If you’re a great gardener and you’re on top of everything in your life, you’ve probably already gotten your garden going and you’re anxiously waiting the first returns on those tomato plants. But if you’re like me, you just noticed it’s the end of April and you’re just finally getting around to cleaning out the weeds that have overtaken last year’s attempts at gardening. Don’t get me wrong – I would love to have a detailed plan and seeds ready to go as soon as the last frost leaves town. But I’m from Ohio and February just seems too early to start thinking about gardening, so I seem to miss it every year. A Master Gardener, I am not. A great composter, however, I am.
What Are Your Goals?
There are two main reasons to compost and before you begin, it’s good to be clear on your intention. The main goal of your compost bin can either be to manage household waste or to create awesome dirt. Obviously, any compost bin will achieve both goals, but what you put in the pile might be a little different. In any compost pile, you want to avoid putting meat or other putrescible waste (don’t you love that word? – ick). The reasons for that will become obvious the first time you forget.
In a waste management pile, you can put just about everything… all non-putrescible kitchen waste, even egg shells, all the leaves & plant material you can find – even weeds – and even those compostable take-out boxes you bring home from your local green restaurant. The resulting soil will still be great, and if you let it compost long enough, everything will eventually break down.
If you are more concerned about the pH of your soil and in having compost in a timely manner, however, you might want to be pickier about what you put in the bin. Some people dislike egg shells in their compost for example, and you’ll want to be sure to chop up citrus rinds and other larger items so they break down more quickly. You’ll also want to be pickier about the greens/browns ratio and make sure you water the bin regularly. Some really serious compost guys I know disdainfully refuse to even put food trash in their piles at all.
There’s also a difference in the type of bin you’ll choose, depending on your composting intention. Since I am not what you’d call an avid gardener at this time (but hope to be some day in the future), I just have 3 open bins on the side of my house. In one of them, I dump anything from the kitchen that I don’t think the neighborhood feral cats will like. In another, I put just about everything from the yard – big sticks and weeds from the yard – it all goes in. In the third, I am more judicious about what I put in there – I try to keep out weeds and big sticks in – this is the pile I’ll use first when I get motivated to garden. For all of them, I try to get out there every once in a while I go out and do composty things like turning the piles and watering them and making sure the greens/browns ratio is close. But at this point, my bins are mostly waste-management bins. Eventually, hopefully around the time I get everything on my to-do list done and have time for gardening, everything in there will break down and I’ll have some awesome soil. But I’m not in a hurry.
So, think about your intention. Compost is great for the garden. But even having a waste-management bin in a great idea (and honestly, less work). Between recycling, composting and reducing the waste we bring into the house in the first place, our house generates about one bread bag worth of trash every week. Quite a bit less than the 3 bins some of my neighbor friends put out twice a week.
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GreenHouse Integration provides Green Building & Building Science services to Houston. Caroline performs energy testing of new homes and provides green building expertise to home builders and homeowners who want to build healthy & environmentally-friendly homes. GHI also provides deconstruction and reclaimed materials services to the Houston area. Caroline frequently speaks to audiences, both large and small, about a variety of topics, including Green Building and living sustainably.