Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

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If you make a plentiful supply of good compost, you can screen it to remove large particles and be self-sufficient in seedling and potting compost. In the summer months, compost piles work fast. If you can set aside some time before cold weather to screen the amount of compost you will need for seedlings in the spring, you can then have unfrozen compost ready to use when you need it in January or February.

Even better, if you put the screened compost into some kind of bin, bed or box in your greenhouse, you can transplant lettuce into it, and the watering to keep the lettuce growing will help the compost organisms to mellow out the compost over the winter.

Worm eggs will hatch out, the lettuce roots will make air channels throughout the bin, and you can harvest the lettuce before you need to sow seedlings.

Making Compost Screens

There are two basic styles of compost screen. We make flat frames that fit over a wheelbarrow, and screen into the barrows. Another approach is to make a free-standing frame and throw compost at it, so that it (to some extent) screens itself. Then you shovel the compost into a wheelbarrow. Each type has its advantages.

To make a flat compost screen, cut two sets of battens and make two frames that will sit on top of a wheelbarrow. Then cut some rat wire (hardware cloth), sandwich it between the two frames and bolt the sandwich together. This method makes it easy to switch to new wire when the old piece wears out.

Alternatively, make one frame and staple the hardware cloth to it, for a less durable frame. For a free-standing frame, study the photo.

Free-standing compost screen in use. Photo by Beth LeaMond 

A third alternative would be a flat screen suspended at all four corners from a swing-set frame or a convenient horizontal tree limb. Put a tarp on the ground and shuffle the frame as archeologists do when sifting through soil.

Using the flat screens on wheelbarrows feels a bit like doing archeology, with the advantage that the compost lands in the wheelbarrow and doesn't need to be shoveled back up off the ground.

How to Screen Compost

I'll tell you how we use the flat screens on wheelbarrows, as that's our favorite. We have a special collection of compost-screening tools, which are mostly regular hoe heads on short handles. Some people use the Korean Ho-Mi tool for this task. You are looking for a comfortable hand tool that will not destroy the wire.

Shovel a modest amount of compost onto the screen at one end. Use the tool to push the compost back and forth so that the small particles fall through and the bigger pieces stay on the screen. It's important not to scrape the compost back and forth, as the metal tools can break up the wire quite fast. Try to minimize direct contact between the tool and the wire.

We then move any rocks from the screen into buckets with holes in the bottom. Our rock buckets can sit around for months collecting rocks, and having holes in the bottom lets the rain drain out. Another holey bucket collects up any woody materials or undigested compost materials, to go back for another chance at being composted.


Using the flat compost screen on a wheelbarrow. Photo by Wren Vile

It helps to have fairly dry compost for screening. If it's too wet, you can set some to dry on top of the screen, and do some other work for a few hours. In very hot summers, we have even erected a canopy over our screening site, top make the job more pleasant.

We use a large amount of compost, so this job takes us days. It's a job we fit in around more urgent tasks, over a period of weeks. Our greenhouse has beds built of loose-fit cinder blocks, and we set up boards across the tops of the beds, so we can get to the far end of the greenhouse. It's a challenge at first to stay on the boards, but the worst that can happen is to tip the barrow and fall 18 inches off the boards!

Our greenhouse is designed for spring seedling production. We don't grow anything there in summer — it's empty down to the concrete floor. For a smaller operation, you can simply fill any series of bins or tubs or boxes inside your greenhouse. Get them in position near the windows before you fill them.  

Growing Winter Greenhouse Lettuce

When the bins are full, water the compost enough to keep it damp and alive until you transplant your lettuce. We transplant ours in early October (our first frost is mid-October). Use cold-hardy leaf types or romaines.

If you are ready a long time before winter lettuce transplanting time, you could perhaps grow a different short-term crop in the compost first. You can harvest outer leaves from the lettuce whenever they are big enough, all winter long. Then start to clear them when you need to use the compost for seedlings.

Young lettuce plants in greenhouse beds in October. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Using Homemade Compost for Seedlings

We start our seedlings in mid-January, although we only sow a few things the first week, and harvesting one or two lettuces would clear enough compost for those flats. We do not mix any other ingredients with our compost when we use it for sowing seeds, or for potting up transplants. We make great compost and it serves us well. The plants grow big and strong.

The only issue we sometimes have is aphids, which we deal with by gathering up lady bugs, or if numbers of aphids per ladybug are too high, we use a soap spray. It's certainly nice to know what our plants are growing in, and not to be lugging bags of mix back from the store.

