Composting: A Lovely Bunch of Garbage


Creating Compost

Composting is the decomposition of once living things to make an excellent garden soil amendment. Dark and rich, it's everything that the Santa Fe soil doesn't have.

So, I bet you’re eating lots of watermelon, cantaloupe, salads and all kinds of vegetables this summer. The season seems to call for it. But what do you do with the rinds, the skins, the leftovers put them in a compost pile. Composting is the decomposition of once living things to make an excellent garden soil amendment.

I’ve been actively composting for nearly 20 years now, and the soil I’ve come up with is luscious. Dark and rich, it’s everything that the Santa Fe soil doesn’t have.

Information on composting can be rather intimidating. I mean, figuring out the carbon to nitrogen ratio, mass to moisture ratio, and air circulation. It doesn’t need to be all that complicated if your mind doesn’t work that way. My friend, Art, just tosses his rinds and such out the kitchen window and every few days throws on some dirt. It can be that simple.

What I’ve made is a square bin of stacked cinder blocks, three high. I’ve turned the blocks so they alternate the closed and open ends. On the open ends I’ve bent pieces of wire mesh to let the air in. Seems to work, primitive as it is.

How to do it

The basics are—just toss in ingredients, cover with straw or leaves and keep watered.

What to use

  • Kitchen waste
  • Melon rinds
  • Banana, apple and onion peels
  • Cabbage leaves
  • Celery stalks
  • Carrot tops
  • Old lettuce
  • And any other vegetable and fruit scraps
  • Yard waste
  • Dead flowers and leaves
  • Pine needles

Adding Nitrogen

What helps to get things “cooking” (breaking down) is the addition of nitrogen, which comes in the form of manure, or even grass clippings. I’ve used horse, steer and sheep manure. Now I prefer sheep.

Adding Carbon

This is why I use straw. It also keeps the new soil that’s being formed from compacting. Some people also add shredded newspapers.

What not to use

  • Potatoes (unless you want potato plants all over your garden)
  • Dairy products
  • Meat and fish
  • Oils
  • Foods (such as bread, crackers, cake etc)
  • Weeds
  • Sawdust and shavings from chemically treated woods
  • Diseased plants
  • Water

Be sure to keep the compost wet. If it dries out, the microorganisms can’t do their job.


A shovel or pitchfork

Odors and Pests?

I’ve never noticed any adverse smells coming from my compost pile, and the only pests I have is the occasional raccoon.

Turning the Pile

Some people turn their pile once a month, but it’s not necessary. I stir things up only a bit when I dig a hole to add more material. Spring time is when I do the serious turning, when I rake off the top stuff that hasn’t decomposed to get at bottom tuff that is ready for the garden. Then I put the former top stuff on the bottom, and the pile is all ready for new garbage. The true test that you’re doing things right is when worms begin worming their way through the pile. Also, you’ll know your garbage is truly lovely when it smells earthy, fertile and sweet. There’s nothing like it.

A good site for more information about composting is

One thought on “Composting: A Lovely Bunch of Garbage”

  • Sharon Gherman
    Sharon Gherman 11/03/09 at 6:00 am

    Here in the Interior of Alaska, I've composted for nearly 20 years. Since our frost-free season is much shorter than in the "Lower 48", I compost in a big Rubbermaid tub.

    I drilled 3/4" holes about an inch or two down from the top of the bin all the way around and 6-8 holes through the bottom of the bin. I set the bin in a concrete pan on several bricks to let excess liquid drain through.

    All our kitchen waste (less meat and grease, as you mentioned) goes into the bin, but I also use a lot of shredded office paper, mixed with red worms (although I have some nightcrawlers in there as well for my fisherman husband). I dig a hole in the bin, empty the compost pail into it, pack it down into the hole a bit, then cover it all with some of the shredded paper. The paper keeps the mix at the consistency I like it -- not dripping wet, but moist. The worms love it.

    In the summer, the bin goes out onto the deck or into the garden, and each fall or when the bin gets full, I empty almost everything in it (worms and all) into my planting beds. The worms, surprisingly, do pretty well over the winter, and what a difference it makes in my planting beds! As long as there are a few worms left in the bin after I empty it, I just add paper and kitchen scraps and it begins to develop again. Worms multiply like rabbits when they have lots of food.

    It's a great way to use office paper and, like you, I never have had a bad smell develop as long as I've kept the shredded paper on the top.

    Hey David, when are you going to take an interest in all us gardeners in Alaska? You've missed some of the most dedicated, innovative gardeners in the world, and we'd love to show you some of the ways we've found to grow incredible flowers and fruit!

    I've seen your plants at my sister's in WY, and I'd love to figure out a way to expand your shipping area so I can take advantage of your great plants as well. There are lots of us Master Gardeners in Alaska who feel the same way, so don't discount the potential market!

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