Starting to compost

When we started our garden we knew we were going to need compost. Mel Bartholomew (the Square Foot Gardening guy) encourages every gardener to start a compost pile. His casual invitation made the process sound easy but we still had to overcome a remarkable reluctance to get the process started. The only people we knew who had a compost bin were Ted’s aging parents, and they had stopped composting some years back. Would it be hard? Would it look bad and smell up the garden? Would our friends and neighbors think we were hippies?

Ted’s parents used a wooden bin system. I knew I wanted a closed bin that we could keep close to the house. I stumbled on an Earth Day sale at They offered the Earth Machine Compost Bin at a starter price; I fell in love with this because it looks just like a Dalek (the bad guys in Doctor Who).

We bought a small white pail for the kitchen at the same time. I was very worried about having it in the kitchen. Would it smell? Would it be gross? It turned out that the pail didn’t smell at all. It came with a charcoal filter and I worriedly bought extra filters, but I haven’t changed one out yet because it doesn’t seem to need it.

Alex and I earnestly read the little pamphlet we ordered and started composting vegetable and fruit material, coffee grounds, and egg shells. Reading Mel and the pamphlet we discovered we would need to layer the kitchen scraps with straw, and that grass clippings would work. We directed our lawn mower to pile up the grass in a plastic tube bin next to the compost pile.

Alex turned into Compost Guy. He started layering grass and compost matter. Whenever he took the little pail out he turned the pile.

Turning the compost

Turning the compost

One year later, voila! We had a pile of lovely compost, just enough to top up the raised beds.

Black gold!

Black gold!

Once we overcame our reluctance to get into rotting food, it became amazingly satisfying to redirect kitchen scraps from the garbage can, where they will go to the dump, into our own compost, which turns back into delicious food. This year we moved the bin behind the garage, added a second bin, bought a thermometer and another book, and are working to get smarter about how all this composting stuff works. But it turns out to be really easy to get started. And our friends and neighbors took it in stride.


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