How to Make Composting Easy

food-scraps-for-compostingDoes the word “composting” fill you with guilt?

Do you remember back when you were going to build the perfect bin? Or that great thing you saw on composting with worms that you’ve always wanted to do but never did? Or maybe you have an expensive cranked compost tumbler sitting in your backyard with nothing in it but a few dry coffee grounds and a blackened banana peel?

Composting is one of those things we know we should do, like buckling our safety belts, staying in school and recycling… yet more often than not, we still throw away our food scraps and yard waste rather than returning them to the ground.

It’s time to stop feeling guilty and start making changes.

No matter who you are or where you live, you can compost. The great thing is that it doesn’t require bins, tumblers, kitchen canisters or any other infrastructure.

All you need to do is let things rot.

This last winter I wrote a little book on composting that I hope will change a lot of minds on the topic while taking away guilt from those who have suffered under their landfill-stuffing sins for too long. The book is Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting. It was briefly the #1 bestseller in Amazon’s gardening section! One reason I believe the book is so popular is because it relieves folks from the pressure of composting.

What kind of pressure?

How about the need to turn piles? Or the need to get your carbon/nitrogen ratios perfect? Or the need to build a nice bin?

I wrote Compost Everything so folks wouldn’t worry so much about making perfect compost and instead just start returning everything organic to the ground safely in order to feed their plants and reduce the amount of potential soil food that is going into landfills rather than back into the soil.

So – how can you start doing that right now, without a bin? Let’s take a look.

Composting With Ease

If you have a yard, just start saving your kitchen scraps in a lidded container. I use a five-gallon bucket because we go through a lot of garden produce on our homestead. You can throw in meat, junk mail (just not glossy pieces or the plastic window in bills), bones, scrap paper, moldy bread and whatever else you like until you’ve got a good amount in there. Heck – maybe this would be a good time to clean our your fridge!

Then, just go outside and dig a hole a couple of feet deep, then empty the bucket in your pit and cover the mess with soil. Voila! You’ve returned all that material to the ground! As long as it’s deep enough and covered up well, animals will leave it alone… but the roots of your trees and plants will find that delicious organic matter with no problem.

In fact, I’ve used this method to grow Seminole pumpkins and watermelons in the hot, dry sand of my front yard. I dug a good-sized pit, dumped in everything from beef stew to coffee grounds, ashes and chunks of rotten wood, then filled in the pit with some soil and planted seeds on top. The vines that emerged needed no additional fertilization and really enjoyed eating all the stuff we’re often told we “can’t” compost. I dubbed these fertility sinks “melon pits” and the name has stuck.

In its simplest form, composting is just a natural process of decay. When you throw out your food scraps and paper scraps, you’re exporting potential soil fertility from your property. When you bury them in your yard, you’re increasing the richness of your land.

Pretty simple.

Of course, if you want perfect compost for your garden you can set up a bin and make nice, brown crumbly humus from your scraps; however, you’ll likely do just as well burying kitchen scraps beneath your beds and planting on top of them! I know the earthworms love the fresh material… and your plants don’t mind either.

Even if you don’t have a yard, you can still find a way to compost. If you live in an apartment or a dorm, why not ask around and see if there are any gardeners in your circle of friends that might appreciate your scraps? If not, you can always just pick a tree in the woods and dump them there. Throw a few leaves over the scraps and no one will even know you were there… but the tree will appreciate it.

It’s time to quit feeling guilty and start composting!

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David The Good (Bioneer Blogger)


Contributor

David the Good is a naturalist, part-time scientist, and hardcore gardener who has grown his own food since 1984. At age five, he sprouted a bean in a paper cup of soil and hasn't stopped growing since. You can find more of David's ongoing experiments in the Grow Network Lab and on his own website at www.thesurvivalgardener.com.


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  • I have composted off and on since the early ’70’s with great success. I have a bin, but have also done the “dig a hole” method. The lovely part of that is that I have 100’s of volunteer plants, mostly tomatoes. I’ve given them away with the warning that I know they are organic, but I have no idea what tomato will appear on the vine. I’ve bought a number of heritage tomato plants over the years. Now I don’t buy. I just save some and enjoy the surprises. I also have some really tasty melons and cucumbers. Currently trying to figure out how to get avocados from the volunteer trees. I’m told I must graft on the trunk, which might be an interesting experiment.

    • Gotta love those compost volunteers. Avocados will happily make fruit on ungrafted trees. I have a friend whose tree bore at just 3 years old from a seedling. You can graft if you like (it’s relatively easy) but you don’t need to.

  • Jil

    I have never done any composting but after reading this I am going to give it a try! Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  • CATRYNA

    Composting the “Geoff Lawton” way, we have found it the best way. You end up with good compost within 18 days and the process is aerobic not anaerobic.

