Lessons Learned from a Novice Composter


Lessons Learned from a Novice Composter…written by JD McCabe

Naturally one of the first things you do after moving to the suburbs is build some raised garden beds, and start composting, right!?.  Well that is what we did to rejoice in our new found green space!  Our gardening skills are still improving, but i’m starting to feel like I’m getting the hang of this composting thing. Also, check out Kevin Espiritu of Epic Gardening on Instragram for both gardening and composting tips. He recently posted a great video on composting here. I’d definitely still consider myself a novice, so I welcome any advice from readers, but here are a few things I’ve learned so far that might help out fellow beginners.

1. Composting isn’t hard, it just takes longer than you think

I’m going on about two years, and haven’t harvested much finished compost.  I think a large part of this time delay is due to user error, but I’m still suspicious of advertising that claims you can turn compost around in a few weeks. The good news is that I’m right on the verge of having a whole lot of the good stuff for my garden.  We have a fairly small quarter acre lot, so the wife wouldn’t approve a large 3 sectioned chicken wire compost system, so we went with this guy instead. I’ve been pretty happy with it, but I’ve definitely had to learn some of its intricacies over time to improve my composting efficiency. Recognizing that this model is currently unavailable, here are a few alternative options that I think might work well as a backyard composter:

  1. DF Omer Composter —> Almost identical to the one that I currently use.

  2. Supod —> This looks like it can be a great option for a raise bed or if you would prefer to have something more discrete.

2. Rodents want to get into your compost

Originally, I placed the compost next to our shed but noticed some odd tunnels coming up through the compost.  At first, I thought it might have just been some settling action going on, but slowly realized that it was probably a gopher living under my shed and tunneling up to eat my food scraps!  To avoid this, I relocated the compost to the opposite side of my yard, and I put down a base of chicken wire to prevent tunneling, which seems to have worked so far (fingers crossed).

3. You do need Greens and Browns

I’m not super diligent about the whole layering of greens and browns and ended up with a pretty hot stinky mess of rotten food at first (pretty gross).  For those brand new, essentially your greens are nitrogen rich foods like all your veggie/fruit scraps, and your browns are carbon rich materials like dry leaves, shredded paper and straw.  Stuyvie also has a graphic of compostable foods here.  Part of the problem is that we moved into our house in the summer and I didn’t have dry leaves until the fall.  I’m still not great at layering, but now I keep some leaves in my shed to sprinkle in once in a while if it seems too moist.  When I run out of leaves, I simply move to using all the overdue shredding of bank statements etc (but I recommend avoiding any glossy paper or envelopes with plastic inserts).

4. Mixing it seems to work best, but it ain’t super easy


This has been my biggest composting revelation of late (although it seems pretty obvious now looking back).  At first I wasn’t mixing often, which contributed to my hot mess.  Then I started mixing it up with a shovel from the top which didn’t really work that well.  Then I tried a pronged garden hoe, which really didn’t work either.  After this fail I progressed to emptying, mixing, and then refilling the compost bin (great workout, but not very practical to do twice a week).  My solution… I’ve moved to using this badass compost crank aerator from lowtech products, which not only is time saving, but I think it is improving the quality of my compost and helping food scraps break down faster.

5. Feels good not to throw away food

Although I’ve certainly had some trials and tribulations on my composting journey, it has definitely been worth it.  It feels good to know that not only am I preventing unnecessary waste from going into our landfills, but also that I’m creating some great nutrition for my expanding garden!

JD's Compost.jpg

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