Composting: It’s easier than you think. Really!

We know what you’re thinking – composting is a ton of work, and it makes your yard smell really bad. But guess what? Anyone can produce rich compost your garden will love. All you need is a bit of time and a lot of patience.

Master Gardener Cheryl Wilfong is the Vermont-based author of The Real Dirt on Composting, and she has the right attitude. “My compost pile is not the focus of my life,” she says. We asked Cheryl to teach us how it’s done:

How should beginner composters to get started?
The easiest way to start is with black plastic closed-bin units. Buy one now and one next year, because if you actually want to use your compost, you need to set it aside and let it rest. It’s really hard, if you’re adding to the top, to subtract from the bottom, because they tend to collapse. And then, you get just three trowelfuls of nice-looking compost.

What about open bins?
I love open bins! One of my Master Composter friends says the black plastic system is composting with training wheels. I have a three-bin system, because I live out in the woods, so I’m okay with the critters coming by. But lots of people are skittish about that, so the black plastic system will satisfy their neighbors.

Do we have to wait until spring to start?
You can start any time of year. If you have the oomph to do it now, then do it. Setting up compost bins is a bit more awkward in the snow. You’ll want that pile close to the house, or the driveway, within easy reach.

What goes in and what stays out?
Just put food scraps and crushed up leaves in at the same time, then you’ll have your balance of green and brown. If you’re a heavy-duty gardener as I am, you’ll have enough garden waste to go in. Don’t put weeds in, though!

Is there any way to discourage animals from making a huge mess around your composter?
If you’ve got a cat or dog, that’s your best defense! Otherwise, critters are going to come.

What’s the most important thing to know about composting?
Patience is the key! And sometimes that means two or three years. That’s because our little home composter is very unlikely to get hot. It can get hot, but you have to work at it: Every time you take out your compost, dig in and bury your new compost in the middle, and keep mixing things up. Nowadays, many of us want to live greener, and you can start to save the planet in your own yard with compost.


Cheryl Wilfong

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