Pam Dawling manages the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MOTHER EARTH NEWS Fairs. Pam also writes for Growing for Market magazine. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store. Pam's blog is on her website and also on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



Extending the growing season in the Pacific Northwest can be tricky. There are two limiting factors — light and warmth. Without adding electric lights, there is not much we can do about the amount of light we receive. The region is divided by the 45th parallel. In winter, the sun comes up around 7am, sets by 4:30pm, is low in the sky, and is often obscured by clouds.

When I experimented with lettuce seed in the new greenhouse last January by planting a 6-pack every Saturday for 2 months, none of it sprouted for weeks, then it sat in the 6-packs, waiting for light, until Mid-February, when it all took off.  Without lights, nothing will really grow between Halloween and Candlemas.

The goal in winter gardening is to get the growth on by the early fall, as the light declines,  keep it for harvest in the mid-winter and  protect the crops waiting for spring in the fields. Then, in the spring, we want to dry and prep the soil a little earlier, plant out tough early crops, and provide a little extra warmth until the light levels really kick in. This is where flexible hoop houses come into action.

PVC vs Aluminum Tubes for Hoop Houses

After messing around for years with PVC pipe found by the side of the road (free!) and repurposed windows on a wooden cold frame (also free!), I have upgraded to 10-foot-long aluminum tubes, bent by a friend in exchange for a hand-knit hat. They are amazing, both in my home garden of raised beds and in the fields of Sunbow Farm, where I first saw them in action.

These hoops are solid. Unlike the PVC pipe, they are thin enough to sink all the way into the garden bed. They do not flop around, nor do they bend. I use five on a ten foot bed which keeps the plastic sheeting up off of the plants despite rains, winds, and the cats, who love warm tunnels in the early spring.

They hold the curve, unlike the PVC, which was always spreading. They are lightweight and easy to maneuver in tight spaces. And they are high enough, unlike my windows and cold frame, to allow plants to really grow before they need to be removed. The corn I started under hoops was a foot tall before I removed the row cover.


They are flexible. They hold up plastic sheeting in the early spring to keep off the rains and allow the soil to dry out a bit before planting, which helps control slugs. Later, they carry various levels of floating row cover to protect for insects or provide a little warmth.

Hoop Houses Useful During All Seasons

In the middle of the summer, shade cloth keeps my early fall and winter crops cool. When they are not being used over garden beds, they become a fine fence. Several overlapping hoops are keeping the asparagus ferns from falling into the path while others hold back the potato vines. They add a modern, geometric touch to a garden that often looks old-fashioned, homey, and chaotic in the peak of summer.

In the fields of Sunbow Farm, they have other uses as well. The moveable hoops have replaced a large hoop house that collapsed under the weight of a heavy snowfall several years ago — and are cheaper than the larger structure, as well as more flexible. Angled the right way, they create a wind block from the evening sea “breeze” that comes over the Coast Range.

One long range of hoops covered in row cloth not only protects the tomato plants underneath, but also the next row. Last summer, they created a solarizing tube to kill weed seeds in the compost piles. In the early spring, cauliflower plants that spent the winter under the heavy row cover of hoops budded out several weeks earlier than ones that spent the winter unprotected in the fields.

We love the hoops. Nate at Sunbow purchased the pipe bender from Johnny’s Seeds two winters ago. The tubing — a 10-foot lengths of half-inch EMT conduit — comes from our local hardware store. I have 10, enough to cover two 10-foot garden beds. He has dozens, scattered all over the farm. For both of us, they have been transformative.

Charlyn Ellis has been growing vegetables since she was five years old, when her mother bought her her first rake and pitchfork. She and her family are urban homesteaders and have a large organic vegetable garden, fruit trees, a beehive, four chickens, one rabbit, and two cats on a small urban lot in the center of town, surrounded by college students. Charlyn considers permaculture principles when she makes changes in her designs, especially the idea that the problem is the solution. Find her online at 21st Street Urban Homestead, and read all of Charlyn's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


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flowers and vegetables in garden

When we bought our homestead, the only gardening area was at the bottom of a fairly steep hill. Though fine for growing a winter’s worth of potatoes and squash, it’s less convenient for greens, which we harvest daily in the summer and so prefer to grow close to the house. With this in mind, we decided to turn part of our front lawn into a garden.

Having read about a method called "lasagna gardening" (named for its layers; learn the basics here), we decided to try it. Egged on by its success, we extended the garden the following year only this time incorporating hugelkultur techniques. Here’s how we did it.

