Composting for beginners

I’m so looking forward to spring although it’s with a little trepidation. We are a bit behind in getting the garden ready compared to previous years. However, the one thing that we have been great about is beginning our compost pile. We’re lucky in that we don’t have to worry about “smell free” compost options since our compost pile is a good distance away from the house. But, you know, one of the things that I have really noticed is just how smell free our compost pile is. And while I know a certain bit of earthiness is to be expected, I think that I’ve learned that sometimes stink doesn’t always mean good compost. And we have some beautiful compost. Just ask our little rescue cat, Soleil. She is obsessed with the compost pile but thankfully doesn’t add her own “signature” to it:

 

Soleil “helping” me with the pig pen by holding the dirt down with her body…

So how to get started on your own little pile of compost? Well, we started composting a bit in our suburban house-mostly in the winter. We would allow our garden beds to go dormant and add in rich materials to increase the nutrients in the soil for spring planting. Even in our little suburban jungle, we always had a pretty good harvest of fruit/veg that were ideal for our zone. But, what to do if you want to be more thoughtful than we were (hello-standing on the back porch having zucchini throwing contests to see who can hit the garden-not thoughtful composting)…then you first need to think about a few things:

1) Do I have the patience to keep up with it?  Composting is not just about throwing stuff in a pile.  That’s called being a redneck…composting is about the thoughtful throwing of stuff in a pile and then maintaining that pile so your leftovers turn into nutrition for future fruit, veg and trees.

2) Do I have a place to do this?  While you need very little space to compost, this probably isn’t a good fit for you if you live in a one bedroom loft with no garage, patio or outside space.  Even the best compost units take up some space, so decide if this is something you can live with and if so, where will it go?

3) Do local laws/restrictions need to be considered?  While I can’t say that I have heard of any cities/counties restricting composting, you just never know.  I still think about the guy from the Pacific Northwest who was cited for using rain barrels on his property because the city felt like he was taking water away from other residents.  Sometimes gov’t can be crazy…but I think crazier than government is a Homeowners Association, so check with yours to make sure that you aren’t breaking the neighborhood law.  And if you are-well, then get them to change it and compost anyway!!

Beyond what I think are the basic considerations above, there are plenty of simple articles that can help you get started like the EPA’s site (actually aimed at business, but good info all the same) and another good site from the state of California.  Many will walk you through adjusting the content of your compost pile so that it’s not too acidic or nitrogen rich, etc.  For us, we’re just not that high-tech yet…but I would imagine that we will be someday.  For now, here is a list of things that we typically compost in our “casual compost” pile:

Vegetable/Fruit trimmings (no tomatoes or citrus)

Rotten vegetables (we all have those hairy little carrots that get forgotten at the back of a crisper)

Used coffee grounds/filters (not talking your K cups people)

Lawn trimmings

Egg shells (I only use our egg shells-not any we buy from the grocery and I rinse them before putting them in.  Probably lose nutrients rinsing them, but that helps me with the “oogie” factor)

I have heard of some folks who compost meat waste from processing without any negative effects but we’re not remotely there yet.  It’s an interesting idea.

Used chicken bedding (while we use chicken poop, we do not compost dog/cat poop at this time.  We’ve read that the risks outweigh the benefits)

Beyond tossing in these things, we go out to stir it to make sure that it’s getting all of that great decomposition throughout the pile.  We don’t have any trouble with smell, vermin or flies…and that to me is the sign of a great pile.  Well, that and how much our plants will love it!

So-what do you like to compost and how do you manage it?  Would love to hear from some other folks!  Until then, happy composting!

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Composting for beginners

  1. I love composting. And actually, you’re wrong about the dog/cat poo. The reason it can be dangerous is because the resulting soil can actually carry the diseases that the animals carry that can be passed onto humans that touch the dirt such as coccidia or ring worm. The same reason they say not to compost raw meats. However, a nitrogen-rich compost pile that isn’t turned and allowed to age and compost naturally for a year actually kills every parasitic pathogen but ringworm eggs.
    And I don’t know about you, but my dogs don’t have ringworms. Or coccidia. Or tapeworms. Or any other diseases for that matter.
    So if you put healthy in, you’ll get healthy out! I always suggest to people to read the Humanure Handbook (which can be read free online) to learn about composting because it covers the most tricky composting of all; human waste! And the things you learn from it can be used when composting ANYTHING. :3

    • That makes total sense about the dog/cat poop. We’ve had it in it’s own compost pile trying to figure something out to do do with it-sounds like it will eventually be good compost too-just need to leave it alone. Thanks for the info and suggestion!!!

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