WFMW: Backyard Composting

I started on a composting journey back in the spring despite firmly believing that I am way too clueless and scatter-brained to a) learn how to do it and b) keep it up.

So I enlisted a little composting buddy who goes by the name of Javi (and who makes it his business to keep me on my toes). We decided to try low-maintenance composting in the yard (these sites were a tremendous help) by following these steps:

1. Find a counter-top bin. I wanted to get a pretty stone, lidded bowl from the local Pottery Festival, but I was worried about investing too much money into something I wouldn't keep up. So for starters, I got a plastic locking-lid container from Walmart. For the low price of $3.50, I got a counter-top bin that keeps smells in -- though it isn't as pretty as I'd like.

2. Add some "greens" and "browns." Javi and I are pros at spotting what can and can't go into our compost. Greens are allowed and included: fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, egg whites, plain pasta, and more. Browns are also needed, such as wood chips, coffee filters, newspaper, and cardboard (like toilet paper and paper towel rolls). Once your counter-top bin is full, it's time to head out to the yard.

Remember -- there are many things you can't compost. No meats, bones, dairy, or fats/oils (like what's left of your salad with Ranch dressing all over it), peanut butter, diseased plants, weeds with the seeds still on (they'll regrow), or animal waste. These things can introduce bacteria and other dangerous things to your compost and make it unuseable. There are people who compost poop, but I'm not one of them and I definitely wasn't going to allow Javi to be one of them.

3. Dig a big hole. Some folks invest in containers for their compost, but we have a large swath of land right behind our back fence that can't be seen from the front and that is far enough from the house to alleviate any concerns about rodents. That's where we dug our big hole. It was about 18 inches deep and 2 feet wide. When I bin filled up, we'd dump it in this hole. Then we'd mix in some of the earth that we dug out in the beginning. Mixing our greens and browns with the soil helped speed up decomposition.

4. Water the hole. Composts need three things: sun, water, and air. Ours got sun by virtue of being outside. Before we dumped our bin, we'd add water and slosh everything up so that it would keep the pile somewhat damp. And after we dumped the bin, we'd use a pitchfork and a shovel to give everything a good toss. Because of this, items we added on Dump-Day 1 were decomposed by Dump-Day 37.

5. Stop when the hole is full. Once the contents of my first hole were level with the ground, we stopped adding to it -- but we continued to turn it every few days. We also made sure to scatter dirt and leaves over the top of it each time to keep the rodents from catching the scent of delicious decaying matter. ;)

6. Trouble-shoot problems. Billy swore up and down that composting is really just "burying your trash in the ground," but it's not. You're adding nitrogen-rich items (the greens) and carbon-rich items (the browns) together to encourage them to break down into organic matter. But it can be stinky. That's a sign that you have too many greens and not enough browns to balance them out. If your compost starts to smell, try adding water-soaked wood chips (we got ours from a friend who had a tree stump ground down) and turning the pile really well.

Also, if your compost is moving more slowly than you'd like, you may need some worms. I was stressed about not having enough worms and good bugs in the beginning, but they came eventually. Be patient. If you aren't patient, add some earthworms from a bait-and-tackle shop. They may not stick around, but if you've got enough good stuff in there, they'll make themselves at home.

7. Start all over again. When your hole is full, dig another one and keep going. Once my first hole was completely composted, I moved it out of the hole and used the now-empty hole for new contents. That means I only have two holes in the yard rather than hundreds. I can't wait to use all my new organic matter in our backyard garden next spring!

Composting this way has worked really well for us -- and created a little bonding time for me and Javi. What works for you?


  • No I wasn't Sleeping

    I have also just learned to be wary of tomato scraps. Apparently tomatoes can carry a blight or other diseases that can spread really easy, so it is easier to not add them, just in case.

  • Kelly Miller

    I hadn't heard that, but it makes a lot of sense. What about peppers? Don't they also have some type of susceptibility to blight?

    Thanks for the tip!

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