When I lived in apartments and a condo, compost wasn’t something I ever thought about. However, once I started reading organic gardening books, I became really interested in the idea of reusing our kitchen and yard wastes and creating my own black gold. My condo’s patio garden had existed due to the bags of soil that I purchased at the garden center, but it felt wrong buying soil when I was living above soil, trying to grow vegetables in an economical manner, and throwing kitchen wastes in the garbage.After we moved into our first house in July of 2012, one of the first things I had to do was set up some compost bins. In order to start simple and get it going fast, we bought a cheap rectangular black plastic bin from Menard’s. We put it behind our garage where we knew we could visit it frequently.
In order to get the decomposition going and introduce some microorganisms, I initially added a small amount of purchased compost, top soil, manure, and straw. Then we began adding kitchen scraps. We kept a small container on our kitchen counter and threw in unwanted parts of fruits and vegetables, hard-boiled egg shells, and peanut shells. Fruit flies taking up residence in our kitchen soon explained to us that we really did need to empty our compost container frequently. We didn’t have much yard waste to add that first summer, except for wormy apples and occasional small sticks.
I watered and turned the compost bin occasionally and sadly watched it shrink. There wasn’t much to add and it seemed like all the work wasn’t going to generate much black gold after all. I started wondering if the compost generated from a city yard can go far enough to support that yard without having to purchase external compost? Most of our yard is covered in grass and that use of space seemed to be quite wasteful and needy. If that land were covered in trees, shrubs, and opportunistic annuals, there would be lots of materials that could decompose into the soil. Animals could also thrive in that space, hiding among the foliage and fallen leaves, further adding manure. But with a lawn, what opportunity was there for natural additions of soil amendments?
Our compost bin is about 30 inches square. I’ve read that a compost pile needs to be a certain size to heat up enough, so it remains to be seen how hot our compost will get. Once our bin is closer to full, perhaps we will purchase a thermometer and investigate. At the rate that we are adding to the pile, I’m assuming it will take about a year to fill up one bin. Since it could take longer after that for the compost to be ready, I purchased a second bin so we could put our kitchen and yard wastes there while the other bin is cooking.
Initially, we had the compost bins a couple feet away from the garage. However, as autumn started, we noticed what appeared to be burrowing holes in our compost pile. We also saw that there were chew marks along the top by the cover. We were concerned that we were attracting small mammals to our house so we decided to move the compost bins to the far corner of our yard. It would be a longer hike to empty our kitchen wastes (especially in the winter), but we didn’t want to have mice in our basement or raccoons in our attic over the winter. There had been a family of raccoons living in the wall of our condo a few years ago, and that was not an experience we wanted to relive.
Some questions have come into my mind since I started building the compost pile:
• Will the pile heat up enough to kill any weed seeds?
• Should bruised or wormy fruits be added?
• Will we have problems with all the fruit and vegetable seeds being added?
• Are the inedible parts of fruit and vegetable suitable for composting if the products are not organic, or do they contain harmful pesticides not healthy to be composted?
• How can raw egg shells be cleaned, so they can be added to the pile?
• How do we get rid of fruit flies in the compost bin?
• Will worms be able to get into the bin (there is a plastic bottom with some small holes in it)?
I was considering trying vermicomposting (worms) or bokashi over the wintertime, but that didn’t materialize. With worms, I was worried about attracting bugs in our basement or neglecting the bins and finding worms escaping. With bokashi, I wasn’t comfortable becoming dependent on purchasing the starter (I want my compost to be cost-free). So, we have continued to add kitchen scraps to the first compost bin over the winter. It seems to be going well. We haven’t noticed any problems with small mammals and we haven’t seen any fruit flies throughout the winter. The majority of materials we are adding are of the green type, so hopefully the bin will receive enough browns to be well balanced in the end. In the future, I would still like to try vermicomposting or bokashi as an experiment to see how it works for us.
In my first nine months of composting, I’m enjoying this process very much. Composting helps me feel connected to nature: the soil, the natural cycle of life and decay, and my future vegetable gardening. The soil in our backyards is more than just dirt. It’s a living, life-giving environment that I am helping to nourish. When I read about composting, I enjoy contemplating the balance of greens and browns. When I grab a fork to turn the pile, I become a farmer taking care of my land. When I throw scraps in the containers by our kitchen sink, I think about the nutrients that will go into our yard and the potential of what was once waste.
I can’t wait for spring to arrive so I can find some dead brush around the yard and build the pile up higher.