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organic living journey composting

The following is part of an ORGANIC JOURNEY GUEST POST SERIES, written by Amy a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.

As Jon and I were talking about what was next in our gardening adventures, we started to talk about what we could plant this fall.  We want to keep taking baby steps in growing our own food because it is cheaper and, really, is there anything better than a tomato right off the vine warmed by the summer sun?  As we were brainstorming on what to plant, we realized that maybe our best use of time and energy right now would be to start composting.  This past spring, we spent a ton of our gardening budget on good soil.  I knew enough from nature studies in elementary school to realize that our foods get their nutrients from the soil.  So, off we went to buy our dirt (because Georgia red clay isn’t exactly fertile ground for a garden!).  It felt absolutely absurd to me to buy dirt, but buy it we did.  As our garden grows bigger, we need more soil, and I absolutely refuse to keep spending money on dirt.  So, time to learn about easy, cost effective ways to fertilize the good dirt we’ve got by composting so we can have free, nutrient rich soil.

I have fond memories of leaving the burbs and going to the farm to visit my grandparents when I was a child. Playing in the hay bales and learning to cut the grass on the huge riding lawn mower were almost as fun as eating Grandma’s homemade lemon meringue pie!  In the back of my mind, I have this vague memory of an old gallon ice cream bucket under the sink where we put food scraps for composting and Granddaddy’s composting area (I think it was just a little area surrounded by some cement blocks.)  Why is it that, as an adult now, the whole process just seems so complicated?  I want to get back to the simplicity.  So here’s what we are going to do.

Step One:  Choose your method
There are many ways that you can have great compost at the end of the day.  You can stockpile your food scraps and yard waste and fill one compost bin all at once (layering the food scraps and dried yard waste) in a big batch pile.  The benefits of this method are that you will wind up with ready to use compost much faster. The hard part is that you have to do some serious pre-planning and weekly maintenance to make it work. Another method is to use worms.  It is called vermicomposting.  My sister does this and it works for her.  She told me that you can even do this in your house with smaller batches, but honestly, I’m not a big fan of worms AND I’m trying to keep this uber simple, like my Granddaddy.  We are going to do the add as you go method. Every day or two, we are going to add a layer of food scraps to our pile and then cover it with a layer of dried yard waste or newspaper.  Yes, this method takes the longest to break down (up to 8 months), but it is doable and requires the least amount of maintenance.  Sign me up!

Step Two:  Find your space and containers
When you start researching how to compost, it seems like there are a million options to help things decompose.  Too many choices, if you ask me, and don’t get me started on how many different kinds of composting bins you have to choose from!!  Jon googled pallet composting bins and saw enough images to figure out how to make something that would work for us.  You can often find pallets for free from Craigslist or from just asking at your local businesses.  If you are less inclined to build it yourself, you can purchase all different kinds of composting bins from your local hardware store.

You are also going to want to find a container to put your food scraps in.  There are expensive buckets custom made for this purpose (I saw some that were $50!), or you can just use an old ice cream bucket with a lid!  The key is to have a lid of some sort or you are going to have some serious stink to contend with in your kitchen.  Also make sure that whatever you choose to use can be rinsed out.

We are putting our compost bin in our backyard towards the back.  Flies and rodents can be a problem, so as we learn how to do this well, I’d rather have those things further away from my house than close.  Figure out where it works for you though!

Step Three: Learn what to compost
I thought this would be hard to figure out, but it’s really rather simple.  Food scraps are great with the exception of any meats (including fish) and dairy products including bones and fat.  You don’t want to try to compost oils or fats because they will turn rancid and smell awful.  As far as yard waste, use your common sense.  You don’t want to compost invasive weeds, but everything else is pretty good to go, as long as it isn’t super soggy.  Here is an amazing list of what you can and can’t compost from Home Composting Made Easy that I’ll be printing out until we get it under our belts.  (This website is an excellent resource for all of your detailed composting questions.  It certainly has helped me.)

I’m hoping that come springtime, we will have some amazing compost ready to fertilize our garden and help us have the best garden yet at a lower cost to our family.

How about you?  Do you compost?  What tips can you give us that have made it work for your family?  I am eager to learn from those who have been doing this longer than a week!!

    • Peg

      We use a super simple no stink solution for storing scraps (sorry for sounding so silly!): We keep a plastic bag in the bottom of our freezer and any time we have scraps, we put them in it. When the bag is full, we add it to our compost pile.

      • amysanders

        that is an amazing idea! thanks for sharing!

