Making Composting Easy

keeping eggshells for the compost bin

container for produce scraps and eggshells, lined with plastic bag

This week is International Composting Awareness Week. Each day I will post composting information on my website or my social media accounts. For me, the trick to composting is to figure out how to make it work for you so it becomes easy. If it is easy, you will compost. In my suburban garden, I have two Geobins in the backyard.

A Geobin is a rectangular heavy piece of plastic with holes that is folded into a cylinder and placed on the ground. Overlap part of the material, insert plastic bolts to keep its cylindrical shape, and voila! you have a compost bin.  The nice thing about the Geobin is that it makes composting in the suburbs polite. The black plastic hides the ugly rotting fruit so the neighbors can’t complain.

After we set up the Geobins, we tore up empty cardboard egg cartons and paper towel rolls and threw them in the bin to create large pockets of air at the bottom for drainage. We add the produce scraps from the kitchen, the used coffee grounds, and yard waste. Usually there is soil attached to the yard waste so I end up adding the attached earthworms. My bins are in a sunny place and receive plenty of water from rain and snow.

one geobin set up with stakes to keep open

Geobin set up with stakes to keep open

My family knows to put egg shells, tea bags, produce scraps, and coffee grinds in a small container in the kitchen that is lined with a plastic bag from the grocery store. Once a week, I pull the bag out and dump the contents into the Geobins (the plastic bag goes in the trash can).

My Geobins sit for a long time. Amazingly, they never get full because the waste is always decomposing and shrinking. Last year, after using one Geobin for about six months, I tried to unscrew the plastic knobs to undo the Geobin so I could shovel the compost out for the garden bed. I realized that it was so full I couldn’t get my hand in to unscrew the knobs from the inside. It was easier to lift up the plastic which resulted in a cylindrical shape of leaves and refuse. Because I did not stir often, most of the leaves and debris stayed in place (note to self, stir more often and bolt with screw on outside). With the garden fork, I broke up the condensed mass and discovered moist, dark soil (similar in texture to bagged potting mix) in the core, complete with earthworms!  As I broke the mass down to about a foot, it became easier to stir with the fork. We put the core or composted part in the garden beds and left the rest in the corner of the backyard to continue to decompose. At this point, it was only a few inches high so it was not an eyesore.

composted material in the inner core after removing bin

compost in the inner core after removing Geobin

The compost added micronutrients, microorganisms, and earthworms to the garden beds. Just adding an inch of compost to the beds in the spring is beneficial for the plants. Compost also is great for breaking up clay and improving soil texture and drainage.

My method is simple but slow; it takes months for the large pieces to break up into small pieces. To speed up the decomposition, I could make the ingredients smaller (like cutting up the leaves), turn it often to increase the aeration, or strive for the recommended carbon-nitrogen ratio of 3 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen by volume. Although the decomposition process is a natural process, when you do it at home, you are in charge of putting the ingredients together so you have to be aware of the amount of carbon (also called “browns”) in relation to the amount of nitrogen (also called “greens”). Brown is the dead dried plant parts that are high in carbon (in my case the autumn leaves, yard waste and shredded paper from the office) and green is the fresh living parts like the kitchen vegetable scraps that are high in nitrogen. There should be more carbon or brown than nitrogen or green which I am always aware of but never measure. Water and air (as in air pockets among the plant materials in the bin) are essential too. We never add meat, dairy products, diseased plants, oils/grease, bones, or pet wastes.

Some counties give away composting bins free or sell them at a minimal cost. Contact your local county extension agent or the county division responsible for solid waste services, waste management, recycling, or trash management.  I received my Geobins through a county effort to increase composting, but they can be bought online.

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