When I speak to groups about the benefits of composting, I begin by asking how many people are not already composting at home. Always amazed at the number of hands that are raised, I inquire why not.
I am taking on the most common reasons folks give for not composting. After reading to the bottom of this post, I am sure all non-composting types will be jumping up and down on the composting bandwagon.
Excuse #1: Composting is so complicated. All that talk of mathematical ratios of brown to green makes my head spin.
There are formulas online and in books about layering carbon and nitrogen-based materials, moisture content and mixing schedules that may seem complex. And the experts don’t always agree, but this is no excuse for not starting to compost. While adherence to these methods may produce compost quicker, in my experience, if a few simple practices are followed, compost just happens.
Carbon-based materials are the brown elements – shredded leaves, small twigs, coffee grounds (with filters), shredded newspaper, corn stalks and straw. Nitrogen-based matter is the green components – grass clippings, debris from perennials being cut back, annuals being removed from containers and kitchen scraps. I try to keep my compost bins very heavy on brown materials (up to 4:1) because my bins are quite large and brown materials allow for more air in the space. In a tumbler-type composter, air is introduced whenever it is turned so a higher ratio of green materials can be added.
I was talking about composting with Kay Kehler, Digital Services Manager at Schiller Grounds Care (maker of those awesome Mantis® tillers). She said for gardeners who are only composting vegetation in Mantis ComposTumblers, a ratio of four parts fresh greens to just one part brown organic matter is recommended. That’s awesome if you are like me and have a lot of plant debris or lawn clippings and not as many brown materials throughout much of the year. (Hmmm…a Mantis ComposTumbler just might make it to top of my Christmas wish list.)
As brown and green items are being added in a compost bin, throw in a few shovels full of garden soil to introduce micro-organisms, and keep the compost pile slightly moist. If rainfall is not sufficient, sprinkle it with the garden hose.
Excuse #1 – Rejected! Composting is not complicated. Kay said, “Anyone who can follow a recipe can make compost.” If you don’t cook but you can add, you can still compost! (Brown + Green + Garden Soil + Water = Black Gold)
Excuse #2: A compost pile stinks.
Unless you are composting manure, your compost pile should smell like garden soil. If it stinks, it is not heating up enough to make compost. Some simple adjustments will remedy the problem.
A quick fix for piles with offensive odors because they have too many green elements – grass clippings, plant debris and kitchen scraps – is to mix in more brown material, like shredded newspaper, leaves or straw.
Compost piles may smell in spring because they are too wet. Mixing in brown organic matter will fix this, too. Another (and even easier) solution is to compost in tumbler-type composters. They enclose compost inside so it can’t soak up too much moisture from spring rains or summer thunderstorms.
Excuse #2 – Rejected! Properly green- and brown-balanced compost piles do not stink. And even if the pile gets out of whack due to weather conditions or the ratio of organic matter, it is easy to resolve.
Excuse #3: A compost pile attracts rodents, raccoons and who knows what other scallywags.
You will not be hosting social gatherings of dogs, cats, raccoons, rodents or any other unwelcome neighborhood guests if you do not add meat, fish, fat, bones or dairy products to the compost pile.
Excuse #3 – Rejected! It is super simple to be sure you don’t attract the wrong crowd to a compost bin.
Excuses #4a and #4b: I don’t have enough space to compost and/or I don’t have an out-of-the-way space to compost (because a compost pile or bin is ugly).
You don’t need a lot of space to compost. Build your own structure in a 4-foot x 4-foot space in a sunny spot. Building it on bare ground gives easy access to beneficial organisms and earthworms waiting for new territories to explore. Compost bins don’t have to be fancy or expensive (although they can be if you want to impress your neighbors). Chicken wire around fence posts and stacked straw bales work just fine. A very trendy bin can be fashioned from old pallets. My husband built our three-bin system many years ago. I think it is still beautiful.
There are several styles of compost bins and tumblers to purchase that are very attractive and space-saving. The Mantis Easy Spin ComposTumbler only requires a space measuring 31 by 26 inches. “It doesn’t take up any more space than a garbage can,” Kay said.
Excuses #4a and 4b – Rejected! Compost bins don’t require much space and they can be very pretty. Once you become a compost convert, you will show off your compost area with great pride!
Excuse #5: It takes too long for those greens and browns to turn into that stuff called compost.
The amount of time it takes for organic materials to break down into useable compost depends. If you have large bins like I do and toss in whatever organic material you have whenever you have it (paying just enough attention to the proportions to keep it ‘cooking’), throw in a couple shovels full of garden soil when it occurs to me, let Mother Nature provide the water and mix it every so often (Who I am kidding? I rarely mix it.), it can take four months to break down. With three large bins, there is always some compost ready to use so this method works well for me.
If you don’t have the luxury of space like I do, you can speed up the process by paying closer attention to proportions of browns to greens, make sure your pile is always just barely moist (like a wrung-out sponge) and turn your compost a couple times a week. Beautiful compost will be the reward for your efforts in half the time.
Tumbler-type composters provide compost even quicker. “You can get useable compost from a Mastis ComposTumbler in as little as six weeks,” Kay boasted.
Excuse #5 – Rejected! Compost happens quickly or slowly depending on the type of bin you use and how much effort you put into it.
Excuse #6: It’s too much work.
If you are cutting back perennials, emptying annuals out of containers or harvesting vegetables from the garden, you must do something with all that debris, right? It is no more work tossing it into a compost bin than in a garbage can or landscape refuse bag.
The Mantis Back Porch ComposTumbler comes with convenient wheels so you take can your composter right in the garden or on the patio with you. How much easier does it get than that? Just open the lid and throw garden refuse in right where you cut it.
To be honest, turning compost in a bin does take a bit of effort. I admit I don’t turn the compost in my bins very often because it actually is too much work. My husband and I designed our compost system and, although I love that the fronts are doors we open to access compost easily, we made the bins too tall. It is difficult to turn the organic matter once the bins are more than half filled, so I don’t do it.
Turning a compost pile is ordinarily not back-breaking, but if it takes more effort than you are willing to expend, this is no excuse for not compost. Instead, purchase a tumbler-type composter. They have handles or grooves built in that make is super easy to turn.
Excuse #6 – Rejected! Composting doesn’t take a lot of work.
No more excuses! Autumn is the perfect season to begin composting. Mother Nature urges trees to drop their leaves for us. We’ll have plenty of peelings from apples picked at orchards and pumpkin guts from carving jack-o-lanterns. Annuals will be removed from containers and there are all those perennials we don’t leave standing for winter interest or wildlife value waiting to be cut back.
A few words of caution:
Don’t add weeds, debris from diseased plants or grass clippings treated with herbicides to your compost bin. Disease can overwinter, weed seeds might survive in a compost pile that doesn’t get hot enough, and who wants chemical residue in organic compost?
Now that you are out of excuses, start composting and garden with me!
Note: I did not receive any compensation, monetary or otherwise, for this post. My goal is to give people the tools and confidence to begin composting. It’s good for their gardens and our planet. Other excellent resources about composting are University of Illinois Extension’s Composting for the Homeowner and How to Compost.org. If you would like more information on Mantis ComposTumblers, visit their website. It also has some great tips on composting.