Composting – Using Household Waste to Create Filthy Rich Dirt

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

I’ve been composting kitchen waste ever since I had a small rooftop garden in my efficiency apartment in Ann Arbor in 1979. Since then I’ve composted on a 20-acre homestead, in an urban backyard and behind the shed in my current home in Pennsylvania. It’s a simple process and begins with finding a container with a sealable lid to keep in the kitchen for the food scraps.

Not all of your waste from the kitchen makes good compostable material. Avoid the use of meat scraps, fish byproducts, cheese, bones, fats, oils or grease because they all attract wild animals and take a very long time to break down. Egg shells, coffee grounds and vegetable matter make the best material to start the process of minting your very own black gold.

Once the container is filled, take it to the compost bin and put it inside and cover with either brown or green organic material. Making the rich topsoil requires a balancing act between green materials and brown materials placed on top of the kitchen scraps. Think of the green things as those still close to the live stage: grass clippings, food scraps and manures. The browns have been dead for a while and consist of dry leaves and woody materials and even shredded paper. We use the ashes from our fireplace. Layering these elements, with the browns taking up the most space, leads to the decomposition of the materials. Air and water are essential in assisting in this process, but usually there is enough liquid in my compost container and in the air to not worry about wetting the materials. If you notice the material in the bin looks dry, go ahead and water it.

There are products you can purchase from shredders to rotating drums to three-stage bins. You can spend from $50 upwards to several hundreds of dollars. If you live in the extreme north, you may need to invest in the more sophisticated type of equipment to ensure the success of your compost bin. But I’ve composted in Michigan, Florida and now Pennsylvania and managed to do it successfully without expending lots of money.

When I lived in an urban setting in Florida, I did the simplest thing. But it could easily have been expanded. I bought a plastic garbage can for under $10 and cut off the bottom. I drilled holes all over the lid and sides to allow air flow. A nail and hammer would have accomplished the same thing. I dug a hole about three-inches deep in the soil the diameter of the can and placed the bottom into the ground, filling around the sides to make it secure. I covered the bottom with the dirt I had just removed, making sure it was nice and loose. Then I placed my kitchen scraps on top. I covered those with leaves from my yard and put the lid back on the garbage can. Every time I put new material from the kitchen into the bin, I stirred the whole thing with a shovel.

Here in Pennsylvania, we bought a simple compost bin from Lowes  for under $50. It has panels on all four sides that slide off for easy removal of the dirt from the bottom.

This past week, I filled more than ten flower pots full of this healthy rich soil and planted grateful petunias and pansies that are now thriving in the dirt that started in my kitchen. Our vegetables and herbs will receive a healthy dose of the soil as well and then we start the process all over again.

Earthworms are the essential ingredient for turning the scraps into rich dark soil. If I see a worm in the yard, I’ll pick it up and carry it to the bin, but mostly the earthworms find it all by themselves. If you don’t see any in your pile, buy a small container of earthworms from the local bait shop and let them loose. They eat the organic matter, and quite graciously poop behind nice dirt. Maybe that’s what I love most about composting. It’s a way to be a part of the cycle of nature without disturbing or destroying it.

Do you compost? Has it been as successful for you as it has been for me?

15 thoughts on “Composting – Using Household Waste to Create Filthy Rich Dirt

  1. I purchased a compost bin at Sam’s Club ($90) that tumbles and have made one successful batch. I was shocked at how little compost I got, but I think that is to be expected. I’m also confused as to how often I can add material – seems like it will never be ‘done’ if I add to it constantly. I’m sure I make it way too complicated, as I’m also confused about the green/brown ratio. But that’s my nature – overanalyze everything!!

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    • Garden Girl – I’m not familiar with that type of composting unit. Perhaps someone else will weigh on on that. I add material whenever my kitchen container is overflowing. I like the type of bin where I can pull from the bottom because that means I have to worry less about stirring it all up. I’ve read all the stuff about the ratios and it just makes my head hurt. I’m a word person, not number. I just make a habit of alternating and granted in the winter I’m using more of the brown stuff but it still seems to work. Try not to over-analyze and just make dirt! Thanks for comment.

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  2. I have not been as successful this year, but I think my ratio of brown to green matter is off. Lots of leaves, and I haven’t been bringing out my veg waste as much. I’m going to put a plastic bin like yours under my sink to get me back in the groove. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Great! It is important to switch around what you layer, but I don’t measure. The bin I have right now is perfect under the counter. It’s made by Rubbermaid. I also forgot to mention that between composting and recycling my husband and I only put out one small bag of trash each week, which brings me to another topic. Why aren’t waste providers allowing us to pay according to the trash we leave? Why do I have to pay the same as my neighbor with five kids and who has overflowing trash cans each week? I know some communities do it this way, but not where I live yet. Anyone have experience with that?

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      • I have that rubbermaid container already, so I’m in business! I agree with you on the waster providers… I lived in Germany for several years and we were only allowed one small bin per week, Any more than that and you’d have to bring it to the dump. I learned to leave packaging AT the stores. It was a very interesting message to send up the pipeline! and it made me think about what purchases I made.

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  3. I purchased 2 small tumbler type composters from TSC.When one is full we let it cook then use, while we fill the other. I can roll the units to the garden and empty right on the spot.

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  4. I have found that I don’t get too wound up about the green – brown ratio – (nitrogen – carbon), but if you want to know there is a great place to look. just search on” composting 101″ – great info in the articles posted. I am a lazy composter. A big pile 4X4X4 and I just keep layering it in. I may turn it over once or twice a year. I have two big bins side by side so it makes it easy to turn it over.. It is amazing to see how much material goes in and how much it cooks down. I added grass clippings a few days ago and the pile heated up to 142 degrees F…….and it immediately starts shrinking down.

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    • I agree. I’m not a scientist so the ratio never bothered me. I just look for those earthworms and know the job is being done. Fantastic and underrated creature, the earthworm!

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  5. We’ll have to get us some earthworms! Very informative post! You even have our bin on there! I don’t know how much longer it will last. It’s been through only one move and is beginning to warp a little from the heat. I’ll be so bummed if it poops out by the next move. The bin is too full to stir now so I’m going to have to get in there and remove the usable compost. Since we most likely won’t get a chance to do a fall garden (we’ll be in the middle of another move), I plan on donating it to the garden club! My mother says I don’t know why you waste your time giving it so much attention when you won’t be around to use it in the end, but I say, hey, as long as someone is able to use it, it was so much fun to make! Thanks for visiting my little site!🙂
    Jennifer

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      • Gosh, thanks P.C. Zick. I don’t think I have but a handful of military folks who even look at my blog. Most of them seem to be from overseas. England, Ireland, Canada, or foreign nationals over here. I think because how we live is considered “normal” in other countries but here it’s looked at as extreme. I wouldn’t call flushing with rain water and not blasting the heat and air extreme, but most of my American friends sure would.

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  6. Pingback: Turn Earth Day into Earth Year | Living Lightly

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