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Organic Gardening

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


Get Past Your Fears and Start Composting

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.


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