    • I’ve gone the quick way as well. It will work but I don’t bother anymore.

      • CATRYNA

        True enough. Whatever works for you. We just have to have a constant supply for our commercial garden.

        • Yes – you’re probably always dealing with “gotta get compost now!” I feel you. A couple of years ago I launched a bunch of new Biointensive beds and went the same route. Now I’ve got established soil and more perennials. The fine compost burns up so fast in our hot sands that I do a lot more stacking of materials on the surface to slow down the need for new material. You can’t afford to wait when money is on the line. (And Geoff is the man!)

          • CATRYNA

            So true. Hopefully once our soil is more established we can slow down. Fortunately, we have a free source of goat and chicken manure along with hay and straw, that is a steady pick up 5 days a week. Works real well. Right now we have 6 quick compost piles 1 cu meter each going and 2 slow burn piles that are around 300 cubic feet each. The slow burn piles will be ready for planting our mid winter crops and the quick compost piles for seedling starting.

    • Hugh

      Is that the method where he uses chickens?

  • Eileen "Lee"

    Hi, David! Really enjoyed your article on composting!! Seriously!!! We have been composting for quite some time and since our, daughter,Katrina, now 22, who has been and still does most of the gardening for our household, insisted on purchasing the crank kind of composter that was sold at Sam’s Club when we bought it, that’s what we did, as long as it fit into our budget, we could do it then. Now it seems the composter doesn’t make as much compost as quickly as we need, because our soil is very sandy [we live in SWFL] so enrichment is quite necessary. Recently, Katrina has started using that method of digging a hole and putting our food scraps in it, but she doesn’t like to put bones and meat in it because she said it takes to long for those items to completely compost especially the bones. Any other advice you can give is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  • Michael Ivas

    Thanks for the compost article

  • STEVE FANKHAUSER

    Welcome David !! Glad to get an expert in on my favorite part of gardening. maybe it’s because it grosses the rest of my fam out, but nobody questions the benefits . I work a simple wooden shipping crate dumped by a nearby exercise eqpt store with everything off the yard and kitchen I can get. Recently have gotten the wife to let me puree fruit and veg and eggshells in the blender before adding to the pile, as long as I clean well afterwards. Am trying to talk a local health food restaurant into letting me pick up some scraps from their organic juice pressings. Am in Deep South Texas, and Texas AgriLife Extension has been rolling well for five years with good info. Citrus and tropical fruits are big here . We’re wide open for more good info ! Thanks for coming onboard. Looking fwd to seeing something from you too about beneficial off-season ground covers like lablab and fava beans.

    • Thank you, Steve. It took me some time to bring my wife around but she says she “has” to compost now because her husband “literally wrote the book on it.” That cracked me up. The book actually covers some of our green manure compost experiments. Check out “Mucuna pruriens” if you get a chance – they’re an amazing bean.

    • Check out Mucuna pruriens for a ground cover – those are crazy nitrogen fixers and have beans that boost testosterone.

    • STEVE FANKHAUSER

      Thanks , David ! Will check Mucuna pruriens soon. Lean on my USDA friend too, who spearheaded our neighborhood community garden out of an unused postage stamp corner of city property next to a fire sub-station. If you’re in the garden for the season, you also share in the ” fruit of the vine ” that gets pressed from the vineyard he inaugurated all along the double fence line. You make it where you can take it ! BTW, local health food shop agreed to let me occasionally get the food material left after organic juice pressings. Hooray ! Encourage others to check this route , as well as cast=offs from foodstores and food banks. SBUX used to keep backs of grounds available, but stores in our area either got locked in with bigger operators in composting or their volume is so high they pitch most of it. But I ain’t to proud not to dumpster dive.

  • Kiml

    Hi David – Thanks so much for the great article. We have one of the “xpensive” composters that came with little directions, but I think we’re making it work. About 3 weeks old and the compost is starting to smell great. Can’t wait to feed my garden – but I am going to take your idea and grow some winter squash your way! Thanks so much.

  • Sandy

    Thanks for the encouragement David! I have been doing my own brand of composting for the past few years. It certainly isn’t textbook but it works for me. I was interested to learn that you return meat scraps to mother earth. I’ll be trying that when I start using the “melon pit” method. Thanks again for this timely article!

  • Linda Ellison Minton

    Hi, David. I just thought about you today and was thrilled to read your words.

  • Joyce

    Hello Dave,

    You are my kind of guy – a lazy do gooder. Enjoyed your article and agree with you whole heartedly. Bet your article gets a lot more people to replenishing the soil. The more the merrier because the richer our soil will be. Gotta combat these looney tunes one world global government, aka the
    new world order’s, destruction with all the aluminum and who knows what else they are chem trailing.
    The fools can’t take a look at the success Allen Savory is having with his mimicking nature, and see what they are doing is totally backassards from the way Mother Nature does it. Some fools never learn that you just can’t improve on God’s plan.

