Compost: Keep it simple
Yesterday, I was hanging out with some friends after our moms group wrapped up, watching our kids (sort of) and eating watermelon. As I saw people toss their rinds in the garbage can, I cringed. It took every ounce of socially acceptable willpower not to dive in after them. I would have carted home a bag of other people’s food waste for my backyard compost bin. And to think, I used to give my husband a hard time about pulling the car over to pick up pop cans in the ditch. Good grief, we are quite the pair; our poor children don’t stand a chance.
I love keeping a backyard compost bin. It’s like magic. You dump in a bunch of waste, wave your wand/shovel, and voila! Out comes beautiful, rich soil loaded with beneficial nutrients and packed with earthworms. I think of it like frugal fertilizer; plants are crazy about it. Compost improves the soil’s structure and moisture retention, while slowly releasing into the soil to boost the plant’s growth and ability to fight diseases.
However, if there was an award for World’s Laziest Composter, I would be in serious medal contention. I love the results of a backyard compost bin, but I don’t have the time or desire to make it into a complicated process. Judging from the results we get, our mostly hands-off strategy is working just fine. From what I have read, this seems to be true for most gardeners.
My husband, Ed, built our compost bin out of wood pallets he scavenged from work, of course, so it didn’t cost a dime. Two years ago, we tried creating a tumbler compost bin (it looked exactly like this one). Because it was enclosed, it turned into a soupy, smelly sludge. Ugh. FYI: Just because it’s on Pinterest doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Maybe it’s a personal preference thing, but I definitely think the open bins are easier/better. Unless you live on a city lot or have issues with pesky animals, then by all means, tumble away.
We keep our compost bin in a backyard corner near our garden and add kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and yard debris. For food scraps, I simply keep a lidded container in my kitchen sink, which I empty into a 10-gallon bucket on the back deck when full. Between juicing and eating a primarily vegetable-based diet, our family easily fills 1-2 buckets a week with food scraps.
I don’t add meat or oily/salty foods, as they take longer to decompose and can attract unwanted visitors. Animal manure from chickens, goats, or horses makes a great addition to any compost pile, but do not add poo from dogs or cats. And don’t even get me started on humanure. Yes, it’s a thing. That my husband was talking about AT DINNER the other night. Again, our poor children.
Anyway, when the bucket is full, it gets dumped in the big compost bin. We turn it occasionally to work in the newer material, keep things moist, and help break everything down. We have never needed to add water, but that’s an option if the mixture gets too dry. Once the organic matter completely decomposes, we work it into our raised garden beds or around plants that just need a little encouragement. I also work in a healthy scoop of compost to the soil anytime I am starting new plants.
When it comes to adding organic matter to your compost bin, the standard ratio is “two parts brown to one part green.” The browns are dry material like leaves, and the greens are wet materials like grass clippings or kitchen waste. This ratio is a good rule of thumb, but it’s not crucial to the success of your compost bin. In the long run, any pile of organic material will eventually decompose, so I just try to keep a nice balance, make sure it stays moist, and let nature take its course.
If your compost pile/bin has an overly offensive odor, that’s a sign that it is too wet or has too many green materials. Mix in some dry leaves or other yard debris to balance things out. One reason some gardeners keep careful tabs on their compost is to create “hot” compost, which “cooks” quickly as it decomposes thanks to the bacteria breaking down the nitrogen-rich materials. However, science seems to support my laziness once again because cured compost, which is covered for several months, actually has more diverse microorganisms and bacteria. I even read one suggestion to fill garbage bags with sifted compost in the fall and allow it to cure until you are ready to plant in the spring. I might give that a shot, but for now my lazy bones are happy with the results from slow, “cold” compost.
One thing I have gone back and forth on is what to do with weeds. We live on a 3/4-acre lot with no yard debris garbage service so the battle against weeds is constant. Some people just pile it into their compost bin. If the compost gets hot enough to cook the weeds, this shouldn’t be a problem. However, if not you might be reintroducing those weed seeds to your garden. Not cool. According to Mother Earth News, one solution is to keep weeds in a separate pile before cooking them in a little “solar oven.” Simply put the weeds in a clear garbage bag in a foil-lined box placed in a sunny spot and “cook” them at 140-degrees for at least 2 hours. Foil + sun? Ed lives for that combination. Since we don’t have any kind of yard debris garbage service, this is going to be my new plan of attack.
However you do it… tumbler or bin, hot or cold, simple or complicated, one thing is certain: Compost is an easy, inexpensive way to improve the quality of your soil and give your plants important nutrients. Start saving those scraps and get your hands dirty!
While an old lidded yogurt container does the job, I would definitely prefer the clean look of this Oxo Good Grips Compost Bin (Amazon) on my kitchen counter. This durable bin holds about one gallon and is easy to clean (dishwasher safe!).
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