Friday, October 4, 2013

Lazy Composting 101

Queen Composter shares her composting method. 

After reading Eco Novice's post seeking suggestions for a lazy composting method, I decided to share how I compost. I have avoided talking about what I do because it didn't seem interesting or blog-worthy. I don't do funky, cool composting like worm compostingbokashi or even one of these rotating compost bins. I don't use a compost pile because we have neighbourhood "friends" like rats and raccoons. I have read that this shouldn't be a problem but I don't want to risk it because we live close to a river and ditches, and rats are an ever present problem. I really don't do much, and that suits me fine. Despite being passionate about gardening and composting, I am really lazy, and I do things in bursts of energy, interspersed with great periods of inaction. I need a method that works with my natural tendencies.

What I do is really very simple.

I purchased a reasonable compost bin from my city (dimensions: 36" x 22" x 22") and placed it in a sunny location at the back of my yard. The removable top has two hinged lids on top for easy dumping of food scraps.

Composting of organic matter involves alternating a green layer (nitrogen rich) with a brown layer (carbon rich). A green layer can include kitchen scraps (egg shells, vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, not meat or cooked food), garden cuttings, grass clippings and wet leaves, and a brown layer can be dirt or dried material like grass and leaves. But because I'm lazy I often forget to add a brown layer to my compost bin until the next time I add a large amount of green material.

Composting also needs moisture and oxygen. I give my compost bin a shot of water when I remember, or when it looks dry. People who have a compost pile need to turn their compost with a shovel or pitchfork to aerate it, but in an upright bin it is next to impossible. I use this gadget called a wingdigger to dig down into the composting material to create aerating holes as it is pulled up and out. I probably should do this more than I do but my lazy method seems to work for me so I'm not worrying too much.

The Wingdigger

I keep adding the green and brown layers, and if the bin becomes too full I leave it for a while and the materials become more compact as they compost, creating more room in the bin. I leave the bin for about one year (recommended 12 - 18 months), and when I'm ready to add compost to my garden I open the front panel to access the compost.

Gorgeous compost ready for my garden.

My laziness comes out in this photo: I
didn't cut the garden scraps small enough
and when I used the compost the next
spring I had to pick out the partially
composted Brussels sprout stalk.
To summarize my method:

  • add kitchen scraps, lawn and plant cuttings, leaves to compost bin
  • forget to add a brown layer
  • add more green material, then remember just before going inside to add a brown layer
  • forget to water or aerate
  • add more green and brown material
  • remember that I haven't aerated or watered in a while so do it
  • lather, rinse, repeat as needed

I am also very fortunate to live in an area that supports composting by providing homes with a green cart for curb side pick up of food scraps and garden trimmings. This makes it very easy to jump on board and make composting a way of life. Because I have a vegetable garden there are periods when I have more green material than can fit in my compost bin, so it is nice to have the green cart for the overflow. We also use the green cart for composting of our cooked food, meat, or anything that we don't feel comfortable putting into our backyard bin.

I do need a backyard for my composting method. My brother who lives in a condo downtown has used the bokashi method and I know of other people without yard access who have used the worm composting method.

This past spring I researched rotating compost bins to increase the amount of compost I could produce for my garden and decrease the amount of time it would take, but the reviews are mixed at best. I will be sticking to my compost bin, perhaps adding another one so that I can have compost available twice a year.

Before I composted I thought it was complicated and I was a little intimidated. I have found, however, that my lazy method does produce useable compost.


Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

Brilliant! And very apropos from the Queen Composter.

Julia (Color Me Green) said...

whoa is it really supposed to take 12-18 months for this kind of lazy composting? i had been doing a lazy form of composting in a garbage can that I rolled around every other week or so, and it still hadn't broken down after 10 months. i thought i was doing something wrong, but maybe it just hadn't gone long enough.

Christy said...

Julia, some people claim to have compost quicker using the rolling / tumbling method, but when I read reviews of it many people claim the same thing as you - that it doesn't seen to be breaking down. Have you been checking the moisture level inside the container? It has to be quite moist. Also, have you been adding enough brown material? I find the best way to break mine down is to add a layer of dirt for the brown layer (helps speed it up a little bit). Have you been keeping it in a sunny location to help with warmth? Do you take the lid off in between tumbling?

Another criticism I have read of the tumbling method is that the composting material isn't exposed to the environment - my bin has an open bottom and it just rests on the ground. Insects, microorganisms and bacteria can easily get into my bin to help the process along.


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