Step 1: Smother the Lawn

Our initial effort involved trying to dig out the grass. But with only shovels, we found the process arduous and ineffective. The grass roots were so thick we had the impression of digging wire. After several hours, we’d managed to uproot a few square feet of lawn. No doubt we left roots and seeds intact.

So, instead, we decided to smother the lawn. We began the process four summers ago by placing large sheets of cardboard onto the area we wanted to smother. (Our source of cardboard was the dumpster, but if dumpster diving doesn’t suit you, a large-appliance store may have boxes to spare.)

Step 2: Add Layers of Brown and Green Organic Matter

We tucked compostable kitchen scraps including organic coffee grounds and loose-leaf tea under the cardboard. We piled rhubarb leaves, comfrey leaves, weeds and other organic matter from the garden on top.

Next, we hauled wheelbarrows full of leaf mold and other composted material from the garden and dumped it onto the cardboard. Fortunate to have a ditch full of rich soil, we hauled wheelbarrows full of that as well. Each time we mowed the remainder of the lawn, we added grass clippings to the heap. We also added composted manure from our hens.

In the autumn, we placed leaves, branches and twigs onto the heap. (We avoided using certain types of wood, including that from black locust, walnut, and cedar trees.) Throughout the winter, we continued to tuck kitchen compost into the heap. We still do.

What we don’t recommend are raw eggshells. We tried those and they invited skunks. So now if we’re planning to use eggshells, we dry them first in the oven.

Step 3: Plant Strong-Rooted Crops the First Year

By spring, the grass roots were dead. The soil was teeming with earthworms. We celebrated these achievements.

Since the larger branches were not fully decomposed, we shifted them as necessary and cleared small spots on the heap where there was enough soil in which to plant.

Then we planted a variety of vegetables and herbs. Radishes grew well. So did sunchokes, hyssop, oregano, lemon verbena, rosemary, sage, lavender and thyme.

Squash was a particular success since the stems takes up little space (hence, fit well into small spots on the heap), yet each plant produces a lot of fruit. Any type works well, but choose just one to prevent cross-pollination.

Some of what we planted (i.e. oregano, lavender and sage) are perennials. Not only is this wonderful because we get new crops each spring without any work, but also because they crowd out weeds.

Step 4: Shape the Soil into Raised Beds

By the third spring, the branches (along with the smaller organic matter) had decomposed sufficiently to enable us to shape the soil into beds of about eight-feet long and three-feet wide. This configuration has facilitated growing lettuces, arugula, chard, pepper cress, chives, tomatoes and several other crops.

Now in its fourth season, the lasagna garden is thriving. In addition to the crops we had last year, we’re also growing pole beans along a fence we’ve installed. And though we didn’t plant potatoes or garlic (we plant those in the lower garden), they’re growing too, no doubt volunteers from kitchen scraps we’d tucked into the heap as compost.

Step 5: Continue the Composting Process

We continue to add compostable kitchen scraps, grass clippings, leaves and twigs by tucking them into the beds. This method of composting not only enriches the soil, but also simplifies the process since it saves us the step of having to move the compost once it’s formed.  

Step 6: Deter Weeds in the Walkways and Around the Borders

In order to deter weeds from growing between the beds, we’ve lined the narrow walkways with a combination of newspaper and cardboard and covered it with straw. We repeat the process each spring.

Since we haven’t turned our entire lawn into a garden (parts are too shady), we also use the cardboard and straw method around the borders of the garden to prevent grass from encroaching.

Step 7: Build Hugelkultur Beds

Encouraged by the success of our lasagna garden, we decided three years ago to smother more of the lawn, and then build hugelkultur beds. The main difference between the lasagna method and the hugelkultur method is that the latter involves digging trenches, burying logs closely together about a foot beneath the soil, and then building the beds several feet high.

Other than that, we’ve proceeded in much the same way as outlined in the previous steps. We add brown and green organic matter on a regular basis (usually in the form of kitchen compost, but also in the form of rhubarb leaves, potato leaves, asparagus stems and other non-edibles from our lower garden).

An advantage of hugelkultur is that the logs absorb snow and rain, and so keep the soil moist. This is particularly useful in drier climates such as ours. Another advantage is that as they decay, the logs release nutrients and aerate the soil.

Since decaying logs draw nitrogen, we offset this depletion by filling in the gaps around the logs with grass clippings.

Adding grass clippings has another benefit as well: it eliminates the spaces where wasps can build underground hives. We failed to do so and wasps made their home in a bed.

