A note about composting…

The July baby steps challenge was to start composting. I started sometime in mid-July, and now in mid-August, I have already filled up one small bin. I bought another ($5 from the city), and this time I’m taking the advice of a couple of my readers and I had my husband cut out the bottom of the bin. I’m hoping the worms will find their way to my bin because I’m still squeamish about adding them myself.

I wet the ground underneath and raked it and just generally loosened it up, so I’ll let you know what happens! Meanwhile, I’m just going to let the other bin sit and hope it turns into good compost several months from now.

Thanks William B, and all the other readers who helped me along with this challenge. We have so much less trash already, and I feel so much better about putting it into the compost bin instead. And if all goes well, we’ll actually have some good compost to use next spring if I want to plant more than two cherry tomato plants. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have fresh berries from your own garden?

Do you compost? What’s your method? Please let us know your tips and advice in the Comments section. I think a lot of people are taking the plunge these days.


  1. Luvkuku says

    I used to compost all the time, but since acquiring chickens, I have nothing to put in the bin, except when I clean the chicken houses. ANd actually the chicken poop is already composted itself with wood shavings before I put it in the bin. Chickens will eat anything, so they get all scraps, including meat scraps, and convert them to eggs and excellent meat.

  2. momoftheyear says

    I've been composting for about 18 months now and have already gotten lots of good stuff from it. My garden is going wild this year and I attribute it to the compost. Each time I plant something I mix compost in with the soil. And I was able to save money on my garbage bill by switching to the smallest bin. I'd like to get a second bin but our city doesn't sell them cheaply, they're about $60.

  3. Kelly Jean the Coffee Queen says

    Does anyone know if you can make a compost bin like Angela described if you live in a cold climate? I would love to start a bin, but it will certainly freeze in a few short months (that's so depressing!). Can I add to the bin when it's frozen? I would think that, even if it's ok for compost materials to be added to a frozen pile, the lid would freeze shut or break. Any advice?

  4. Darla says

    I compost outside of Washington DC – hot summers, but also (relatively) cold winters. I keep my compost going all year, but, of course, it doesn't really "do" much of anything during the winter months. It will be fine! I've never had a problem with my bin freezing shut (but then you may live in Calgary…)

  5. Anonymous says

    I was raised with a compost bin (I'm in my early 60s) and we composted all year.

    As an adult when we lived in a duplex with really no place to have a bin I made "instant compost". Simply put my compostables DAILY in a blender with enough water to make a slurry. Went to the garden and dug, actually recruited one of the boys, a shallow trench, dumped the compost in and covered it up. Next day you couldn't tell – I even dug it up to check.

    Over the winter in a regular bin I've never had any trouble with freezing lids – the sun would melt any ice because the unit is black and I put it where the sun hits it all year.

  6. WilliamB says

    A further note about compost:
    Compost is particularly rich in nitrogen. Nitrogen is good for foliage. For roots and flower growth you want more phosphorous; potassium is for overall health. Keep that in mind when planting. Frex, if you use compost when planting potatoes you'll have luxurious vines and tiny tiny taters. (Is there where tater tots come from?)
    http://www.allotment.org.uk/fertilizer/npk-fertilizer.php has a nice quick write-up

    @momfotheyear: you can do what Angela did, which is to dremel/drill holes in a Rubbermaid bin and use that. I like cutting out the bottom as well, so the accumulated liquid drains into the soil and good critters in the soil can work their way into the compost even faster.

    Angela, I didn't even think to loosen the soil under my bins. Great idea!

    Kelly Jean, Darla is right: you can add scraps to your pile in the winter. When it's really cold they'll just sit there, but come spring they'll decay nicely.

  7. Al says

    We started composting a month or two ago. My wife and I bought a standalone compost bin (about 3'x2'x2') that fits well in our yard (I know, doesn't mesh with the "no spending" theme, although it is 90% recycled plastic). The bin has various openings for aeration and is bottomless. It remains in shade most of the day. I turned the pre-compost this weekend and happily discovered that it smells good, is turning brown, and is getting hot. My primary guide for learning about soil and compost is the book "Teaming with Microbes…" by Lowenfels and Lewis. I think that it's a good read with reasonable, but not overwhelming, doses of microbiology and chemistry.

