Green Living

Confessions of a Reluctant Composter

My husband and I have a certain attitude toward our urban garden. I like to think of it as “simplicity,” but with a little more honesty, I might admit to “laziness” being our gardening style. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed, so we like to keep our homesteading as uncomplicated as possible. Our attitude toward composting is no different. It can be easy and low maintenance and yield good results. (Or, you can be more meticulous than we are and it will yield awesome results.) But if you’re just starting out, don’t worry about perfection. You’re playing with trash and dirt – just jump in!

Last week we dug into the soil created from our compost heap. The black, rich dirt smells heavenly and our little plants are loving it. But I have to confess that for the longest time I thought composting was just for uber hippies and gardening nuts. It seemed kind of gross to keep egg shells, banana peels, and old coffee grounds in a container on the counter, not to mention a huge hassle to put them outside in the compost instead of dumping them in the trash with everything else.

Composting Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

When we did start composting about three years ago, it was a far easier than I thought it would be. But before I share our simple composting routine, you might be wondering, why go to the trouble? Some of the primary benefits to composting are the amazing nutrients you will be adding to your soil. Your garden plants use up nutrients as they grow that need to be replenished. Your kitchen scraps that would be wasted can become rich soil giving your plants just what they need. After we started composting and I saw how quickly our container of kitchen scraps gets filled up, I realized how much unnecessary waste I was sending to the landfill! Composting is a great way to reduce your household waste.

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How to Begin

There are a plethora of composting bins you can purchase. I know that Stephanie has an EnviroCycle and she adores it. A bin like that makes the process easier and cleaner, but if you’re just getting your feet wet, you can easily start composting without investing in anything facy. We have a compost heap on our side yard. It’s admittedly not the loveliest sight (sorry neighbors!) but it does the job.

To start composting you just need to follow some easy steps and then let nature happen:

  • Create an outside space for a compost heap (or purchase a bin).
  • Keep compostable materials in a container on the counter. We keep a lid on it because it will get a little bit stinky. It usually takes one to two days to get filled up.
  • Add kitchen scraps to your outside compost. These will be high in nitrogen.
  • Balance out your nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps by covering them with leaves and grass clippings. These are high in carbon and will reduce the number of flies who would like to hang out around your kitchen scraps.
  • Turn the contents occasionally with a shovel. The organisms that are turning your scraps into compost need oxygen. They get this more quickly if you turn everything regularly. So, the more often you turn the contents of your compost heap, the quicker it will become usable soil. A compost bin makes this step easy. But, if you forget or just don’t want to mess with it, don’t worry. All organic material will break down eventually.
  • Add your beautiful nutrient-rich soil to your very happy plants!

It took me awhile to get used to saving our kitchen scraps for composting and knowing which items to add and which ones to toss in the trash. Here’s a breakdown of items we compost:

  • Food Waste: Items like banana peels, apple cores, egg shells, as well as other plant matter are all great. Coffee grounds are also fantastic for your garden and you can throw the filter right in, too. My husband even sets up composting containers at his workplace to keep from wasting all the coffee grounds and food scraps generated at his office. But you want to avoid putting dairy, fish, or fats into the compost because then it will attract pests. (Rats! Eew!)
  • Garden Waste: Leaves, grass clippings, etc.
  • Chicken Manure (We try to make every possible use out of our chickens and their manure is a great garden fertilizer. But don’t put pet manure (from dogs or cats) in your compost because of possible diseases.

(For more details, you can refer to this helpful list of compostable materials.)

We have two bins that we fill up one at a time. When one is filled up we leave it alone and start filling up the second one. If we turned the compost often, it would only take a couple of months for the scraps to turn into compost. But since we don’t, it takes closer to 6-8 months. We mix the finished compost into the garden and then, once it’s all g0ne, start filling it up with fresh scraps. On this cycle, we usually have all the finished compost we need.
I hope that makes the process of composting less overwhelming for you. Decreasing your waste and adding nutrients to your garden by composting is a great skill for any urban homesteader to develop!

Do you practice composting? What method do you use?

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  • Maureen
    October 17, 2013 at 2:26 PM

    We have started “composting” to reduce kitchen waste, but it’s really just me throwing fruit cores and peels in the corner of our backyard 🙂

    • Stephanie
      October 17, 2013 at 3:40 PM

      Lol, nice. That is what I did in college, with my first compost pile. It was just a heap with some chicken coop wire around it.