Our rather offbeat method of having the wasps leave or die (we’re not sure which) involved placing an old boiled-wool blanket over their entrance. Though passers-by may have wondered why a blanket covered part of our garden, the process worked. And we learned our lesson. When the wasps were gone, we removed the blanket, dug up the beds, filled in the gaps around the logs with grass clippings, soil and compost, watered the area well and then reshaped the beds. Our garden is now wasp free.


Our initial reason for converting the lawn to a garden involved convenience. Quite simply, we wanted to be able to open the front door for a head of lettuce or a sprig of thyme. (In permaculture lingo, our lower garden is Zone 2 out of 5 — we wanted a zone one garden for greens and herbs.) What we have now is that and more.

It turns out neither the lasagna nor the hugelkultur beds require tilling. This is advantageous not only because it saves labor (which we then can use elsewhere), but also because it keeps the worm tunnels intact and discourages the dispersion of weeds.

As for weeds, we have surprisingly few. No doubt this is the result of the no-till method, but also of having smothered weed seeds along with the lawn. It probably helps too that we grow certain crops such as oregano that seem to keep weeds at bay. And when we harvest a crop from its roots, we plant something else in its place. Experience has taught us that if we don’t do so, Mother Nature will. And more often than not she chooses weeds. As for hugelkultur beds that are not yet ready for planting, we cover them with cardboard and heavy flakes of straw.

Some may consider a vegetable garden in front of the house unsightly. We disagree. We created the garden to have a convenient space to grow our herbs and greens. But an unexpected gift is its beauty. In our eyes, the garden is a joy to behold.

Felicia Rose lives and works on a small homestead in northern Utah. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



Hops are a wonderful addition to any homestead. It’s hard not to love this plant. Beware! Some consider this an invasive species, so research how this will work in your particular situation.


A quick word on invasive species: In many cases, “invasive species” are not really invasive at all but are simply a response from nature to our poor land-management practices. They are telling us something about the land. Is the soil compacted? Have minerals and nutrients been so depleted from the land that the invasive (pioneer) species are the only plants that will grow and contribute biomass and nutrient recycling back to the land?


In the case of hops, Humulus lupulus, there is too much goodness to not consider this addition to the homestead. The quick answer? Hops provide excellent shade, prolific forage for animals, superb medicinal benefits and, of course, they are great for home brewing beer and cider.


If you want a bit more detail and you like listening to podcasts check out Episode 112 of The Prepared Homestead Podcast.


Site Location


Plant hops in a sunny location that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of sun, more if possible. They prefer moist climates and do just fine in most soils. Hops are hardy down to USDA hardiness Zone 3.


However, pay particular attention to the microclimate when considering site placement. Once established, they are fairly drought-tolerant and can also stand lots of moisture. This is a hardy, easy to grow plant!


Reasons for Growing Hops


1. Hops make great shade! Hops can grow up to 25 feet long with thick heavy vines and broad leaves. If you have an area of over-exposure to sun and want to shade the space, hops work very well.


Once established, they start growing before summer arrives and are fully leafed out by peak heat in most locations. In the fall, when the weather is beginning to cool, they die back and allow the sun back in to the site.


Strategically placed hops can provide excellent shade over a pergola or trellis. Commercial trellis systems are 18 feet high, which gives the homesteader an indication as to how they could use them in certain areas.




2. Hops provide very good animal forage. The plant leaves and the hops (flower) themselves make a great animal feed supplement. I wouldn’t try to have animals subsist on hops alone, but they are a great addition that many believe improve growth performance, feed efficiency, rumen fermentation, efficiency of feed digestion, and anti-microbial activity against E. coli.


Our goats and rabbits love to snack on hops. Placed in the right area, periodic animal pressure could provide all the pruning required. This is how it works on our homestead. Our goats keep the hops from over-running the entrance to one of our gardens and this makes for a symbiotic relationship where the animals get great feed, the plant stays under control, and the humans don’t have to do as much work!


3. Hops have many traditional medicinal uses. Hops have been effectively used to help relieve nervousness (anti-anxiety), as a sleep aid, and as an aromatic bitter to aid in digestion and improve appetite.


It is not uncommon for us to grab some lemon balm, mint, and chamomile from the garden and add some dried hops to make an infusion before bed. Hops have been studied as a replacement for antibiotics in cattle with some success. Hops also display antibacterial properties, which is one of the reasons they are heavily used in brewing beer.



