Be a composter, not a dilettante

Published 12:08 pm Wednesday, October 18, 2023

I’ve about had it with compost rules. I know lots of folks are into challenges and thrive on lists of things to do that really aren’t necessary, but not me.

But I am a composter, not a dilettante. In it for convenient benefits, not pride. And turns out, composting is embarrassingly easy when done like Mother Nature does it!

Sure, it’s nice having a fenced-in area, to keep things organized. I used to have side by side bins made from half inch “hardware cloth” stapled between posts. Could have used wooden pallets or chicken wire, but the main thing was to have a “working” bin for tossing fresh stuff and a “finished” bin for digging what I needed to use. It was a simple alternating system in which one was always being filled and the other was being emptied, back and forth. It worked fine.

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Now I just have an area against a fence where I pile stuff that gets raked, blown, or foraged by the bagful from neighbors’ curbsides, dead flowers, even weeds. When my tight-lidded kitchen bucket is filled with banana peels, coffee grounds, apple cores, eggshells, potato peelings, onion skins, etc., I toss it all on top of my leaf pile. When I need compost, I just dig down a few inches and there it is, ready to be sifted through hardware cloth for consistency; whatever isn’t garden-ready gets run back through the pile.

Believe it or not, it rarely has off-odors, though if something does waft my way, I just bury it a bit. And I have never actually seen any critters digging around in it, though my garden has its share of furry wildlife. And I just ignore fire ants.

I used to teach folks to not add weeds or meat to the compost, but now, except for exceptionally seedy plants; I just toss most stuff on top and let the composting process break it all down. And like with smells, anything that might attract flies or critters simply gets covered up with leaves, and it disappears completely. Just like out in the woods.

If I were in a race, I could make compost in as little as three or four weeks start to finish, by mixing “green” stuff like grass clippings or a little nitrogen fertilizer in with leaves and dead plants. I would chop or mow big stuff into finer bits, keep the pile moist, and stir it every few days or weeks for aeration, like blowing on a fire. Doing these things can get the pile steaming hot, and breaks it down quickly.

But nope. I don’t do any of that; instead, I have a simple leaf pile onto which I pile new stuff atop the lowest area of the leaf pile, and dig out rich, crumbly, dark, compost out of the older, deeper places. And I never run out.

English gardeners have no choice about composting, simply because they never developed a system for hauling it away for gardeners. So, they all have places to pile and recycle stuff. They prove that there are only two rules for composting: stop throwing that stuff away; and pile it up somewhere.

This year there are more fallen branches and twigs than usual, some of which I burn in the fire pit, longer limbs line my walks or are added to my wildlife-teeming “dead-hedge” which is simply a low fence made by putting pairs of posts every few feet and piling limbs, branches, and leaves lengthwise. For inspiration, go online and look for dead-hedge images.

Meanwhile, find a spot to pile stuff up. Done.


Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB

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