Monday, September 30, 2013

Question: How Do You Compost? (Please Comment!)

Eco-novice seeks easy, foolproof method of composting.

Dear Boothers,

Help me out. I really want to compost. I feel guilt every time I toss watermelon rinds and carrot peelings in the trash. But I'm having trouble jumping in and trying it. Here are my issues:
  • There are multiple methods. Which one is the best for me? Note that I have actually ruled out worms because a couple of my friends tried that method and it seemed like a lot of work.
  • If it takes too much time, I will fail. I know, because I watched two tomato plants die over the summer simply because I didn't water them. (In case you are concerned, my husband is in charge of watering our new tree.)
  • I have a toddler. A crazy, gets-into-everything, I-cannot-control-her toddler. I need to be able to let her roam somewhat unsupervised in the backyard or I will lose my mind. We are also hoping to get a dog. I cannot have an amorphous pile of compost that my toddler or future dog will get into.
  • I'm scared of attracting vermin. I've had ants, cockroaches, fruit flies, and rats. There are also plenty of stray cats and dogs in my neighborhood that I would like to stay off my property.
  • I am completely willing to drop $100 to $200 on a compost bin if it will solve all my problems and make all my composting dreams come true. But I'm scared I'll buy a bin, and it won't work all that well, or won't make composting easy-peasy enough, and then I won't use it, and then I'll have a big hunk of plastic in my backyard and a lot of eco-guilt.

So, Readers, here is what I would love from you. If you compost, please share with me how you do it! I would love to know:
  • What do you think is the easiest, least time-consuming, most foolproof method of composting?
  • How do you compost? Do you use any special equipment?
  • How did you learn how to compost? How long did it take you to figure out the method and make it work for you? 
  • Is it toddler-proof and dog-proof?
  • What are you able to compost?
  • How long do you spend on composting each week?
  • Do you have to have multiple batches and how long does it take a batch to reach completion?
  • What are the pros and cons of your method? What are the biggest challenges, if any, you face with composting?
  • If you had to set up your composting system again from scratch, would you do it differently?
  • Have you had any problems with vermin? Why not?
  • What are your favorite resources (websites, blogs, etc.) for composting information?

OK, you don't have to answer all of those questions, but any advice you would like to offer would be much appreciated. If you have a post about how you compost, feel free to leave your link in the comments. I would love for this post to serve as a useful compilation of composting tips and testimonials.

Thank you!

Eco-novice, an aspirational composter


Kristina (The Greening Of Westford) said...

Betsy, I am a LAZY composter! I started about 5 years ago and the only time I spend on it is when I dump my small kitchen bin into the bigger one - about 2 - 3 times per week. I bought an Earth Machine composter from my town. No problem with vermin, animals or smells. My backyard is fenced in, but I know many others in town with no fence and no issues with animals. Now, I will say I have no idea if I have any usable compost in there. I don't garden - sounds like our gardening skills (or lack thereof) are similar. But I will say that in 5 years, the bin has not filled up. The stuff just decomposes.

Here is a post I wrote a while back. It should answer your other questions:

Green Bean said...

I've tried lots of different composting methods - the spinning composter, worms (I still feel guilty for killing them all!), the stackable ones. I've only ever had any success with the last one - stackable, black plastic dealie. I would dump food in, never watered, never turned and eventually compost came out. I'm sure it would have happened sooner if I had done all that other stuff but I was a busy mom of little kids.

Now, I have a three bin system that my gardener built for me . It is something like this:,6 I've had it for about 9 months and so far love it. In my gardener's opinion, this is the best system, but it does take up a fair amount of space. We put all of our plant cuttings, food scraps (that don't go to the chickens) and light paper products in there. Very occasionally, I'll water it. Once it fills to the top - which takes a while - it gets moved to the next bin, and thereby turned. So far the best option I've used except ....

chickens. Which are the ultimate composting system. (Great article on that here:

Carissa Bonham said...

I am the laziest composter ever - which is WHY I use worms. They are zero-maintenance, self-regulate their own population and will eat pretty much however much or little I feed them.

I wrote a post about The Worm Factory (which is what I have been using to house my worms for the last 3 years) here:

Anna (Green Talk) said...

I have a composter that I just drop stuff into. The voles have found a way to get into it despite my rodent screen. Here is a post about the right way to compost at the end of my coffee grounds post.

Helena said...