    • Ginger

      I am just getting started with my organic journey. I appreciate all the information and look forward to a great harvest. Thanks!

    • katkoupon

      Cool! We started our first composting in April. We also do the “add as you go” method. We bought a large trash bin with a lid, my husband drilled a bunch of holes in it, and he sat in on top of some posts for drainage. We saw that somewhere online, don’t remember where. We’ve been composting food scraps and yard trash for 6 months, and it’s just now getting pretty full. The heat seems to help the composting speed along, but now that it’s cooler, it is slowing and piling up. We are still learning too. As for the kitchen bin, I just use some old coffee containers (love the ones with handles) and leave it right by the sink. I fill one up in 1-3 days, and somehow it never stinks, even without a lid. I don’t know if it’s a combo of the greens and browns (it’s usually produce scraps and coffee grinds with filters). Then I place at the back door. When we get about 3, my husband takes them out, adds to the composting bin, adds some yard trash (he saves in a bag after cleaning yards), and gives it a good stir with a garden rake. It is our first attempt, but it seems to be doing well. As for our garden, we have a small yard and decided to make a container garden using 3 totes. We’ve gotten a few tomatoes and a few greens. No green thumbs in my house, for sure. Composting seems to be the easy part, we have a lot to learn with the gardening, though. Good luck!

    • dana

      Don’t forget to add your egg shells.Not sure if it truly is a

      “soil booster”,but since we have been adding the shells AND chicken poop(sorry–don’t mean to sound crude),our garden has really produced quite a bounty! When you clean out your hen house scatter a bag of top soil on the floor.When it is time to clean again,you just shovel up the dirt/poop combination and throw it either in your garden or compost pile.My husband also will sometimes place the egg shells. in the oven to dry them out a bit.He then will crush them and throw them to our chickens.Something about it making the eggs the hen lays have a harder shell. Not sure how scientific this is, but…..I’m still trying to figure out how to know if the egg is going to be a chick or breakfast!?!?!

      • Babs

        That’s right where I am especially with the chickens. I heard that if you use fresh chicken poo it will burn the pile, so I haven’t yet.
        We are trying the compost as of last week I just don’t know how to keep it hot enough with winter coming.

        • dana

          I am not sure about it messing with your compost process,I just know there was an obvious difference in the plants that had “poo” and those that didn’t.We just work it in our garden soil.This is also a good time to go and get some horse “poo” and work it in your garden plot as well.I do think you have to give this stuff a bit of time to break down or something like that.

      • The shells are rich in calcium and they are very good for compost. I heard that egg shells are also really good for tomato plants and reduce the risk of end-blossom rot.

        Feeding them back to the chickens basically returns the calcium to them. But I was warned that feeding chickens egg shells *might* encourage them to start eating their own eggs, so I just use mine for compost!

        • dana

          Haven’t had trouble with them eating their own eggs.We don’t do it that often.I don’t mean to get off the original post of composting,but … has this series dealt with chickens?I have ALOT of questions about how to get them to give me more eggs.

          • amysanders

            no. i haven’t talked about chickens. just about eggs. :)

    • ajawee83

      We also go to the local horse club and get some aged manure to add to our compost. It actually doesn’t smell like you would think (because it’s aged).

    • Kathryn

      We have a small plastic container on the counter in the kitchen. After supper each night, my 11 year old son takes it out to the compost bin. No stink because it goes out every day and even younger children could handle that chore.

    • Sasha

      I have a metal bin to collect scraps from Lee Valley Tools (a gift from my husband) and a plastic compost bin that turns in our small townhouse backyard, but I haven’t been that successful. I’ve been using it for two years, but I usually end up with small pieces of leaves, sticks, and acorns not the black gold I see in pictures. I put in leaves in the fall, add kitchen scraps for several months, turn it occasionally and end up with a soggy pile of leaves and sticks. It has drainage holes, but it still is soaked. I haven’t added anything to it in months as I was discouraged by the results in the spring.

      • amysanders

        what happens to the food scraps?

    • casey

      We have just started. We recently bought 15 acres of land about 10 minutes from our current home. We hope to build on it next year but until then we are working on a garden. We made a compost “bin” out of some pine logs from trees we cut down. We just made it about 3′ square and 2′ feet high and lashed the logs together with some string. It is pretty basic but it works. We have been doing the add as you go method but we only add to it when we go out there. We started it about 2 months ago but I think we are finally starting to get some compost. We have trouble keeping it moist enough though since we don’t always get out there often enough to add water when it needs some. I am a little nervous now though since it is starting to cool off but hopefully being in full sun will help. We live in SC so maybe it won’t stop completely. Anyone in SC able to compost during the winter months?

