Worm-Free Ways to Compost at Home
Backyard Compost Pits & Containers are great for your garden and easy to use. You can get really technical with compost and spend a lot of time feeding and turning a pile to speed up the process, but it’s not necessary. The basic idea is to make a pile that is a mix of brown (dry) and green (recently alive / wet) organic waste, mix it if possible, and let it rot.
I’m gonna start with the ugliest and easiest solution, to avoid scaring anyone off. I’ve seen food waste put into pits and piles in various places without a problem. Fish waste is rich in nitrogen, breaks down fast and doesn’t usually pose a problem, but meat/dairy waste and other oily, greasy food is usually left out because it may attract pests.
This is a very successful pit at our family’s summer place on Lake Balaton in Hungary. It is a shallow square lined on the sides with concrete. Red currant plants provide a hedge so the neighbors don’t have to stare at it. Yard waste, plant-based food scraps and eggshells are piled in the pit and covered with a layer of dirt whenever we leave the house for any extended period of time. It sits over the winter and in spring is ready to be spread around the garden.
Another pile system is the rotating pile system as seen here at my former community garden in Philadelphia. We had three piles next to each other, separated by wire mesh. (Later a tree fell on the system and they rebuilt it using pallets!) This is the “all rolled over and one fell out” kind of method. You take out the oldest bit for your garden, then roll (that is, shovel) all the other piles over towards the end you just emptied. Then you’ll have space at the beginning to start a new pile. It doesn’t compost very fast, but it keeps you organized and works fine on an annual cycle.
4 More Ways to Compost!
Chickens – If you or your neighbors have chickens (or goats or pigs), feed them your food scraps. Rabbits will also gladly eat your vegetable trim, and their bedding (rich with waste) will speed up your compost pile a lot. My esteemed gardener / musician friends Sarah Mead and Mack Ramsey (along with rabbits Rupert & others – RIP, big guy) have built an absolutely amazing backyard paradise over the years, due in no small part to the highly efficient compost system they have set up. Sarah says use a two-bin system similar to the one above with a leaf pile. The leaf pile is pure yard waste that is added slowly to the first bin every couple of days along with fresh food waste and, periodically, rabbit bedding. This keeps the balance of greens and browns without excessive mixing.
Rolling bins or “tumblers” – these are really the fastest I’ve seen in terms of a small pile. You can put anything you want inside, since it is secure from pests, but you’ll want to avoid putting meat, dairy and oils in there for hygiene reasons. You pile stuff into the cylinder and give the crank a turn periodically to turn it. Some models are made of metal and get super hot in the sun, which speeds up the process of decay.
Black plastic bins and green cones – Many cities and towns sell these at a discount to people who want to compost. Black bins sit on the ground. You fill them from the top and then try to extract compost from a trap door in the bottom. In my experience, they’re a little unwieldy and may or may not work well depending on what you put in them. It’s hard to stir the contents, so not everything will decay evenly and it’s hard to speed up the process. Cones, which you bury partially underground, are a little better because more worms tend to come up into them from the ground. You can dig them up and use the compost, or you can just keep filling them and let the decayed stuff seep down into the ground.
Terra Cotta / Clay Pot composting – The company Daily Dump in India distributes traditional clay pots and microbe mixes that allow for composting of kitchen scraps and flowers in attractive clay pots. The Garden Tower, now available on Amazon.com, is a combination composter/planter that uses vermicompost (worms). I noticed one in a neighbor’s yard here in Seattle – I will have to go ask them how it’s going!
Please comment below to share your experiences with composting- good or bad.