On your mark, get set, go!
Those are not normally the words that come to mind when you talk about composting. However, my compost can virtually race. It moves, it squiggles, it’s alive. So let me tell you how I do it.
First, my disclaimer. I am not a master gardener, a biologist, or any kind of composting expert in the field. I speak from my own experience only. I can create rich, fertile compost easily, and I am happy to share my recipe for success. I have been an active gardener for more than 25 years, and am an active member in the Lyons Garden Club. I use my compost in planting my garden pots, enriching my flower beds, and sprinkling it on my raspberry patch. It is gold for boosting blooms and productivity in the garden.
I have two composting barrels that are on spinners. They are black to absorb heat, and rotate easily when I spin them. Air holes provide ventilation and excess water drain off.
I start by filling one of the barrels with my composting scraps. I layer in dead leaves (collect your leaves from your fall cleanup, bag them, and store them), and just keep layering these for months on end. Dead leaves are a key ingredient to awesome compost. They break down quickly and enrich the compost. I have found that pine needles, twigs, small branches, avocado skins and seeds, corn cobs, and mango seeds do not break down, and I avoid putting these in my barrel.
I collect composting scraps daily. I have a small metal bucket under my sink and I fill it about a quarter of the way with some water. I put the water in it so every time I deposit my scraps in the barrel, some moisture goes into the mix. My scraps might include anything fruit or veggie–peels, rinds, tops of onions, old bananas, apple cores–but does not include anything dairy- or meat-related. That is, no bones, animal fat, milk, cheese, or yogurt. I also add in egg shells, tea bags, coffee grounds, and coffee filters.
Some people will add in yard waste, but I typically do not. It is too easy for weed seeds and twigs to get in, which can then create problems if you use the compost in the garden. Add the scraps to the barrel, spin the barrel about once a week or whenever you think of it, and in no time you will spot hundreds if not thousands of tiny wiggly worms feasting on your buffet. I open the lid and my compost virtually vibrates with movement.
The combination of heat, spinning the barrel to aerate and mix the contents, and dry leaves creates the perfect environment for the worms to hatch and prosper. If it is dry, add some water. If it is smelly, add more dry leaves. When the barrel is about 80% full but not all the way decomposed, I leave it alone to work its magic and just spin it occasionally. I then start filling the other compost barrel with the same process.
You know it is ready for your gardening projects when it becomes the consistency of crumbly biscuit dough. It should sift through your fingers, be a bit dense and moist, and have a wonderful earthy smell. Most everything should be broken down, and there should be few discernible scraps and no offensive odor. I do this year round, even in the winter. It’s a sustainable process, keeps excess food scraps out of landfills, and is gold for your garden. Good luck!
Debbie Simms is a Lyons garden enthusiast who is actively involved in the Lyons Garden Club. She has designed and created many town garden beds, and has assisted and advised local residents about their own personal gardens.