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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Composter basics

Sept. 5. I am soooo excited! I've just ordered a beautiful, tumbling composter on wheels! I've had my eye on this beauty for a while now. Two years ago I saw one in a catalog, but I didn't act quickly enough. And soon, they were all sold out. When I saw this again this month, it was a must-have item. You'd think this was a sporty little convertible that I'm salivating over, and not a composter. But if you knew how much I've wanted one of these, well, you'd understand my excitement.

Sept. 19. It arrived!! Now to get the thing out of the box and put together! BIG box -- the thing is heavier than I thought it would be!

Sept. 22. My son, Chris, is in the process of putting it together. So what do you suppose we should do with the extra 7 parts? Kidding! Chris is so very thorough with these sort of things.

Sept. 22, later. It's done. All put together and ready to start filling. Her she is! Ain't she a beauty!


We've composted for the better part of our marriage. And we've used many arrangements, from heap, to bin, to now, the tumbler.

The cheapest compost set-up, by far, is the heap. Also known as, feeding opportunity for anything on four legs. Yes, we had all kinds of varmints, from rats, to opossum (if plural, is it opossi?), to coyotes (who'd have guessed the ones in our neighborhood were vegetarian), to raccoons, and to squirrels. An open heap is not the best compost situation in areas with lots of wild animals (now they tell me).

We had a heap for the first few years in our current house. There was a nice secluded spot behind a tree. We'd take our bucket out there every other day and dump it on the pile. Every few days we'd turn soil over it, in attempts to discourage the critters.

Next on the list -- the homemade framed bin. Framed either in wood pallets, or with a wood-frame and chicken wire-screened sides.  Works efficiently enough. Best if you have 2 or 3 framed bins, 1 for the finishing/finished stuff, 1 for in-progress stuff, and a new bin to be filling as you have material. We never built one of these bins, but leap-frogged to the large plastic bin.

Moving up the expense ladder -- the free-standing, dump in the top, retrieve finished compost from the bottom, large plastic bin. This is what we have been using for about 15 years. We got ours at a county eco-fair, for a fraction of it's retail price. I think we paid about $12 for it, then. It works, although slowly. And critters can get in, by burrowing underneath, or as rats have done, by chewing a hole right through the lid. But definitely more attractive, and less odoriferous, than a heap.

The next two options are about equal in expense and expediency. I can see merits to each. I'm speaking of vermicomposting (wormeries) and the tumbling composters. Both can give you finished product in a short period (4-8 weeks on average). 

The worm composter is often used by folks with less space for a large bin. The worm composter can be kept on a deck, porch, garage, or basement. I even heard of a couple who kept theirs under the kitchen sink.  Basically, you have a box containing red worms, who eat your kitchen waste, leaving castings behind. It's the castings that you use in your garden in the same way that you use compost. Red worms are sensitive to temperature fluctuations, and don't do well in below freezing or above about 100 degrees F. Not something you can just leave out in the open yard if it freezes for much of winter. But the vermicomposters can be kept in the garage for winter, or up against the house on a sheltered porch.

A tumbling composter, (now that's been my composting dream), may have odors, so should still be located away from doors and windows. Tumblers are enclosed, and raised off the ground, making it difficult for animals to get in. The tumbler on wheels has the advantage of when the compost is complete, you can wheel it anywhere you want to use the finished product. This will save me, and my back, a lot of shoveling and hauling. For the winter months, I will locate my composter near the back door, moving it back to its station behind the garden, when the weather warms in spring (and odors become more pronounced). With it so near to the house, I may be more inclined to dump my bucket in inclement weather.

We compost more than just yard waste, fruit scraps and veggie bits. We also compost egg shells, the odd paper napkin that passes through our house, toilet paper tubes, paper labels from jars and bottles, lightweight cardboard food boxes, newspaper, and egg cartons. Basically, you want a mix of green material (kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, green garden refuse) and brown material (paper, cardboard, dried leaves and dried garden refuse).

Yes, composting is the "green" way to get rid of kitchen scraps and garden refuse, but it also reduces our garbage collection bill, extends the life of our in-sink garbage disposal, and gives us free soil amendment for our gardens.

What are your thoughts on composting?

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  1. Something to be aware of, if you put all of your yard waste into your compost be wary of weeds. If the compost doesn't get hot enough to destroy the seeds, you could be spreading weed seeds with the rich organic material and create a new weed problem for yourself. Just ask me, I know.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      uh-oh, that sounds like a pesky problem! We've had some weed seeds survive in the plastic bin. But it hasn't been a huge problem. One year, though, seeds from an acorn squash sprouted every where in the yard! I just left the plants, as I thought they were attractive. We had about 40 acorn squash that year!

      The tumbling composters are supposed to get hot enough to kill weed seeds. We shall see on that promise.

  2. I am also a long time composter. Since we are charged 20 cents/lb for trash, I keep as much out of the trash as possible, also recycling heavily. I recently moved to a rental home and one of the first things I did was have a covered, plastic trash can converted into a composter by drilling drainage holes in the bottom. It now sits just outside the garage and paved driveway so getting to it in Winter shouldn't be an issue. It is raised onto 3 bricks placed sideways to allow for proper drainage. I keep a bungie cord over the top, hooked into holes in the handles-this has kept any animals out, which is a concern as I am in a heavily wooded area with lots of wildlife. I plan on using this compost come next Spring for container gardening on my deck, if not as a planter for potatoes.

    My X made me a tumbler composter one year. Issue we had was the liquid that would form-what a stinking mess! He had made drainage holes in the barrel and we ended up cleaning it all out and dumping the contents back onto the compost heap. Good luck with your tumbler, I hope it's a better design that what X made me. : )

    1. Hi Carol,
      so you know the financial value to composting, to reduce trash collection fees. That was out first motivation to begin composting.

      I like the design idea for your trash can turned compost bin. I may use that for a third composter for yard waste. We'll still use our old plastic bin for yard waste, and reserve the tumbler for things that would attract animals. A third one would be nice, as we have a lot of material to compost each year. And here in the Seattle area compost seems to take longer than in warmer summer climates.

      My tumbling composter has holes drilled. I hope that allows drainage/evaporation and liquidy stuff is not a problem for us. We shall see.

  3. I too have had my eyes on the tumbler. It would make things easier for me to work with. I'll watch and see if you have any problems with yours. Maybe I'll finally break down and get one this coming spring.

    1. Hi Lois,
      I'll let you know the good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak, on how this tumbling composter performs. At the very least, neither I nor my husband will have to turn the compost with a shovel, and that is a huge plus for me.


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