July baby steps challenge: composting- update

My baby steps challenge for July is to start composting. I wrote about my doubts and lack of knowledge a few weeks back, and you can read that post here. But armed with a lot of advice from my readers and a bit of research, I officially started composting last weekend.

I picked up this bin from the city of Los Angeles for $5. It’s actually a worm bin, so it didn’t have holes or any kind of drainage in the bottom. I’ve opted to wait on adding worms, and see if worms find their way into my bin as some people have said might happen. I just don’t really love the idea of paying for worms, and having to touch them. Call me squeamish.

I stuck pretty closely to the composting method outlined by The Frugal Girl. Her bin is twice as large, but there are 6 in her family and only 2 in mine. If it fills up too fast, I figure I’ll either get another one or go ahead and buy worms. A few people have advised me that vermicomposting – the worm bin method – works much faster.

This bin is out behind our garage and is mostly in shade. I cut holes in the bottom, although I was advised by one person to cut out the entire bottom of the bin. I don’t think that’s practical with such a small container. I want to be able to turn and dump the compost easily.

I’m still working on getting an interim container in the kitchen for scraps on their way to the bin. My Pillsbury doughboy cookie jar isn’t working out as I’d hoped because the opening is too small. I’m skeptical about our Goodwill because the housewares section is sorely lacking, so I’ll have to hit the garage sales this weekend and see what I come up with. I want it to look nice enough to sit out on the counter, but be large enough that I don’t have to empty it every single day.

As far as where the bin is located, I had conflicting advice on that. Some people said part sun/part shade and others said complete shade. Maybe it depends on the worm thing. This bin will be mostly in shade, the sun that’s hitting the bin in the photo is in the morning, and only lasts a couple of hours at the most.

If YOU want to start composting, I recommend looking up your city’s Department of Sanitation for any bin giveaways or sales. They also have tutorials available online. Otherwise, all you have to do is find or buy a Rubbermaid container and drill some air holes into it. Secondly, I would consult this post at The Frugal Girl, which also references You Grow Girl. And finally, I would read the Comments section of this blog from my original post about composting here.

Believe me, if I can do it, you can do it. And by the way, you can do the vermicomposting on a patio, in a garage, or even inside your house in a closet or pantry. I don’t know if I would do that, but I’m just passing along the information.

Do you already compost? Do you have any additional advice for me or my readers? Please let us know in the Comments section. And a great big THANK YOU to all the good folks who participated in my composting education.


  1. WilliamB says

    It doesn't matter where you put your bin, sun/shade, all shade, full sun.

    Why don't you think it's practical to cut out the bottom of a small bin?

    I use a 1 qt ice cream container for my interim container. Or two such containers. Unless I'm chopping melon or processing a lot of produce, in which case I use a large bowl and dump it that day.

    http://www.mastercomposter.com/pile/index.html is an excellent composting site. (Subsite, actually; the main page has gotten overloaded and hard to navigate.)

    http://roundrobin2001.0catch.com/extensions.html has good sites, state by state.

    http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/soil/ is a collection of the most helpful, friendly posters I've ever encountered online. There are a lot of forums at the GardenWeb, I understand that each forum has its own culture. (Required free, anonymous registration to post.)

  2. Betsy Talbot says

    I'm interested to see what you use as your interim container. I live in a townhouse with no private yard so I can't compost outside, but we have compost bins for food scraps in Seattle that get picked up along with the garbage/recycling each week, and I'd like to be better about getting messy food scraps to the bin. I often forget, and with a container on the counter I would be better about doing this.

    Looking forward to hearing more about this – my parents in New Mexico have been composting for 20+ years!

  3. Sharon says

    It's not "pretty" but I use the liner from cereal boxes. We eat lots of cereal, and I just keep one of the bags next to my sink…that way I am getting another use out of the liner, and I just toss if it had wet/icky stuff in it.

  4. Di Hickman says

    I got my rubbermaid tote off freecycle. It's one of the HUGE ones, I think it's 32 gallons. I got worms from a friend (you could try freecycle or craigslist) so mine cost me nothing but time to drill some holes in the tub and then prep the bedding using our paper shredder. Mine is under the patio cover,and gets very little sun, but it does get warm here. So far my little worms love it :)

  5. Angela says

    William B- Thanks for all the great links. I didn't want to cut out the bottom because I didn't see the need for it, and since I'm still learning I thought I might have to move it. You were the only person who advised cutting out the whole bottom, and it just seems unweildly. I'm following pretty close to what the Frugal Girl does, and I'll see how that goes. Thanks for the info on the shade/sun thing because I wasn't clear on that. And thanks again for your detailed instructions.

    Betsy- I think having something convenient is definitely the key. Then it will become a habit. People use all kinds of things, I just have to find something that works for us. I want my husband to pick up the habit too.

    Sharon- That's a good reuse for cereal box liners! Thanks for the suggestion and for coming by and commenting.

