I will admit it. I’m a lazy composter. But in some ways, I don’t think that is a bad thing; because despite the lack of attention, my compost bin still makes great compost. My point being, you can put in as little or as much effort as you want, and still be successful at composting. The key is to follow a few simple rules, and Mother Nature will take care of the rest.
Rule number one: treat the microorganisms in your compost bin right, and they will do all the hard work for you. Here’s how:
1) Give them a nice mix of green things and brown things to ‘eat.’ Examples of green things are vegetable and fruit peelings, brown things are generally dried out yard waste (leaves or grass). The two must be somewhat mixed together or the results can be sub-par. Large amounts of browns on their own don’t decompose very quickly, and piles of greens encourage unpleasant bacteria which can make a slimy smelly mess. (Ever left a large pile of wet grass for a few weeks and then disturbed it? Phew!).
Mixing a compost pile by hand can be fairly involved work, depending on your set-up. So here’s my trick: I save about three garbage bags full of dry leaves each fall to use in my compost throughout the year. We collect kitchen scraps in a 4l stainless steel pail. In the cooler months, about every third or fourth time I empty the kitchen pail I toss in some dry leaves from the stash. In the heat of summer you can add leaves on top of the scraps every time, as it keeps the flies to a minimum.
By adding a little of each at a time, you are essentially ‘mixing as you go’ which means you don’t actually have to stir! You can if you want to, but I have certainly added my materials in layers like this and left my compost pile alone all year, and harvested finished compost in the fall.
2) Keep it nice and moist. You don’t have to water your compost for it to work, but somebody does. In true lazy fashion I leave my compost bin open in the summer for rain to keep it moist. If there is a real dry spell I might fill a bucket from our rain barrel and pour it on. A dry compost pile doesn’t cause any problems (it will essentially lie dormant) but it won’t produce finished compost until it’s had consistent moisture for a few months. In the winter however, I have learned to keep the cover on the bin or it will fill up with snow – leaving you nowhere to put your compost!
3) Harvest your compost in the fall – it doesn’t necessarily matter if it is fully finished. Before freeze-up scoop any visibly un-composted material off of the top of your pile and set it aside. Take all of the rest of the fully or mostly composted material out of the bottom and dig it into your garden, or mulch your flower beds. It will continue to compost there during the fall and in the spring after it thaws. Put the uncomposted materials that you had set aside into the bottom of your now empty bin. This conveniently leaves your compost bin mostly empty before the winter, so you can continue to add greens and leaves all winter long. They will just freeze – not compost – but come spring it will all thaw and get composting tout suite. The volume reduces dramatically once it does, leaving you room to keep adding leaves and scraps all summer. Come fall, repeat the process.
By following these three easy guidelines composting literally takes up no more than three to four hours of my time each year; and that’s a generous estimate. The majority of the work is in the fall when I empty the bin and collect the leaves. I hope you will find that this is a simple and convenient routine to follow as well. Take care, and keep composting!