My compost corner on the backporch, next to where I dry my laundry. No one ever complains the the clothing smells like compost!

My compost corner on the backporch, next to where I dry my laundry.

One of the fundamental habits of Suburban Homesteading is cooking up your own compost. This sustainable practice allows you to take your scraps and turn them into excellent fertilizer for your garden. Notice, though, that I call composting a habit and not a skill. Nature composts things all on her own, folks, so you really don’t need any skill to make your own grade-A compost. You do need to develop a few new habits, though, and maybe get a little dirty.

Composting in a Suburban environment has a few unique challenges. First, there’s rarely an unseen, unused corner of the yard to devote to composting, so the appearance of the compost is of concern. Second, since we tend to live close together, then smell of the compost can become an issue. And lastly, depending on your surroundings, attracting pests is a valid concern.

When I first decided to compost, I decided that I wanted a composting container that would help control odor and repel rats. There’s a lot of good composters available, but I choose the Spinning Composter. This model is compact, made from recycled materials, and relatively attractive (or at least inconspicuous compared to some of the other models I looked at). I now have two of them sitting on the back porch right outside the kitchen door, where it’s easy for lazy me to remember to put my scraps. I also have a small ceramic crock on the kitchen counter than holds a few days worth of scraps, and this helps me to save the scraps for compost rather than just stuff them down the garbage disposal, even when I’m feeling extra specially lazy.

While I find that it takes considerably more than 30 days to cook up a good batch of compost, this may be due to my laziness because I don’t tumble the stuff daily as I should. That said, I have never been bothered by odors, and the rats have shown no interest in my lovely little porch composters. My approach also takes minimal effort, which makes me happy. The only easier way I’ve made compost was to collect autumn leaves in some big garbage bins and leave them behind the shed for two years. The compost this makes is gorgeous, but it takes a little too long to cook.

Here’s the rules I use when choosing what to put in the compost:

  • IN: veggies and fruit (raw or cooked), tea bags, coffee grounds, dryer lint, brown paper bags torn into bits, egg shells, leaves, weeds without seeds, compostable packaging, and a little bit of garden soil (to inoculate the compost with good bacteria)
  • DO NOT USE: animal products (except egg shells), oils, fried foods, anything in the cabbage family, pet poop, woody branches (these take to long to break down), vacuum dust (this is at Hubby’s request, because he is allergic to the pet hair, otherwise it would go in), weeds with seeds.
  • Optional add ins: Worms found on rainy days, shredded newspaper, paper towels, paper coffee filters, paper napkins.

Now, this is hardly a comprehensive review of composting techniques, just an insight into my lazy method, which can be summed up as: remember to put things in the bin then let Nature do the hard work. If you want to learn a bit more and discover much more complicated techniques, I recommend these resources:

  • HowToCompost.org offers comprehensive advice for composting regardless to readers of all experience levels.
  • The US EPA guide to composting.
  • Composting for Kids has a slide show on the basics of composting for children. My own kids LOVE to relocate found worms to the composters-I think they see them as some sort of working pet, though I have to confess, I’m not entirely sure the worms survive being tumbled for very long.
  • Compost Bins is a good source of many types of composters, and they also sell rain barrels. I think I’ll have to invest in a few of those when I return from vacation.
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