    Di- I almost got a bin on Freecycle, but then I didn't get it in time because of family visiting. I decided $5 was okay, especially since it was going to help fund the program.

  6. Anonymous says

    I keep an old plastic yogurt container in the freezer and put scraps in there. That way, even if I don't get a chance to take the container out right after putting food in it, the food doesn't start to stink up the kitchen.

  7. bcooper5 says

    Opening the bottom would allow microbes from the soil to find their way into your compost pile naturally. You can also buy compost "activator" but I would not suggest this with worms as the heat can easily kill worms or drive them from your compost pile/bin. I found a lot of useful informaion from this website:


    If your pile smells bad your Carbon Nitrogen ratio is off and will need to be corrected. You will want to be somewhat aware of this ratio so you can use the compost later. If it's too high in nitrogen and you put it on tomatoes for example you will have huge plants but little to no fruit.

    I use a 1 gallon ice cream pale that was from a party at work. If it starts wearing out I just recycle and find another.

    I hope this helps. I enjoy reading your blog.

  8. Angela says

    Anonymous- I like the freezer idea, especially in summer. I might do that if it fits easily into the freezer.

    bcooper5- Thanks for coming by and commenting, and for all your tips. I'm going to check out that link. Also, you back up WilliamB's advice to cut out the entire bottom of the bin, which is only the 2nd person who does that. I will have to reconsider. Although it's sitting on such old, hard clay dirt I can't imagine anything will come up from that ground. We live in the city, not exactly farmland.

  9. Non Consumer Girl says

    Thanks for this great post Angela.
    I have been wanting to compost for a while, but we only have a small courtyard garden, and I was worried about the smell and the space taken up by the very large commercially made compost bins.
    I also had issues re traipsing out to the compost bin every time I peeled a banana, so the ideas re the half-way storage are useful.

  10. WilliamB says

    Nonconsumer Girl: if you want to be really careful about the smell, use a lot of browns (ie, more than 50% by volume) including covering your food scraps with browns. Your detrius will take longer to decompose but it will not be smelly while it does so and the brown cover cuts down on flying insects.

    Wot bcooper5 said about good things coming up through the bottom of your pile, if you cut out the bottom. It'll also help make your pile less smelly because the liquid runoff will run into the ground – good for the ground as well – rather than pool in your bin.

    FYI, after a few years, consider moving your bin because the ground under it will be in great shape from all the stuff seeping into it.

  11. Darla says

    I keep a tupperware container on the counter. When it gets smelly I wash it. I used to be obsessed with keeping it in the fridge, but if the container seals well you really won't smell it. (I'm betting all those fancy containers sold by the "green" stores smell nasty pretty quickly.) You want to cut out the bottom so the worms come to you instead of you having to buy them and yes they will find it if you cut the bottom out. I think if you buy worms they aren't native (?) and aren't something you want to wander off on their own if you give up on composting. I've been doing it for 15 years in suburbia. Honestly, I think most people over think it.

  12. Angela says

    Non Consumer Girl- Let me know how it goes!

    WilliamB and Darla- Okay, if I DO cut out the bottom – you should see my yard behind the garage. The dirt is hard, called clay soil, has NEVER been used for anything. It has leaves because of trees growing overhead in the neighbor's yard, but really I can't imagine that hard dirt helping me. But I'm still reluctant to ADD worms, and this thing is filling up pretty fast…

  13. WilliamB says

    Angela – in a few months, the clay under the compost bin will be in better shape than the rest of the yard. You can improve your yard by moving the bin around the yard, from year to year.

    If you want to improve the yard you can move on to something called lasagna beds. Basically, you build a giant, layered compost pile on top of the bed you want to improve. More info upon request.

  14. Darla says

    William is right. You'll be amazed at what happens under your bin. The ground underneath is irrelevant. Build it (or in this case cut out the bottom) and they will come!

  15. Angela says

    WilliamB and Darla- Thanks! You've convinced me. It would be too messy to do it now, but I'm going to need another bin soon, and I will definitely do it with that one. It will be an interesting experiment to see the difference.

    I'll be amazed to see what might actually live in that hard, dry dirt.

  16. Lynn says

    I have been composting for a number of years, but have never heard of doing it this way. I am so glad that I read this because I can combine my methods and what I read here, and it will make composting so much easier for me.


  17. Angela says

    Lynn- I'm so glad that my readers' comments are helping an experienced composter! Thanks readers! We're all helping each other. I love that.

  18. bcooper5 says

    I think it'll be good experiment to have an open bottom vs a closed one. You'll probably be able to see how fast the one pile decomposes. If you're concerned about rodents or having to move the bin, than I'd recommend covering the hole in the bottom with hardware cloth or chicken wire. This will allow you to move the pile without having to empy it comletely.

    Our yard is all clay in the backyard and where we put the compost pile. The dirt under the bin is now turning black, and around it as well (from spilling it when I'm pulling it out to use it.) The plants around it seem to be thriving as well.

    Good luck in your experiments.

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