  8. Kelly Jean the Coffee Queen says

    Thanks for the advice everyone! I should have mentioned in my post that I live in Minnesota, where winters are regularly below zero. I'll give it a try and let you all know how it goes!

  9. Angela says

    Wow- Kelly Jean- I haven't had time to address everyone's comments, but thanks everyone for replying to Kelly Jean's question. I was going to say that if it's that cold, you could just do the "throw it into an enclosed area" type of composting, no lid required, but other people here are much more knowledgeable than I am.

    Thanks for all your comments everyone! I will try to return to answering comments soon.

  10. Angela says

    Luvkuku- Yes, chickens sound like they take care of all waste! And how lovely to have fresh eggs!

    momoftheyear- I'm sure the wonderful garden is due to your compost. Great job!

    Kelly Jean- Let me know what you try! We never have that problem in Los Angeles, but I'd be curious to know. And I'm sure there are a few readers who'd like to know as well. Thanks for coming by.

    Thanks William B, Al, Darla, and everyone who answer Kelly Jean's question about the cold weather.

    Anonymous- I love the idea for instant compost, and I've heard coffee grounds are great for that as well. Starbucks gives out huge bags.

    Thanks again everyone for all your brilliant advice!

  11. Al says

    @Kelly Jean
    FWIW, the authors of the book "Teaming with Microbes…" are both from Alaska. There has been little mention of the particular challenges you and they face in a cold climate, but I'm guessing that they have been able to overcome them. Either that, or I need to get my money back.

  12. WilliamB says

    I used to get ten tons of grounds from Starbucks, and learned a few things about making it go more smoothly.

    Short version: get familiar with a convenient Starbucks, ask them in the AM to save all grounds for you, and pick them up so you aren't burdening the store.

    Longer version:

    Get the phone number(s) of Starbucks that are convenient for you, ones from whom you want to get used coffee grounds (UCG in the jargon).

    On a day that REALLY, TRULY can get a couple garbage bags worth of UCG, call or visit the store and ask the manager to have his/her people save *all* the UCG for you. Point out that you don't mind filters, because their filters compost as well. This tactic will get you a LOT more UCG than just the tiny tiny bags some stores put out for reuse. Discuss with the manager what time you should pick up the bags. If you call in the morning, it's helpful to call again around lunch because sometimes word isn't passed from first to second shift.

    Now here's the really important part. Pick up those bags! Pick them up when and where you said you would. Remember – these stores don't have a ton of storage space nor do they have gobs of labor available for your convenience. Work with them to minimize their inconvenience.

    Starbucks corporate office is a strong supporter of UCG sharing. I applaud them for it. Doesn't fit my life or space anymore but boy I liked it when I did.

  13. Angela says

    Thanks Al!

    Ellen- I will definitely take you up on that. Blackberries are my husband's favorite, and I love all berries.

    WilliamB- Thanks for sharing your tips- I'm sure a lot of people can use that information. I am definitely going to use it on a few plants that aren't looking too happy with all the heat and no rain.

  14. WilliamB says

    Forgot to mention:

    UCG are slightly acidic. Azelias and rhododendrons like slightly acidic soil. Therefore 1/2" of UCG makes a nice top dressing (aka, a mulch) for these plants.

  15. Angela says

    WilliamB- the ants have made a beeline straight for my new bin. Is that okay? I always put brown leaves over top of the kitchen scraps.

  16. WilliamB says

    Ants are fine. To be expected, actually, since you're using food scraps and you don't have a hot pile.

    Keep up the good work!

  17. Angela says

    Thanks WilliamB! Not sure why the ants came this time, and not the other, I guess the cut out bottom…

    I can't imagine throw produce in the trash ever again! It will be just like when you visit someone who lives somewhere where they don't recycle, and it's nearly impossible to get yourself to throw a newspaper or plastic bottle in the trash can.

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