My 22-Bucket Yield from a 5-Hour Stint of Relaxed Composting

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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I celebrated our second batch of temperatures in the 60s this year by a dive into my compost pile. Well, not literally… it was more like a 5-hour overhaul. This is my way of relaxed composting. Spend at least 12 months piling, then remove the top 80 percent (but feels more like 99 percent) to get the great payoff.

The ‘Relaxed’ Composting Method

There are all kinds of ways to compost. Manufactured rotating bins will do it in weeks. I actually have a bin, gifted to me by a good friend, sitting in my garage waiting for me to assemble it. It will come in very handy for those items I want to make sure get to the higher temperatures that kill weed seeds and diseases. There are the multi-binned methods, making it easy to flip ingredients from one bin into the next as the compost gets stirred. There’s the permaculture method, even less work than mine, where the compostables are simply added to the garden beds to break down naturally.

The relaxed method I adhere to is an on-the-fly, in its own time, in my own fashion routine. For at least the past decade, my bins have been fashioned out of loose brick. This allows me to locate my bin wherever I wish and to change size and shape at will. It also supports me in my brick fetish, that may or may not be related to a childhood yearning for Legos® before there was such a thing.

I have friends who are more deliberate and diligent about their composting, cutting the larger pieces like corn stalks and tomato plants into shorter bits that will break down more quickly. I have done this to some degree in the past but find that my time always shifts to the kitchen, building more beds, or some other pursuit that grabs the creative parts of my brain. I’m guessing if I had a chopping machine of some sort or a bevy of human helpers, I’d be more diligent.

As it is, my relaxed method works for me. Beyond the black gold of soil that now sits in my basement waiting to nourish my soon-to-be seedlings, I was able to enjoy a lovely pre-spring day of meditative musing while I worked my way through the pile. I revisited with smiles some of the more delightful moments from the second season of Fargo (watched last week), I plotted out upcoming arting projects, and I imagined which beds I might add any leftover compost to as I further considered what will be growing where this year.

But most of all, I cherished nature and reveled in the wonder and beauty of this amazing world. Here is a pile of refuse: kitchen scraps, garden leftovers, leaf litter, balls of clay, occasional animal doo, and errant paper that sits in the elements gathering heat, moisture, and insects. Each of these things works in community to break down chunks of matter into the loveliest treasure for me to use in creating more refuse for the cycle — after I’ve played with the fruits of garden first, of course.

I’ll admit that my back wasn’t very humored by my zero to sixty activity levels yesterday. Winter has been spent more slothfully immobile at my work desk in arting pursuits. But I don’t pick the weather windows or let perfect moments slip by without action. And I know that I have the perfect over-worked muscle remedy at the ready in my cabinet.

A Compost Bin Built from Reclaimed Materials

In perfect unison with the practice of composting is the reuse that I employ. I began my chore by laying out the leftover piece of rubber roofing I reclaimed from the workers who re-roofed our house several years ago. This became the base where I could safely place my piled top layer and not worry about having to rake clean the grass beneath afterward. Frankly, my back would have refused to continue work at that point.

Next, I opened the front of my bin by removing the bricks and concrete blocks. As I pointed out earlier, I love the flexibility the bricks allow. They also allow for more air flow, especially when I space them specifically for it though this bin is more tightly built due to size. Only occasionally are the bricks knocked off, usually thanks to a neighborhood cat thinking there must be a snack in our pile—perhaps even one of the many birds who more frequently check out the stash.

I hefted off the top of the pile onto the roofing rubber and then scooped the bottom composted layer into empty cat litter buckets (another reuse item)—all 22 of them! I put the concrete blocks back in place and started moving the pile back into the bin. I tried to mix parts of barely composted with wet composting and partially broken down materials—this way I’ve stirred my stew well. When I had just a little left to go, I rebuilt my front wall, added a few more corn stalks from the bed to the front of the pile, then threw the rest on top.

I’ll mention here that the best ingredients for composting are plant materials. Never put fats or animal meat into your compost due to the varmints that will likely decide you have the best smorgasbord in town and will take up more permanent residence. The exception to this is that I add shells. Seafood and poultry shells likely have muscle or whites still attached. The shells add long-term, slow release calcium to my soil. The animal doo I refer to is not from our cats but from occasional fetching of alpaca litter, chicken over-wintering straw, or cattle dung from friends’ farms.

For more photos of the process and past compost bins, you can check out my Compost page.

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 atHumingsandBeing Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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