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Wednesday Food: Composting, Where To Start?

Potato volunteers in a mid-rot compost pile

I was lucky the child of progressive (non-native) Californian parents and grew up composting. It wasn’t until my teen years when we left a house with a yard that I put banana peels and coffee grounds in the trash. Recycling food waste back into the ground and eventually back into our plants was all a part of the game. It’s a lifestyle choice (is that the thing to call it?) that suits me and my ample compostable kitchen waste, and with a garden of my own I’m ready to return to it.

While I’ve maintained and turned many existing compost piles, I’ve never begun one. Do I go with the barrel drum method in which scraps pile inside a black plastic vessel and can be turned with a crank-like feature? No, one of the great pleasures of composting is turning the pile and witnessing the decomposition process and all its players (fingers crossed for ample wormage). Do I build a bin with stacked boxes like a beehive? Maybe, but the construction is a bit laborious. Perhaps I should turn to fermentation with the Bokashi system. Too expensive?

The method I’m most familiar with, as my father has employed it for some thirty years, simply involves three wooden pallets, placed vertically on a perpendicular angle against a solid wall. It allows for a pile of fresh scraps, which then move to the next section of rot, and then the final stage of break down where the compost is ready to use. This requires space, dirt, and a non-chalant attitude toward pests (especially rodents). As I have neither excessive space, dirt, or any tolerance for pests the box will have to be impenetrable and possibly raised.

I’ve really enjoyed Alys Fowler’s Garden Anywhere and accompanying BBC show for ideas, but nothing fits exactly right. In any case I need to decide soon, because every melon rind and onion skin that goes into plastic for the landfill adds weight to the pit feeling in my stomach.

Do you or have you composted? Have you thought of using a worm bin if you’re short on outdoor space?


May 2, 2012 - Posted by | Wednesday Food


  1. Worm bins are a lot of work. Sometimes you feel like you’ve taken up a second career in the care and feeding of worms. You have to cut up their food really small so it won’t get caught in their tiny throats and choke them. They die all the time anyway. I found myself not buying certain vegetables or fruits because I was worried the worms wouldn’t like them. And then one day it rained too much and the worms all drowned. It was terrible but also a relief. Now I just throw my fruit and veg scraps into the green bin.

    Comment by jms | May 3, 2012

  2. I too grew up with a compost pile, and it wasn’t until many years later that I realized this was a rare habit that my parents had kept from their hippie youths. (It didn’t strike me as odd that none of my friends had compost piles, or that all of them were bemused when my mom asked them to take the compost out to the back yard.) We just had a ring of wire fence around a pile of dirt that my mom would turn with a pitchfork every so often.

    Now we have a worm bin outside our house — I haven’t checked on the worms — and a big plastic green compost bin in the back yard. We switch on and off.

    (jms, do you throw fruit and veg scraps in the yard waste bin? Or do you have one of those big green plastic things?)

    Comment by Josh K-sky | May 3, 2012

  3. Josh are you having the same problems with the worm bin that jms mentioned (I love that the one you linked to offers an attractive color as a selling point)? Is the compost bin just a big plastic container? Is it sealed? Do you have rodent problems?

    And jms can you expand on the green bin?

    Comment by ebolden | May 3, 2012

  4. In LA, you get a blue bin for recyclables, a green bin for compostable yard trimmings, and a black bin for landfill. You can put vegan food waste in the green bin.

    Comment by jms | May 4, 2012

  5. I haven’t checked for worms since we moved back into the place, so if they are sensitive, I assume they are dead. The compost bin is a falling-apart green plastic thing, about the size of a large dishwasher laid out lengthwise. It was here when Mrs. K-sky bought the place.

    jms: I did not know that about the green bin!

    Comment by Josh K-sky | May 4, 2012

  6. I don’t have a compost, so I am totally speaking from the armchair here, but, I have heard that a proper compost pile (just piled dirt on the ground) with the right mixture, including sun, water, etc, should not attract enough rodents to really be a problem.

    Comment by TeeTown | May 5, 2012

  7. Actually, I’ve heard that a good compost pile should get so hot, that small kids should be kept away lest they burn themselves (seriously, it’s what my ecology professor said!).

    Comment by TeeTown | May 5, 2012

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