May 20, 2009 at 11:50AM
by Jeff Yeager
I fell in love with composting and my bride-to-be at the exact same moment.
When I met Denise 26 years ago, her amazing smile immediately captured my heart, as did her T-shirt. On the front it read "A Rind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste." And on the back, "I [heart] Composting."
Composting is the ultimate act of frugality. Making valuable use of organic material that would otherwise be entombed for eternity in a bio-indestructible plastic garbage bag buried in a landfill, composting is recycling redux, times two. Plus you'll pay through the nose for compost if you buy it at the local nursery.
Compost is super rich decomposed material, full of humus, carbon and nitrogen --- what Organic Gardening for Dummies calls "the prince of organic matter." Everyone can join rot-fest, even urban pioneers; if done properly, compost is odorless. Here's how:
- Build or buy a compost bin: Square or round, roughly equal height, width and depth (typically three or four feet). Make one using wire fencing formed into a cylinder, or use pressure treated lumber for a sturdier bin. Urban gardeners might consider buying a compact, plastic Rolling Composter. If possible, place your bin in a shady location.
- Add brown and green: Rotate layers of brown material, like dried leaves, twigs, straw, pine needles and wood chips, with thinner layers of green organic materials like grass clippings and leaves, fruit and vegetable trimmings, weeds and manure. Never compost animal or dairy products, pet/human waste, diseased plant materials or those treated with herbicides or that have already gone to seed. Water each layer thoroughly as you go. Think of it as making lasagna, or not.
- Stir, cover and let cook: After a week or two, mix together the layers using a pitchfork or other tool. Then cover with a tarp to retain moisture and heat, and it'll really start to cook, fast-tracking the decomposition process. Let time and nature do the work. Your compost should be handsomely decayed and ready to use in just two or three months, depending on conditions.
Some evenings, as I pad out to my compost pile with the plastic kitchen pail chuck-full of potato peels, apple cores and coffee grounds, I think about that pretty coed with the clever T-shirt that I met 26 years ago. It's true; some things do get even better with age.
Resources to Add to Your Pile
The Rodale Book of Composting (Rodale Press)
Let it Rot! (Storey Publishing)
Compost, By Gosh! (Flower Press) - for young composters
Jeff Yeager is the author of the book The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches. His Website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com.