Who Can Boast the Most Compost?

I am Iowan, after all

It appears to be the obsessing time of the month for me—when I lower my head, stick it in some giant book or in front of the computer, and emerge a couple of days later with a great deal more knowledge on the topic du mois. This month, if last night’s up-until-1:30 a.m. research-fest was any indication, it is compost bins. I’m thinking of starting a compost bin (or two, actually) for Earth Day.

I am no super environmentalist. I still use plastic bags in my daughter’s lunch box (because I bought her the “cute” lunchbox from Paris instead of one that’s big enough to hold something larger than a juice box, which, I now concede, was a mistake). I drive to my son’s elementary school every day, even though I could walk it in 15 minutes. And I buy the dishwasher soap with phosphates because no other #&@*! dishwasher soap will work.

But I do try to do the right thing, as long as the right thing doesn’t involve me sweating or yelling at my toddler to walk faster for an hour. I got an email yesterday from the Environmental Working Group, one of the few nonprofit groups I still allow to email me occasionally. (As a person with a social work degree, I suppose I ought to be more pro-nonprofit, but too many do-gooder emails per day start to turn my self-esteem into an endangered species.)

The Environmental Working Group is the group who, among other fabulous things, creates the Dirty Dozen list every year, a handy cheat sheet to figure out which produce to buy organic, and when you can go with the cheap stuff. They can also help you figure out if your sunscreen, cell phone, and makeup are giving you cancer. (Probably.) The email they sent me suggested everyone do one thing for our Earth to celebrate Earth Day this year. That sounds doable. They even offered a few suggestions if you need ideas. (I found it interesting that “recycle” wasn’t on the list. Perhaps they assume everyone already does that. They obviously haven’t been to Texas.)

Last week we all got a tour of my mom’s compost bin(s). I was expecting anything related to compost to be really stinky, or covered with a swarm of bugs, or serving as a four-star hotel for traveling rodentia. But surprise! Her compost didn’t stink, harbored no rats, and although I did see a few bugs in the compost (one looked like a giant roly poly and another looked like a black version of a wasp), the bugs were still at the “tolerable” level on my own personal bug-coping scale.

Here’s what she did: She bought two big plastic bins (like the kind you store all your kids’ clothes in when they outgrow them), and used a drill to poke holes all over the lids, sides, and bottom of the bins. She stuck them in a tucked-away corner of the yard, propped them up a bit on some bricks, and started composting. Under her kitchen sink, she keeps a mini trash can with a lid, and when she and my dad have compostable waste, they stick it in there. When it gets full, they take it out, dump it in the bin, and give it a stir with a pitchfork. When they collect old, dried out leaves from their yard, they stick those in there too. After a while, they started dumping their stuff in the second bin and just giving the first bin a stir. The first bin now looks like, well, compost, and smells like moist earth. My mom’s going to put it on her plant beds this weekend. After that, she’ll start using the first bin again and let the second turn itself into compost-y goodness.

In addition to the fun of being a person who uses a pitchfork, you get the super-feel-good bonus of completely reducing how much trash you take to the curb each week. My parents say it’s made a remarkable difference in their amount of trash. Now, as we are still GREAT EVILDOERS with our mountains of weekly disposable diapers, I know we won’t be reducing our trash to zero, but I still look forward to reusing all the onion skins, eggshells, carrot peels, orange rinds, strawberry leaves, apple cores, tea bags, and coffee grounds this family goes through.

After my long journey down research road last night, I learned that there are a great many websites about composting, and they will tell you a great many ways to compost. But I’ve also learned that I just don’t care enough about the topic to want to know any more than this: Composting, like life, is about balance. You want your compost to be neither too wet, nor too dry. You want your compost to be smooshed together in some sort of enclosure, but you need to stir it every so often to give it air. You want your compost to have some “green” items, such as vegetable and fruit scraps, and some “brown” items, such as brown leaves and pieces of used paper towels and napkins. Achieve this balance, and you will experience total compost harmony.

I’m hoping it’s as easy as all that. I really don’t want to be overrun with bugs.

© Amy Daniewicz

1 thought on “Who Can Boast the Most Compost?”

  1. what a great idea! i’ve been thinking about composting for awhile but always imagined it to be this big deal. but it sounds so easy when you put it like this. i’ll try it too, and we can compare. :-)

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