    • You bet. Everything is upside down right now. By simply saying “no” to throwing away organic matter, you become a revolutionary.

      I also once heard it said that hard work isn’t the father of innovation… laziness is. It just makes sense to mimic the design found in nature.

  • susan

    No matter how deeply I bury the scraps, the critters dig them up. Very frustrating. (They also eat all my fruit and many vegetables.) I live in the suburbs so can’t trap or kill them….

  • Steve

    David, I went out to the garden Monday and as I walked up to get a few tomatoes the plants didn’t look right. Upon closer inspection I realized it was late blight, we had such a problem here in Western NY last year that the co-op put on a special class last fall on blight. I harvested my tomatoes on the spot and everything else was put in black plastic bags that were tied off and left to bake in the sun for 3 days and were landfilled today as per the class so as not to contaminant my compost pile. I easily threw out 50 lbs of plant mass. Is there a safe way to compost plant mass with blight?

  • mike

    Thanks David. Growing soil is probably the most important topic, next to saving seeds. Tho not too fine a point, skip the meat and plastics.

  • GeeMan

    Thanks so much for this article! I always helped my parents in their garden and am now starting a container garden on my apts back porch. I’ve got a container specifically for compost, but, I’ve always heard not to put meat or bones in it. Also, I’ve heard that decomposing material will heat the soil too much for growth. It’s really refreshing to have somebody put actual experience into their writing and I want to thank you so much for writing this and making my harvests that much better.

  • Carol

    David the Good indeed! I love this article. It’s the best one I’ve ever read on composting – quick and simple, just like it ought to be.

  • Kerry

    My grandparents composted much like this. They dug a big pit way up at the edge of their orchard, and every night they threw all the organic waste into the pit. When it was mostly full, they filled it in, and planted a tree on top, then dug a new pit. They had a farm, so they didn’t worry about smells from the pit or about the raccoons, skunks, etc., who visited every night. Worked for them!

  • Steve

    What can you do with tomato plants with late blight? Walked out to the garden on Monday morning and saw the first signs of blight, Gleamed garden on the spot, put all plant material in black plastic bags and let bake in sun for 3 days, landfill on Friday, (as per co-op class on blight) lost at least 50lbs of plant material. Was that the right thing to do? I normally compost all garden waste.

    • Joe

      Hi Steve,

      You can compost the plants with blight for sure. You just have to get them hot enough (55C) to kill the pathogens. It’s the same with composting animal bits and weeds to kill the pathogens and weed seeds.
      I suspect that putting them in black plastic bags in the sun for a week would heat them up enough to kill most pathogens, but then put them in a good, hot compost pile and let Nature take her course. Just make sure the pile reaches and stays at 55 C for at least 4 days in a row. This will usually occur in the middle of the second week when the pile is at it’s hottest. Geoff Lawton and Elaine Ingham both have some good videos on composting that you can probably find on YouTube for more tips. Make sure it’s at least 1 cubic meter of material so it will get hot enough.

  • Bonniea

    Amazingly simple! We have a compost pile for vegetation, but what a blessing to know how to compost meat scraps and other more challenging (or at least so we thought) items. Welcome, welcome, welcome! Visit here any time. I shall regularly visit and glean. Thanks for all the super tips.:)

  • Joanne

    Thanks, Dave. I’d like to know what to do with piles of pine cone leaves disassembled by the squirrels, and piles of pine needles. I have a compost pile, but don’t want to make it too acidic for the garden.

  • Brenda

    I’ve had compost guilt for many years now but I think I’m over it. I got your books and love them. My ‘senior’ composting methods lately have been “chop and drop”. I have done the pit thing in the past and plan to utilize it again.

  • Liz

    Great idea, David! I have been composting in 5 gallon buckets and a patch out behind a shed. I like this idea of digging a hole for the compost. I’m starting a melon pit today!

  • Malcolm

    Great article, thanks Dave.

  • Mel

    Awesome article. 🙂 Composting is really so easy.

  • Lee

    We have one of those composters from the store that you can turn with a crank handle on the outside. Compost has been put into it once a week, but we usually generate food waste almost on a daily basis. Can one add to the compost every day, or only at certain times? I’ve been told that one can only add to it on a weekly basis. Thank you.

  • Malika

    Sorry, I would not use any junk mail or newspaper in my compost! Bleach treated paper, toxic inks…

  • Thank you for the great article! I have been trying to get started with composting. It just kills me to throw things away that I know can be so beneficial for my plants. I have been saving scraps for a couple of weeks now I know what I can do with it!!

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