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Turn, Turn, Turn

If you’ve decided to significantly reduce your household waste by composting (congrats!), you need more information about where to put all of the compostable material.


As I’ve mentioned, the first time I saw outdoor composting, it was literally a free-standing compost pile on the edge of a large property. Most of us don’t have that kind of space (or tolerance for what some municipalities might call unsightliness). Even with small yards, there are a variety of options. I’m not the handiest of people, but if you are, there are many sites that can assist in helping you build your own:

If you are more like me and want something quick and easy to set up, then buying an already-made composter is the way to go. They can be as cheap as $75 and can run into models that are several hundred dollars. One main difference is between a rotating tumbler (the idea that more frequent turning produces compost faster) and a traditional, stationary model that has contact with the ground (allowing worms and other beneficial critters to enter the compost). Those with back problems may prefer a rotating tumbler, as it’s easier to turn a rolling bin with a handle than it is to turn a heavy heap of compost with a shovel or spade. It’s also a bit more fun!


Another factor is capacity. The bigger the composter, the more expensive it will be. You can buy a composter at any hardware retailer and there are many online options. Here are some sites that offer reviews:

For those who don’t have a backyard or a place outside to compost, there is an indoor, electric option. They are pricier than most outside options and don’t have a lot of capacity, but they are convenient and get the job done. Here are some reviews that give more information about the type of options that exist:

For those who know me, it would not be surprising to learn that I now have four composters:

  • This is the original one we bought when we first started. I now use it primarily as a staging area once compost has been created from our larger composter.





  • The “iron lung” as my wife calls it: a very large, dual-chamber rotating model that is where I do all of my main composting. The advantage of two chambers is that you are not constantly adding new organic material to a single chamber; you can give one batch time to process.





  • Two, free-standing basic models that I use exclusively for “bad” compost – a subject that will be addressed in a later post.




In general, there are two keys to creating good compost: turning the material on some frequency (the more you turn it, the quicker it becomes compost) and the mixture of “greens” and “browns.” This site gives a nice, short explanation. Essentially, the “greens” are the nitrogen, like all of your food waste, plus any type of relevant yard waste. The “browns” are the carbon, such as dry material needed to help break down the greens (paper, leaves, etc.). You will see many different recommendations for the ratio needed of “browns” to “greens” and I continue to play with that ratio even today. In short, you need much more of the brown items than the green ones, at least three to four times as much.The “browns” are what keep the smell away too.


To summarize the overall steps of composting:

1. Collect compostable items inside your home and find a temporary place to store them

2. If using an outside composter, bring the materials outside a couple of times a week

3. Ensure you are adding lots of brown materials

4. Turn the pile, either with a shovel for stationary composters or the handle for rotating composters

5. If you start small, and turn the pile frequently enough, you should have rich, fertile compost in four to six weeks


In doing research for this post, I came across this quote from Popular Science: “Once you get into it, composting can be addicting, and become less like a chore and more like a fun activity.” I could not agree more. The key is getting started, even on a small scale, and you truly will be amazed at how so much material decomposes into a far smaller amount that is a great addition to any garden. Good luck!



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