Let me preface this by saying that I am by no means expert. I took a composting class at our local county extension office, and have been winging it since then. :) We have a couple different systems in place, because we just moved and now we're trying to figure out which one works the best. We had a closed bin for a while, which worked fine but is no deterrent to rats--they will chew right through the plastic and set up shop in the bin. And sometimes in nearby buildings like, oh, the shed or the guesthouse. Ick. So now we use the open bin and the closed bin next it for chicken droppings/bedding, and my husband used some free concrete blocks to build two open bins at the other end of the property, away from all buildings. The idea is that one will be the active heap, and when one is full we'll let it rot in peace while we fill up the other side. Haven't filled one side up yet so can't speak to how well this is working, but at least we no longer have rats. Our kids aren't allowed back to that part of the property without us (because we have a large pond back there) and the dog is not allowed out of our fenced area, so those aren't issues for us. In our old yard, where everything was fenced, we used the closed bin because small kiddos and the dog were allowed out by themselves. I've come to the conclusion that no matter what method you use, you're going to have bugs, but if you keep the bin away from the immediate vicinity of the house then they shouldn't be a problem.

As far as how long I spend, I just toss all kitchen scraps that don't go to the chickens (also no meat or dairy, it attracts bobcats and coyotes and those we really don't want in the yard) into a large container on the counter and I take it out to the pile once a day. Maybe twice if I've had a huge cooking day, but that's not often. I don't fuss with the pile--no turning or anything--so it's definitely the lazy woman's compost. It all breaks down eventually, and sure I could probably tend it more and it would go faster, but I don't have time right now.

Hope that helps!

Jenny Bradford said...

We actually just made a circle of chicken wire supported by posts in the ground and threw all the stuff inside! To turn, I go out there with a shovel every 10 days or so. I have no scientific method of ratio - if there seem to be too many food scraps, I add leaves. I have to water it if wasps come around. No science! Super easy. I forget about it half the time.

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

I love you guys!

Thank you so much, Kristina, Green Bean, Carissa, Anna and Helena for taking the time to comment. I am glad to hear that there are "lazy composters," which is what I aspire to be.

Kristina, your method sounds right up my alley.

Carissa, my friends told me they had to pick the worms out or pick out the finished compost or something -- it sounded very labor-intensive. I'll have to check out your post to find out the truth.

Would love chickens, eventually, Green Bean -- just not yet! Stackable bins sounds good. I want something that I can fill up and just let it sit until it's done.

Helena, your rat story scares me. I had rats in my garage in my last rental. It's disturbing to think they could chew through a plastic container. Hmmm...

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

Jenny, let me add wasps to my list of pestilences. We fill up those traps with hundreds of wasps. I hate to think of attracting more. The DIY method (whether chicken wire or something else) is definitely the cheap way to go, but I worry about vermin. And my toddler. Your toddler doesn't mess with it?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the lazy compost method. Two large black compost bins( the kind you can find at Canadian Tire or Lowe's) and a wire bin to hold dry leaves or grass is what my system is composed of. Layer your kitchen waste with equal parts dry material, adding a handful of dirt for microbes. Water sparingly to the consistency of a sponge. In the spring lift the bin and reap your reward. The top layers will not be ready yet. Move them to the second bin or just use one and pull compost from the bottom. I use two because I save my scraps all winter, and have a lot of garden waste as well. The bins are child and dog proof, and in ten years I have never had a vermin problem.

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

Anonymous, I like what I'm hearing.

Christy said...

Ooo, you've inspired me to finally write a post on how I compost. I've avoided it for so long because I'm lazy and I have been figuring out what works as I go along. Time to knuckle under, stop being lazy and just do it! Lol.

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

Do it, Christy! I will read it with great interest.

Bag Lady said...

I used to have a huge compost system. I made it out of 7 pallets, it has 3 'bins'. Once that #1 bin got full, I will use a pitchfork and layer it in bin #2 with leaves if in the fall or grass if in the summer. While I started refilling bin #1, I kept an eye on bin #2. When #2 shrunk to about half its size, I would layer it with either grass or leaves again. When it was ready to be used as dirt, #2 got moved to #3 and #1 got started again. I would use leaves or bagged grass from my neighbors house as well as mine. If you neighbors fertilize their grass you will notice because it will make your compost even better. I have kept bags of dry leaves in my garage over the winter to use in my spring composting. Lots of work, but lots of great dirt is my reward.


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