and once a quantity of material was put inside the door would pop off its tracks—the material at the bottom was definitely not ready. So my spouse screwed the door shut.

Second Compost Bin

According to my research, after just a few months, I should have had a lovely pile of compost. That was not exactly my experience. It took a bit longer.

Compost BinSince the compost bin was filling up, I decided that I would purchase a second one to start a new batch while the original batch finished composting.

I wanted a sturdier model this time and found one online. This bin is made out of much beefier plastic and has vents on top to take advantage of rain, in addition, the sliding door looks like it will stay in place.

Composting Happens

Eventually, the first batch was deemed completed.

Shoveling compost out of the compost bin was excellent exercise and I felt a sense of accomplishment as I spread it around our newly planted Monterey pine trees. Unfortunately, my initial compost bin was demolished in the process and would never see another batch of compost so it made its way to the recycle bin.

It was time to reflect on what I had learned and then decide on a plan going forward.

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Composting Part 1 — You’re Going to Do What?

This series of posts is about the process of composting from the perspective of someone who would not be considered a “natural” for it.

Initially, my mother was skeptical about my idea to purchase a compost bin with the money my parents had given me for my birthday. Birthday money is for “treating yourself” and a compost bin seemed an odd “treat.” Besides, why would I even want a one? It was highly questionable. I am kind of squeamish and I do not like handling food that is past its prime. Moreover I really, really do not like creepy crawlies and they are the denizens of a compost bin.

Produce scraps put down a garbage disposal require water and energy to process them at the water treatment plant. Or put in the garbage consume energy to move them to a new location to rot. Composting seemed like a green thing to do and I wanted to do my part. It appealed to me on another level. Composting was way outside my comfort zone and would not be easy for me to do. I would be challenged. Compared to what needs to be done in the world this would be a drop in the bucket, but it was a start, and eventually, drops do fill up a bucket.

Food Scrap Collection Pail

I am a planning sort of gal, so I researched composting on the Internet to learn what equipment I needed, what could be composted, and how to do it.

Stainless Steel Compost PailI searched for a food scrap pail. This is the item you use to collect and temporarily store produce scraps before they go to the compost bin.

A stainless steel gallon bucket seemed like a good choice.  It was small enough that it would need to be emptied frequently and thus large quantities of rotting produce would not be stored in the kitchen.

Some offered compostable liners with an odor-reducing feature. To me, that seemed counterintuitive. First, why purchase a liner that required resources and energy for production when you are trying to minimize those things. Second, if you regularly empty the compost pail then it will not smell and something to reduce odor is not needed. I passed on the liners.

A pair of rubber gloves would solve the issue of transporting compost material to the pail and later to the compost bin.

Compost Bin

Off we went to the home improvement store to buy a compost bin. There were a few models to choose from. I knew I definitely did not want the one that used worms and the cylindrical one seemed small so I purchased a rectangular model.

Some compost bins are open and you just throw stuff in and occasionally stir it. I live in a forest and did not want to attract rodents so an enclosed unit with a bottom (or screen) was essential.

Once I got the bin home, even though it said it was easy to assemble, it was not. I am what you would call “mechanically challenged” so my spouse helped me with assembly. We selected a location up the hill from our house that was fenced in for the previous owner’s dog. The fence seemed like a good deterrent against larger uninvited guests. We lugged the compost bin up the hill and placed it on a flat area.

Making Compost

Since I wanted to make sure my composting got off to a good start, I had purchased a composting starter kit which is a bag of granules that you pour in to get things started off. For future batches, I dispensed with the starter as it also takes resources and energy to produce and transport to the store.

After creating a bottom layer of brown, dry vegetation from the yard, and pouring in the composting starter, I excitedly collected produce scraps in my compost pail and then dumped it in my new compost bin. I was on my way…

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