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  • Writer's pictureBesa


There are a lot of ways to compost. They don't all involve stinky piles and pitchforks and raccoons. In my garden I have been experimenting with some different composing techniques that you might want to give a try. I love the fact that I can compost my kitchen scraps. It makes me feel less wasteful when I throw things into the compost bucket instead of the trash and also my trash stinks less without the moldy fruit etc. As a gardener I like to give back to my garden and composting just makes sense.

Composting begins in the kitchen. In my kitchen all of my food scraps go into a large plastic bucket with a lid. This includes all vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, coffee grounds and filters, paper towels, salsa that has gotten moldy, old pasta, stale bread, tea bags, house plant leaves, wilted cut flowers, dust bunnies, sprouting potatoes, egg shells, and many other things. I avoid putting meat, cheese, and oils into the compost because it can make it smelly and attract animals. When my kitchen compost bucket gets full I take it out and dump it into where ever I am currently collecting compost materials.

My smallest composting station is my vermicomposter, worm compost, in the basement. This is a plastic bin made out of three plastic trays nested into each other but the two top trays have many holes slightly larger than a worm. The top tray holds the fresh kitchen scraps and shredded news paper, about 50/50. The worms will begin eating the scraps and mixing it with the paper to make a nice compost. The second tray has older compost that has already been worked over by the worms but they might still be getting every last bit out of it. The third tray catches the liquid produced during the composting called a compost tea. The liquid can be used as liquid fertilizer in your garden or houseplants. When the worms have finished eating all the scraps in the middle tray they will travel up through the holes into the top tray where the newer food is. Once they have traveled up then you know that your compost in the middle tray is ready to harvest and can add it to your garden as a very rich soil amendment. Take your empty tray and put it on top and start filling with food scraps and paper while the tray below is finished off by the worms. The worms used for vermicomposting are called red wigglers and you can find them at bait shops. My vermicomposter is homemade but you can also buy them. I feed this composter the most when the weather is nasty and I don't want to go outside. Because it is small it can't take all the compost I produce so most of my compost does not go into the vermicomposter.

The bulk of my yard waste and food waste goes outside into my pit compost. To pit compost I dig a large pit in my garden. Usually about 2 ft deep and 5 ft wide. The hole should be about the size of the amount of material you have available for composting. I pick a site in my yard to dig my hole that has shown to have low soil fertility or weed problems or compaction issues. The soil removed from the hole can be used to contour other parts of the garden or stock piled to go on top of the pit when it is full. First into the hole goes sticks, woody stems, and rotten logs, these help to provide air during the process so it doesn't go anaerobic and stink. Next in are plants that might have weed seeds, vines, and tomato stalks, they take the longest to decompose so I want them at the bottom and not growing. Next goes in my leaves, cut grasses, and other dry plants. After that go food scraps and then the rest of the garden waste. I top it all off with left over soil and a layer of mulch. The finished product should be slightly higher than the ground level because it will settle as it decomposes. It takes about a year for it to become compost but all you have to do is sit back and wait. Tomatoes and other heavy feeders will grow well if planted immediately around the pit so that they can send their roots in for nutrients. The following year you will have a nutrient rich bed ready to plant. Each fall I select a new place to dig a pit and am gradually amending my entire vegetable garden area with this approach.

I also do some more traditional composting in a commercially available bin that I dump my materials into the top and scoop the compost out the bottom. It tends to be slow and sometimes drys out in the summer and I have to water it. It works but it can't keep up with the amount of yard waste I produce in my vegetable garden and kitchen so I just use it intermittently. I think the main reason I keep the traditional composter is because I support composting and when people visit I want them to see a composter. My other two methods of composting are invisible to the garden visitor. The vermicomposter is in the basement out of sight. The pit composting is completely unrecognizable on the surface unless you happen to be there on the day I make it. Maybe I should call it stealth composting.

I hope that if you have been frustrated by earlier composting attempts you will give it another try. Even a small amount of composting will benefit your garden and the landfill. There are so many methods of composting. I'm taking a class on one called bokashi composting later this year. Talk to your gardening friends about their composting and try a few things at home. I'm sure you will find the right method for you.

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