4. Hops are fantastic for use in home brewing of beer and cider. Keep in mind growing your own hops will take some experimentation regarding home brewing. It’s not going to be as scientific as buying hops pellets from brewing-supply companies, but it’s a lot of fun. It might be worth it to run an experiment using commercial hop pellets side by side with a batch of homegrown hops. Check out buying pellets here.


Hops are used as a preserving and flavoring agent. They are mainly used to provide bitterness and aroma to beer. In the hop flower, there are little yellow sacs called lupulin glands that hold alpha and beta acids and essential oils — the alpha compounds give brew its bitterness, the essential oils provide aroma and the beta acids are generally not desired.


In the end, growing hops is fun, easy and rewarding. Even if you have no desire to home brew, consider hops for the many other valuable reasons stated here. If you want to deep dive into growing hops, check out the Hop Grower’s Handbook by Laura Ten Eyck.


Photos by Linda Mitzel, P3 Photography


Sean and Monica Mitzel homestead with their family on 40 acres and are using permaculture techniques and methods for the property. The homestead is a demonstration and education site where they teach workshops and raise dairy goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, and ducks. The Mitzels have planted food forests, guilds and enjoy wildcrafting and propagating plants. Sean and Monica can often be found podcasting or speaking and teaching at different events. Listen to the podcast and to learn more about the Mitzels, visit The Prepared Homestead. Read all of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Greens for topping

I was removing the pervasive field bindweed from my garden in a meditative zen sort of way during the early morning hours. I looked up to see a fellow villager strolling along with her daughter. We smiled, greeted one another, and then I asked her a simple question. I spread my hands wide and queried, “Do you think this is ugly?”

Without pause, she responded, “No. But I know that you’re doing that natural landscaping thing.”

I have no idea who this neighbor is. However, I got the sense that she knows about the vision I have for my yard from whatever scuttlebutt is going through our wee town. You see, the Council has once again decided that I need to return to compliance. My grass is too tall and I have noxious weeds on my property.

If you’ve poked around my home website or you’ve known me more than a couple of years, you likely know about my travails with our local village and our lawn mowing.

City Codes and Lawn Care

Quick snapshot of the situation: My husband and I wanted to take a more active role in helping out the planet 2 years ago, so we decided to purposely mow less yard. We planned out pathways through the lawn with new beds in place and more beds and vignettes planned, then let the rest grow.

Ohio had, at that time, a limit of 12 inches on the height of lawn in any municipality that adopted their code or didn’t otherwise amend it to their own desires. Our village adopts the Ohio Revised Code, as is, each year when it is revised. The height limit for grass has, since 2014, been shortened to 6 inches.

Anyone who knows healthy lawn maintenance will tell you that that length borders on absurd and unreasonable because the grass is measured from the base. We maintain our healthy, mowed sections of lawn at about 4 inches. Most folks mow much shorter and end up with brown lawns by summer’s end.

This month, while at the council meeting, I was informed that we were going to have to both mow and remove all noxious weeds from our yard. Last year, we were able to maintain our garden as we wished, and it was glorious to spend time in this intentionally created sanctuary each and every day.

A Humble, Natural-Landscaping Request

I’ll get to a dinner recipe in a moment. First, my humble request.

I assume that most MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers know and understand the concept of natural landscaping. If you don’t, read up on it a little — it’s a fascinating subject. There are plenty of sites and links on the internet. There are also a growing number of books on the subject (which includes de-lawning). My Humble Request: Please don’t keep this understandable and sustainable way of gardening to yourself. Share your knowledge with others.

If you are like me, you have family members who follow more traditional routines of yard maintenance. They may be like my Council, typical Midwesterners who love a great expanse of mowed lawn. I understand that they can’t comprehend how my garden is sacred to me — very literally my church. However, I can’t help but think that if more of you, dear readers, would share these ideas with friends and relatives — if that neighbor who understood my concept of gardening did the same — perhaps our powers-that-be might come to know that this isn’t one strange member of their community but a growing movement around the world.

My land is a very spiritual place to me. I am one with it. The wildlife sharing this little patch are my family. I talk to the spiders, birds, insects, and plants — we nurture each other. For cryin' in a bucket (as Ohio-born in-laws used to say), I've actually been feeling the vibrations in some of the plants over the past few days. But, I’m different and so is my yard.

My Council members only see what they want to see and have no tolerance for my "oddball" choices because, you know, they're ugly. Judge for yourself, I’ve created a video. It’s a quick 5-minute walkabout.

