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?