      • amysanders

        don’t you think it would stay warm though because of the insulation of the layers? at least the bottom layers?

    • miranda

      We have been composting for a while now. My husband just started putting food scraps in a hole we had from an old dead tree. We dont layer newspaper and all that, and we dont turn it, or wet it. All we do is just drop the scraps on top. We keep an ice cream bucket on the counter, and if I am peeling potatoes, I just peel over the bucket. You will still get compost it will just take a bit longer. We actually have two compost spots, and one has green beans growing in it, and the other a water melon. I wish stuff would grow where we actually plant it, like it does in the compost spots. And i dont really notice any smell coming from ours.

      • amysanders

        that’s what i’m talking about! use what you have and don’t overcomplicate things. (here’s hoping it works for me) :)

    • We use a compost barrel. At first it did not work well, taking a long time (8 months) to get good soil. But we added worms to the bin and within a week you can not distinguish any food scraps. They work so well. The bin is in the shade now instead of the sun and we rotate it about 2 times a week when we add the food scraps.

      • Sasha

        I’ll have to get some worms since I haven’t had success with my bin thus far. What kind of worms? Does it matter if I get regular ones from the bait shop?

    • pacefamily6

      Just a quick tip…we’ve been composting for about a year. We knew that we didn’t have the time to put into it, so we just add as we go. When there’s a big rain, the kids gather the worms that wash onto the driveway and put them in the composter. We have had trouble with ants, though and what we’ve learned is that composting can be like cooking jam sometimes. If it’s too wet, it will attract certain bugs and if it’s too dry, it will attract ants. So, this summer we would check out bin every now and then and give it a good spray with the water hose and wet it down to try and keep the ants away. It didn’t totally remove them b/c we just have learned to live with the fact that our rocky, clay, TN soil is their favorite place! However, we know water drives them nuts! Just a thought…

      • amysanders

        do the ants do anything detrimental or is it just annoying?

        • pacefamily6

          As far as I know nothing detrimental, however it’s a little more than annoying when you need a scoop of compost and you’re basically scooping into an anthill. So it’s good to try and soak the compost well over a few days to ensure there are no ants when you need to get in there. ;) I would recommend watering it well, turning it and over a few days continue to wet and turn until there are no ants and the compost has some moisture to it. Just a suggestion!

    • pacefamily6

      Just a quick tip…we’ve been composting for about a year. We knew that we didn’t have the time to put into it, so we just add as we go. When there’s a big rain, the kids gather the worms that wash onto the driveway and put them in the composter. We have had trouble with ants, though and what we’ve learned is that composting can be like cooking jam sometimes. If it’s too wet, it will attract certain bugs and if it’s too dry, it will attract ants. So, this summer we would check out bin every now and then and give it a good spray with the water hose and wet it down to try and keep the ants away. It didn’t totally remove them b/c we just have learned to live with the fact that our rocky, clay, TN soil is their favorite place! However, we know water drives them nuts! Just a thought…

    • thechapleigh

      We’ve been composting for a few years, starting with the “add to the pile as you go”. We don’t have any issue with animals (other than the chickens who, when roaming, like to devour the edible stuff — which turns into eggs for us, so I’m not going to argue!) We have many piles (literally that is what they are, contained by 2 ft tall wire grates on the sides) “inthe works”, with one or two usable ones for each garden (spring & fall). If it remained a “cold compost” then it took a few years to decompose. We learned that the secret to making “hot compost” is in the ACTIVATOR. For us, we “activate” it by getting a huge bag of coffee grounds from starbucks, adding in chicken poo and horse manure, wet & mix in & voila! That bad boy wilil be heating up in no time! I’ve heard that dogfood can be an activator as well.
      I think composting really isn’t hard, but what you have to determine is HOW FAST you want to be able to use it. If you keep the greens & browns evened out, moist enough & mixed in & then “activate”, the worms will later find your pile. You just don’t want to use “hot” compost on your garden.
      We recently got in touch with a tree trimming business. They shred what they cut, and often need a dumping location, and we have happily begun accepting their loads. Their stuff is a perfect mix of greens & browns, as the pile they dump out is already steaming! And it’s getting cold outside where I’m at! ***If you choose to collect yard waste from businesses, though, you need to know what their yards are being treated with, or if there are any issues with weeds — otherwise you will inherit the problems of that yard*** The same also goes for putting horse manure directly onto your garden plot — you will indeed have oats sprouting next season ;)