Reader Kate describes herself as "easing into a low-waste lifestyle." She kindly offered to share how she and her partner approach composting in their small city backyard. Here's Kate:
We live in a small city and have a small yard to do some gardening and composting. We do have pests like raccoons, possums and skunks around, so we needed to be careful not to draw them in with yummy compost! We started composting two years ago, around the time we started a small 4 X 4 garden, and it was a rocky start at first. I'm hopeful that sharing our story will help someone else have a smoother start. Composting is absolutely worth it: we save so much from going into the landfill, and put so many nutrients back in our garden!
We started out by using a garbage can we already had and weren't using. We drilled holes in it - top, sides and bottom with a 5/8 inch drill bit. This was to allow drainage to avoid the compost getting too wet, and to allow air circulation. Having a fitted top allowed us to use bungee cords to keep out pests if needed. The idea was to put food and yard scraps in the bin and then mix it every few days by putting it on it's side and rolling it around. When we were cooking, we would put our kitchen scraps in a bowl on the counter and take it out in the evening to empty it into the bin. In the summer, we stored the bin out at a treeline to minimize odor. In the winter, we kept it just off the porch for easy access in the snow.
We ran into a few challenges in the first year. The holes we'd drilled into the garbage bin also meant that flies could get in and lay eggs, and we got a lot of maggots. While logically, I knew this could be a positive thing, I had a pretty strong aversion to them, and I didn't go empty the compost much while we had that issue. I did a lot of research to try to get a better understanding of what was going wrong, and all signs pointed to our mix. We weren't getting enough 'brown' items (leaves, paper, dried grass, etc) - it was almost completely kitchen waste. This made the compost too moist. We were inconsistent with mixing it, but also found that the kitchen waste became very dense as it broke down. Even when we tried to mix it, there was very little movement when we rolled the bin. We had to go in a few times with a hay fork to loosen things up.
I'm glad to say that year two has been much more successful! We added a second bin, so that we have a bin that is 'cooking' good dirt for the garden over the winter, while we put new scraps in the second bin. This avoids having to dig out the composted earth from under the composting material when it comes time to feed the garden. We're generally lazy, so whatever we can do to minimize that type of work is worthwhile. The other main change we made was to buy some baled straw, and we put a flake in about once a week, so our mix is better and less dense. We find we really don't have to do much mixing if we're using the straw, because it helps aerate the mix purely due to it's structure, which doesn't pack down or water-log. This has completely eliminated the maggot issue we had the first year. We also don't use the bungee cords as we haven't had any pest issues, and we don't typically roll the bins anymore.
At this point, we're a pretty well oiled machine. At the first sign of spring, the 'old' bin will get put in the garden and mixed into the dirt. This gives it a month or so to complete breaking down before we put in seedlings. This proved to be a very successful method last spring. Then we will use that bin for new scraps and let the current bin sit until it's needed, potentially next spring.
Thank you so much for sharing, Kate! If you compost and would like to be featured in this series, just drop me an email - would love to share how you approach composting in your home.