Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Composting Confession

Gardeners know that compost is "black gold" for plants.  So many good things in compost to feed the soil and feed the plant.

Our city has a compost site where gardeners can take plant material and pick up free compost.  If you have a large amount of plant material (such as grass clippings or raked leaves) it's super easy to make a trip to the site.  Getting the compost involves some effort shoveling it into a container or vehicle, but is worth it.  We utilize the free compost for large planting areas.  Now, if you only have scraps from the kitchen or clippings from the garden occasionnally, it's not worth the trip to take them to the compost site.

With a small garden, I didn't want to give a lot of space to constructing large compost bins.  Nor did I have enough to fill them for the composting process as often is described in gardening information sites.

Several years ago, I purchased a compost tumbler.  I have not gotten the hang of it.  I keep reading about putting in this ratio of dry material to that ratio of green material and letting it 'cook' turning the compost tumbler occassionally.  I never have the right ratios available.  Plus, what about the kitchen scraps I have accumulating?  Where should they go while waiting to be part of the composting process?  It is great when I pull a lot of weeds.  I just stuff the compost tumbler full and let them bake in there.
Giving up on having the right ratio of materials, I just started sticking what ever I had in the tumbler spinning it when I walked by.  I would eventually get compost.  Lumpy compost, but it is better than nothing.  Often the material gets too dry in the compost tumber.  However, when it rains; the compost tumbler manages to capture water.  Now, that makes great compost tea.   I have encouraged that process and use the compost tea on containers.

  In the winter, nothing 'cooks' in the compost tumber for me very well.  So, what do I do with the kitchen scraps?  I just toss them on the ground in our 'wild area' next to the compost tumbler.  It's a bit unsightly, but it's winter.  I don't spend a lot of time out there looking at the space.  The view from our table is in the opposite direction.

In the spring, I rake together the scraps and last fall's garden clean up material and then dig out the awesome soil that has formed below.  We did this for the new planting bed we created last spring and that soil was wonderful.  I then push all the scraps, etc. into the hole, level out the area and let whatever decides to grow there have the space (plus a few things I may add) for the growing season.  We often just toss garden cuttings, etc. amoungst the volunteer plants through the summer too.  The jungle of plants hide the scraps easy.

So, while you see a compost tumbler at Garden on Sherlock Street, it's use is minimal.  I don't know what I'm doing with it!  If you have some advice, feel free to share.


  1. I've often wondered just how well those work. And like you asked, what do you do with the kitchen scraps you have NOW? Add them in? Hold them for later? I think you came up with a great alternative idea.
    My dad used to bury the kitchen scraps in the garden.

  2. I've never done a compost bin but everyone does love them that have them. I just don't have the room to do one.

    Cher Sunray Gardens

  3. Hi nice blog here, Im a new follower. I love composting! I started for the first time last year and was able to get 3 batches of dirt in 1 summer. I do it in a large wooden crate with holes drilled in the bottom. I compost toilet paper and paper towel rolls and newspaper for the brown material and save everything over winter and dump it in ( peeling, coffee grounds ect...) I turn it daily in the summer but just leave it sit in the winter. I also add worms once its warm enough and they can really break down the stuff really quick. Deb

  4. We've tried worms several times with little success (I think we let them get too dry) and a compost bin once, also with limited success. We finally realized that we work best with a basic pile (kept in place by old pallets or by wire). Actually we usually have 2 piles: one that is actually composting and one for the fresh stuff. We turn the pile occasionally and take out fresh compost in the spring, but we will never be able to boast about the quantity we produce. On the other hand, it gives us a place to put kitchen scraps, non-seedy weeds, and other garden debris where it will EVENTUALLY compost/rot and let us return the nutrients to the soil!

    The one thing I treat differently is coffee grounds: I "sheet compost" them, throwing them on the ground below whatever plant catches my fancy that morning!

  5. I hear what you're saying about the compost bin. My friends here have a secluded area behind oleanders where they toss their scraps. It's away from the house and seems to decompose faster when exposed to the elements. You could always use the barrel to collect rain water:)

  6. We have a compost pile in the corner of our yard but we have a friendly vine that chose to use it as his own little buffet. Ugh. Going to have to some work on it this year.

  7. I have always wanted a compost tumbler and now you make me glad I don't have one. I do like you do with my vegetation scrapes.

  8. I bought a nice size metal canister at Walmart and use it to put our kitchen scraps in. .when it fills. .we fill another bowl for a day or two until someone makes time to take it behind the garage. We have 3 "pens" constructed from old pallets. We throw green stuff on there at least twice every week. .additionally, we have a cross cut paper shredder that I shred old school papers and junk mail into. .I just use that for the dry material. .sometimes I have even used old chipboard boxes or bigger cardboard torn up a little. We don't make a ton of compost either. .but I am usually able to get 5-6 wheelbarrows full each spring and haul it to wherever I might need some better soil. And it is beautiful stuff by then!! We rarely turn it, never water it. .just let it go. .I find that if there are some lumps of grapefruit rinds or colored paper in the wheelbarrow. .it decomposes in it's new spot just as well! Good luck!

  9. I didn't know you could compost weeds ? Admirable effort on your part to keep trying you bin!

  10. Well ya know I'm going to have some advice-get rid of the tumbler. Keep doing what you are doing with the scraps but make a pile of scraps in a contained area where you can really compost. The food counts as green stuff (nitrogen), the dried stuff like sticks and leaves is brown stuff (carbon). I don't think the ratios are as important as the stack, air, moisture, and time. I've always had good luck with just a pile of stuff. Even in a plastic trashcan. Once I had a small compost bin that had 2x2s (mitered because hubby got fancy) for a frame and chicken wire to hold it all in and was about 3 feet tall by three feet long by 2 feet wide. It worked great. I never did anything to it. Here I have three huge bins that are each 4x4x4. I do move the compost around in these but that is about it. I never worry on ratios. In the fall two of the three bins will be full of leaves with no green but it all composts nicely. So don't get hung up on ratios just stack it all and give it some time, air circulation or not, and moisture and you'll soon have black gold.


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