Don’t tell anyone, but we took a 15 year break from composting. Yes, fifteen years! We moved a few times and just didn’t get around to setting it up again. During those years, I felt a nagging sense of guilt when I threw away food scraps, coffee grounds or other compostable material … though apparently not enough guilt to change my ways.
Finally, late last summer we got out our compost tumbler again and recommitted. This time around, we have an attractive silver container on our countertop next to the kitchen sink for our food waste. It’s lined with compostable bags to make the disposal and clean up easier. The container and liners aren’t cheap, but they look good and provide a convenience that has been worth it. The container doesn’t stand out, unlike last time when we had a bright green plastic pail that seemed to scream “compost!.” Obviously, you can use any vessel like a bowl, bucket or an old Tupperware container to hold your kitchen waste. Sometimes, I line the bucket with the compostable bags that our coffee comes in. Besides blending in, another benefit of this new container is the lid fitted with a charcoal filter. Unless it takes a long time to fill, there is no odor. Only once in the past six months have I dumped the compost due to the smell and that was because we had a significant pile of onion scraps that sat for a little too long. This is so different from our prior experience. Then, it seemed the pail constantly smelled and I was always dumping it.
Because of the way our sidewalk, rock gardens and yard are laid out, it isn’t handy for us to keep the compost right outside our door. Instead, we’ve placed it out next to my studio, which is like a little shed in our yard. Unfortunately, this means that during the winter our compost tumbler is surrounded by deep snow, which, in turn, requires snow boots and extra effort to reach it. And, yet I don’t mind the trip to deliver the kitchen scraps. Each time I walk out to the compost and hear the crunch of the snow beneath my feet, I appreciate the opportunity to connect with the outdoors. Corny, I know, but it’s true.
Right now our tumbler is almost full. I’m hoping that I can keep squeezing things in until warm weather arrives and the heat in the compost starts to crank up and decompose faster. I realized shortly into the cold weather that we should have emptied it out before winter. Live and learn. I assumed that the decomposition might be especially slow right now because we haven’t been turning the compost, but after some research I learned that you shouldn’t turn the pile in the winter. Why? Heat loss. I guess decomposition tends to be sluggish in the winter.
I’ve also learned that composting is all about balance. The items that go into the bin are either carbon or nitrogen. Ideally there needs to be a ratio range between twenty to forty parts carbon to one part nitrogen. Carbon provides the energy and includes items that are usually brown and dry, like fall leaves, straw, paper or cardboard, peat moss, coir, wood chips or sawdust. Nitrogen helps the compost grow and reproduce more organisms to oxidize the carbon. Nitrogen is the greens, like grass clippings, green yard waste, kitchen waste, hair (yes hair!) (though probably not green hair) or manure (if you want to go that route — that’s a whole other discussion). Water is also needed, but not too much, as is air. The pile should be as moist as a wrung out sponge. I know that I’ve got an abundance of nitrogen right now and not enough carbon. There’s little I can do to remedy that at this time, but solving this dilemma will be one of my goal’s this summer. I have to admit that I’m surprised that I don’t feel burdened by this, but instead I look forward to the challenge.
The reduction of garbage heading to the landfill is the most obvious benefit to composting. Compost can also improve the soil structure and produce organic fertilizer for your plants. Less obvious, the act of separating and sorting your waste, provide you with a greater understanding of your consumption habits and the impact on the waste stream. The process makes you more mindful, at least that’s been my experience.
The effort involved in composting our kitchen scraps has been minimal. And, I’ve felt a strange sense of satisfaction about composting. I actually enjoy the process, weird as that sounds. I haven’t minded trudging through the snow to deposit the kitchen scraps into the tumbler or any of the other obligations this has added to our already busy lives.
I’m happy to be back in the composting business and am anxiously waiting to pull out some of that black gold this summer.
Kristin Eggerling is a board member for Conservation Minnesota Voter Center, the mother of two, and a freelance writer in northwestern Minnesota.