How Do I Keep Composting? Part 2: Getting in the Habit

I’m inspired to start thinking about my garden, but it is unbelievably cold out there! It’s only 45 degrees today, and we had a hard frost overnight. Winter is a very busy time in the garden, a time for eating! I hope your microbes are very busy producing black gold in a pile in your backyard.

So you’ve started a pile!

You’ve already read Part 1: Composting for Free and you’re letting it all hang out, following our lazy methods for garden gold.

Now it’s time for Part 2: Getting in the Habit

Then we’ll wrap up with Part 3: Composting with Kids.

Unless we get so fired up by your questions and comments that we keep going, because we know how excited you are about compost, too!

How are you going to make it easy to do every day?

Thinking about how you cook and handle your compost scraps will help you figure out what you need to have on hand to make it easy to develop a new habit. Let’s talk about your composting personality.

“I don’t have time for this, I have plenty of space for a slow pile outside and I want to know how much I can get my kids to do.”

The easiest way to start is with a simple compost pail on the counter beside your sink. If you don’t want to see it, there are pails available that tuck under your sink or attach to a cupboard door, but usually you want to see it and be reminded about it, because you probably want to take it out every day. Or make your kids take it out every day. There are pails that come with filters on top, but if you’re taking it out every day, it won’t be smelly. More importantly, GET A LIGHTWEIGHT, UNBREAKABLE PAIL, and have your little munchkin take it out every day, even when it’s only half full, so they don’t spill it all over the place. The plastic ones are lightweight, and less expensive than stainless, but the stainless pails hold up much better to frequent runs through the dishwasher.

I like to have a compost bucket out on the counter next to my kitchen sink, because I cook all the time and it gets filled up and emptied at least once, often several, times a day. I made the mistake of getting a white ceramic one a few years ago. Over time, the lid and handle have both broken. Now I have this Stainless Steel Counter Top Compost Pail. Replacement charcoal filters are a must if you aren’t able to take it out daily.

“I live in a tiny apartment/loft/trailer/yurt…how do I fit this in my lifestyle?”

If you have a tiny space, get an equally tiny pail! Don’t get something bigger than what you can fill in a day or two, because you’re not going to want to smell it. Metal coffee or bean cans and plastic yogurt containers work really well as free sink-side compost collection, and if you don’t have a dishwasher to run it through, it’s easy to upgrade to a new one whenever the old one gets gamey.

These BioBag compostable bags also make it easy to take out small amounts of compost frequently, without having to wash out the compost bin all the time. They’re a great companion to a Door-Mounted Kitchen Garbage Can that’s more difficult to clean daily, or a Slim Compost Caddy under your sink. If you compost in open piles or if critters are a problem, though, they’ll be more trouble than they’re worth. Once I switched to an open pile system, a few of these got pulled around the yard by the raccoons, so I had to stop using them.

You can also put scraps directly into a worm compost bin under your sink, so small-scale worm composting can be a great solution for small spaces. Skip forward to Part 3 for more on worm composting.

If you are in a small urban home or apartment and have the money, you could even install this electric composter from NatureMill, which can be fitted with an extra kit to pull-out from any standard kitchen cabinet. I can’t imagine the volume working for a larger household, but for loft or apartment composting, the idea seems promising. Has anyone used one? Leave me a comment!

I’m a vegan chef, living on a small lot. How do I compost this much material?”

Get a goat. Okay, maybe a goat isn’t practical. Chickens? But seriously, once you’ve developed a basic composting habit, you will probably find you become addicted. Either because you’re able to reduce your ridiculous garbage collection bill by a can or two, or because you love getting tons of free amendment for your garden. If you are a more serious gardener, a more serious composter, or a cook, you will probably want to invest in a faster system. Tumbling composters work much more quickly, because the action of turning the compost introduces more air, allowing all those microbes to get busier. If you’re dedicated and don’t have the space for a three-bay composter or the upper-arm strength to turn your piles with a pitchfork every couple of weeks, a Dual Tumbling Composter is for you.

You may find that other habits change, and you eventually want to learn more so you can compost more material more quickly. Nature is not exactly speedy by our standards in this department. So if you have a lot to process, think about raising your game. Chickens and rabbits are nature’s compost freeway, so if your neighborhood allows backyard chicken or rabbit keeping, you may want to consider it.

That brings me to my next point about assessing your composting personality, which is, Open or Closed?

Open or Closed?

If you’re composting in a suburban or rural environment, you have a lot more space to work with. Suburban lots vary widely, but generally speaking, most neighbors are going to be intolerant of open piles that might attract raccoons. Sure, the raccoons will do your aerating for you, but you’ll never be invited to a block party again. If you have less than an acre, and no good spot to build a three-bay enclosure, your best bet is to buy a closed composter. There are two schools of thought: the classic stacking composter, and the tumbling composter. Either will keep out unwanted dumpster divers. A Classic Composter works more slowly and is great when you’re planning to harvest the compost two or three times a year. A tumbling composter will process material the most quickly of any of the systems, because it’s easy to turn frequently. The more air your happy little microbes get, the faster they will eat all that material. So turning frequently and maintaining optimum temperature and moisture levels will cook your compost faster.

If you’re really interested in processing a lot of material, a compost aerator for slow piles, and a compost thermometer for tracking interior temperature of any pile or tumbler system will be super helpful.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Composting with Kids coming up soon, where we’ll talk more about worm composting.

Don’t forget to leave some comments! I’d love to hear from you.


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