Minimal composting

Published 6:15 am Tuesday, May 1, 2018

With living “green” becoming a thing these days, you’ve probably heard the benefits of composting yard and kitchen waste. It’s good fertilizer, adds organic matter, improves soil moisture, and the environmental upshot is you’re sending less stuff to landfills and septic systems. But despite the positives, few people compost for various perceived negatives: no room, maintenance hassles, too complicated, bad smell, etc. As a composter I would be considered a passive one, bordering on lazy. I don’t worry about any of the above and my waste still rots down without smelling. So let me give you some basic truths about composting to show that it’s easy and maybe encourage you to give it a try. Information for the article comes from Mother Earth News magazine.

Balancing ingredients is optional. This is where people think it’s complicated. For rapid decomposition, a common recommendation is to add ingredients in a certain ratio, such as “two parts brown to 1 part green”. Browns are dry stuff like leaves, pine needles, and dead plants, while greens are wetter stuff like fresh grass clippings and kitchen waste. The truth is that while balancing ratios can produce compost faster, it’s optional and not a necessity. So pile stuff on the pile when you need to and it will still mature into compost.

Good compost can be hot or cold. Some instructions state you need to manage your compost using a good green/brown ratio, moisture monitoring, etc. in order to produce “hot compost”, which means the pile heats up and decays rapidly. Hot composting takes work, but slow, cool composting, where you just throw stuff on, works just fine.

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Any size pile will work. Some think you need a huge pile of stuff for composting to work, but small piles will eventually rot as well as large ones.

Turning compost is optional. Many books recommend turning compost piles to improve aeration. The only time I stick a fork in my pile is to move the top stuff to get to the composted bottom stuff occasionally. So don’t worry about a backache from regular digging, unless you want an upper body workout, in which case have at it.

Gauge the moisture with your nose. If you poke around in the compost heap and don’t smell the desired earthy rich dirt fragrance, it probably means the pile is too dry, so wet the pile a little. If it smells a little unpleasant, it’s too wet so add some more dry stuff (browns). I’ve never had a problem with odor.

A compost bin is optional. You don’t need a bin to hold the pile, but it helps keep the pile together, keeps out animals, and looks nicer. A simple bin can be built from chicken wire or similar fencing wired together to form a cylinder. Use whatever is handy and looks to suit you.

Steve Roark is a retired area forester from Tazewell, Tennessee.