Composting Part 3 — Lessons Learned

Now that I had my first batch of compost under my belt, I was ready to continue. The second compost bin model seemed to be working out so I purchased another one and started a new batch.

My family had heard about my trials and triumphs ad nauseam and my mother agreed the birthday money was well spent as I certainly had enjoyed composting.

Keeping Produce Out of the Compost Bin

China Plate with Fresh Fruit and VegetablesAlong the way, some of the things I thought would occur did and there were some unexpected benefits.

As expected, the volume of stuff put down the garbage disposal or thrown in the garbage was substantially reduced.

An unexpected benefit was that we paid more attention to the produce we bought and tried to purchase only what we felt confident we could eat before it spoiled. So these days the food scrap pail is filled mostly with peels, rinds, cut out bad spots and very little spoiled whole fruits or vegetables.

I did learn some things along the way that may or may not be useful for others.

Composting Lessons Learned

  • The little scanner labels put on produce are sometimes made of plastic and they do not compost so you need to remove them (I had to pick them out of my completed compost the first time).
  • There are many types of compost bins from an open wooden bin to enclosed plastic units. Select one suitable for your environment.
  • Buying equipment may not be necessary, but if you buy equipment, buy quality so it will last.
  • Compost Bin Open Lid HolderBe creative in adapting equipment to meet your needs. For example, the ground beneath one of my compost bins is not perfectly level and sometimes the lid would accidentally shut while I was aerating or digging around so my very handy spouse rigged up a wire to keep the lid open.
  • It may take several weeks to get used to putting material in the food scrap pail instead of the garbage disposal or trash.
  • Although there are many excellent sources with guidelines on how to compost successfully, everything will rot eventually, so do not sweat it if your method is different than what others do.
  • Composting requires commitment including collecting scraps, emptying the pail, stirring and watering the compost, digging it out and moving it to a place to use it.

I would not exactly say I am an expert composter. I still do not like creepy crawlies or hiking up the hill with the food scrap pail in the rain but I do it.

I am proof that even squeamish people can compost (although with a bit more equipment and protection than most people). Composting can be very rewarding. Reducing waste, water, and energy, nurturing your garden (or someone else’s), learning new things, and feeling a sense of accomplishment for taking positive action.

I’m convinced that if I can compost, anyone can. It can be on a large or small scale. There are many different types of equipment and methods. People who live in apartments or in very cold weather may have more challenges but there are solutions to almost every obstacle. I got past mine and now composting is just part of our regular routine.

That reminds me I think there is a banana in the kitchen I need to go eat before it becomes food for the compost bin.

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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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