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Monday, March 15, 2010

Making Compost

When I was growing up, there was always a compost pile located somewhere at the back of the yard. My dad tossed on grass clippings, fall leaves (that were raked, not blown around by noisy machines...oh, wait, that's a post for another day), dead garden plants, over-ripe tomatoes, and other organic material from the garden beds. I don't remember kitchen garbage added to the pile, though I do recall seeing grapefruit halves, egg shells and coffee grinds in a neighbor's compost. Back then, in the semi-rural neighborhood of my elementary school years, everyone had big yards with vegetable gardens. And the refuse from those gardens was thrown on a pile. I don't know if most people called it compost, and I have no idea if the end-product -- that amazingly rich, decomposed organic gold - - was ever used by those neighbors.

Today, everyone seems to know at least a little about composting. When I did a Google search of "how to compost," more than 8 million matches appeared!  Well, here is number 8 million and one.

I'm a big advocate of composting. By composting garden and kitchen waste, we can divert all that matter from landfills, thereby reducing the amount of methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide produced. Since organic matter mixed with trash accounts for about 40% of the stuff dumped in landfills, composting will prolong the life span of a landfill, reducing the need to truck refuse even greater distances to newer landfills. If that weren't enough of an upside, we have the end product...compost.

When decomposed organic matter is added to soil, it provides all kinds of nutrients and organisms essential for soil health. Compost will also improve soil texture and helps maintain a nice, "neutral" pH. And, over time, with a good, thick layer added every year, compost can reduce, or even eliminate the need to resort to environmentally-unfriendly fertilizers.

I compost in a heavy-duty bin made of recycled plastic similar to the one pictured here. We keep a small stainless steel compost pail next to the kitchen sink to collect the waste so that we don't have to trek out to the garden everytime we generate some garbage. In addition to kitchen waste, you can compost:
  • leaves
  • weeds (without seeds)
  • grass clippings
  • dryer lint (especially if most of the fabrics you dry in the dryer are natural fibers)
  • shredded or ripped newspaper
  • thin cardboard
  • pine needles
  • straw
  • woodchips
  • cornstalks (the more broken down the better
  • manure from plant-eating animals
Never add grease, meat or fish scraps, dairy products, bones or dog or cat poop to the compost pile. And avoid adding diseased plants. In a future post, we'll look at tricks to maintaining a healthy compost pile.
Do you compost? What kind of bin do you use?


  1. I had no idea about dryer lint - thanks!

  2. My compost pile is currently a free-reign heap, but I'm hoping to enclose it with a few wooden palletes to contain its bulk. The majority of the pile consists of rabbit droppings and rabbit litter (compressed wood pellets--the kind for wood stoves--they dissolve into sawdust). I also compost all my kitchen scraps--cooking vegetarian makes it easy.

    Disgusting yet true: my favorite part is turning the pile to see how it's doing . . . especially after a long winter when the top's been frozen and the bottom's been cooking along.

  3. Hi Swigett, I found the dryer lint suggestion several years ago when I was researching my Edible Gardening book. Who would have thought!?
    I enjoy turning the pile too, Eatenword. In fact, I just bought a new (to me) pitchfork - I only paid $2 - for turning my pile. As soon as the weather gets a big warmer, I'm going to add some worms to speed up the decomp.

  4. I have a trash can with 15, 3/4" holes drilled in it, near my kitchen in the backyard. And like eatenword, I have a free-reign heap that is waiting the attention of my husband to "board it up." I've stopped throwing in cooked food...but should I continue to do that if it has no dairy, meat, fish, or grease?