Reaping the rewards of being a terrible composter

I admit it, I’m a terrible composter. And I think you should be one too.

Last weekend I took on a job I’ve been putting off for months: dealing with the compost. I use a two-bin system, which is a fancy way to suggest that the two side-by-side contained piles of garden refuse that I collect are well-managed.

But nothing could be further from the truth, because other than throwing things in the piles, I pay almost no attention to them.

And yet I spent several hours over the weekend tackling the mess the bins had become, eventually finding treasure lurking at the bottom. I’m talking about gardener’s gold: more than a cubic yard of glorious finished compost to nourish my garden.

This despite not turning the pile once this year and only occasionally throwing some water on it.

I didn’t add buckets of bokashi compost — fermented organic matter that is all the rage with compost influencers (yes, they exist) — to create a super compost that finishes quickly.

I also didn’t bother with layering my “greens”—nitrogen-rich material like grass clippings, vegetable scraps and green plant material—and “browns”—carbon-rich material like leaves, paper or straw. 

I didn’t even use my two-bin “system” the way I intended, which was to turn partially finished compost in the second bin and add new material to the first bin.

Do any of these would have produced finished compost much more quickly, but I just threw all the ingredients into the bins with little care for what went where.

And when I say “threw,” I mean that literally. I conveniently placed my compost area just outside the fence of the raised bed vegetable garden, which is both the biggest producer of material and the place where most of the finished compost ends up. When I come across a sneaky cucumber that grew far too large or a tomato that split and has been found by bugs, I lob it over the fence directly into the compost. And I’ll have you know, I’m a pretty good shot.

In other words, despite not following any of the advice for great compost, I create a heap of it anyway. I did have the basics down to some degree: a mix of greens and browns, a bit of water (mostly from the sky) and air (thanks to the slats of the bins rather than me turning it).

I apply compost as a top dressing, refreshing my raised beds and putting a thick layer around the base of newly planted shrubs. This soil-enriching amendment will be incorporated into the soil as I plant or by the vast network of creatures that live in soil.

I only made my way through one bin, so there’s more compost waiting for me at the bottom of the other bin, not to mention all the ingredients I need for another batch as I clear the garden and add in the rapidly falling leaves.

If I’ve proven anything, it’s that every gardener has what they need to make great compost with very little fuss. You, too, can be a terrible composter.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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