Regardless of what anyone else thinks, I have an intimate and spiritual connection with my garden and will continue to do so no matter what they believe. The question is how much healing my land and I will continue to have to do. I have a feeling if they heard from enough of their friends and relatives — felt just a little pushback — they might start to see there are more ways than theirs.

On with the food!

Noxious Weeds Fish Tacos Recipe

Noxious Taco ingredients

Beside throwing plantain leaves (one of those aforementioned noxious weeds) in my smoothie each morning because I’m still battling poison ivy, I added some to my fish taco for dinner. I also added some noxious, chopped curly dock leaf — it added a delightful zing of bitterness.

I highly recommend that you acquaint yourselves with any plant and its attributes (or dangers) before adding it to your menu. We don’t want any accidental poisonings!


• Corn tortillas
• Tilapia, poached in olive oil and garlic
• Tomato, chopped and seeded
• Red bell pepper, chopped and seeded
• Cabbage, thinly sliced)
• Carrot, grated
• Zucchini, finely grated
• Fresh lime, quartered for juicing
• Topping, chopped: plantain leaf, cilantro, flat parsley, basil, curly dock leaf


1. Prepare all ingredients (see photo above).

2. Warm tortillas and layer in a foil pouch to keep warm. Serve.

3. Build your taco as desired. I loved the lime juice dousing all the ingredients.

My meal was excellent paired with the mild bitterness of Lagunitas Lucky 13 Ale. Because my husband can’t wrap his head around fish tacos, I fried him up a filet of panko-breaded catfish with sides of two different deli potato salads. He said his dinner was scrumptious and called it his Ohio Fish Taco. I’m more than content to stick with my divine noxious weeds.

tacos for dinner

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Compost pile

We've all seen article after article about the benefits of compost for the soil and in gardening. It is also an Earth-wise pursuit toward sustainable living. You can easily divert over half of what might otherwise sit in a landfill through recycling and composting. So why aren't more people doing this?

Maybe they live in an apartment and don't think they can compost. Maybe they are not interested in gardening and wouldn't know what to do with the compost. Maybe they think it is an awful, smelly, disgusting process. Maybe they think it would cost too much money for a fancy pre-built tumbler. Maybe they think it has to involve breeding worms.

How to Get Started Composting

Let me set the record straight. Composting can be done in any environment, from urban apartment to rural farm. Some cities actually have compost pickup similar to trash and recycling. Even if your city does not support this, there are many small-scale options for composting.

My favorite is also a cheap DIY compost project. You can turn a 5-gallon bucket into a compost bin simply by drilling holes into it. Start layering your green and brown materials with a little dirt thrown in to get it started. The holes in the bucket allow the much-needed airflow, and the lid/handle makes it easy to pick it up, roll it around, and give it a good shake every few days to keep the process going.

This will be a slow, "cold" composting process, so you may need a few buckets, but I was able to handle my family of four's kitchen scraps with four buckets for over 6 months before I decided I wanted to build myself a full-sized compost bin.

5 Gallon Bucket Composters

Does Compost Smell?

No, compost should not smell foul. If you keep the proper balance of brown and green materials and ensure it has enough oxygen, it will smell earthy — like dirt.

Believe me, I stuck my face down into one of my 5-gallon buckets and took a big whiff just to test this out. Smelled fine. I also have plenty of used coffee grounds in my compost, which helps with the overall smell and texture. And who doesn't have coffee grounds on hand in this day and age?

DIY Compost Bins

If you have the space for a larger compost bin, you can check out my post on creating an extremely easy pallet compost bin. Another low-cost option is to take a bit of chicken wire (or hardware cloth) and create a circular frame to hold the compost pile together. Larger bins such as these are great if you have more compostable materials, such as grass clippings, dead leaves, or garden waste, in addition to kitchen scraps.

Pallet Compost Bin 

Use it, Sell it or Give it Away!

Finally, even if you do not have a garden in which to use your compost, you could bag it and sell it or offer it to a neighbor who does garden in exchange for some of their fresh produce! I would gladly accept someone else's compost and give them fresh tomatoes, squash, or kale from my garden in return.

The point here is that with how good composting is for the planet and as a soil amendment in gardening, why would you not do it? The key is to just start, no matter how small or imperfect.

Rachel Stutts began yearning for a simpler lifestyle more rooted in family and community after having two children and continuing in the corporate rat race. Following conversations with her husband over drinks one date-night, they agreed to search for a new property where they now work toward some serious gardening and "lite homesteading" pursuits. Connect with Rachel at her amberBURST blog. Read all of Rache's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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