The Lazy Composter
Composting has a public relations problem: It sounds disgusting. And it sounds disgusting because, like most natural processes, it is disgusting. Our refined, highly-evolved and sophisticated sensibilities want little or nothing to do with the dirty natural world around us, and the nasty things it does to keep life on this planet moving forward. And the compost pile is no exception.
Compost, which is basically the process of natural decomposition of organic materials, is catching on as an alternative to simply throwing stuff away and sealing it up forever in a landfill somewhere. By letting natural processes break down this organic material (food scraps and yard waste in most cases,) it is returned to the earth as healthy, nutritious compost.
But why does it have to be so gross? In theory, it doesn’t. A well-maintained compost pile does its job without much fuss, and with no obnoxious smells or invasions of critters. That’s a WELL-MAINTAINED compost pile. And that’s my problem. I can never seem to get it right. And I seem to have little drive to do so.
I’ve written articles about composting HERE and HERE. And on paper, it’s a tremendously beneficial thing that everybody should be doing. We throw an awful lot of food away in this country. Millions of tons of it that simply goes to waste. Why not put it to good use, and use nature’s own biological engines to process it back into the nutrients that new plants thrive on? It’s really good, totally free organic fertilizer that gardens absolutely love.
But here are the reasons why I haven’t jumped onboard the compost express.
The Main Reason: Sheer Laziness. Any compost pile anywhere needs to be properly maintained in order to do its job well. The whole business of layering in brown and green materials, turning the pile, keeping animals out of it, all that bullshit seems like a lot of work to me. While I do enjoy vegetable gardening and basic lawn maintenance, I am a bit of a fancy man. Keeping a compost pile operating efficiently just looks like work.
Second Reason: I’m afraid of bugs. There, I said it. Again, a well-maintained compost pile works because of the microscopic bugs and bacteria that break organic matter down into compost. That’s awesome. Microscopic bugs are my favorites, because I can’t see them. But some of the critters that make compost inhabit what I call the ‘visible insect spectrum.’ And while it’s awesome that they’re making rich compost out of discarded food and yard waste, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to see them. And a compost pile that’s NOT well-maintained (which is undoubtedly what any compost pile of mine would be) is going to attract lots of non-beneficial insects. BIG ones. And I Do. Not. Have. Time. For. That. And I don’t even want to think about the buzzing, stinging, biting flying insects waiting to invade my imaginary compost pile. Nope.
And do not even get me started on snakes.
Reason Number Three: The Smells. If you take one thing away from this, it’s this: Everything about composting revolves around that fact that it must be properly maintained or things will spiral out of control. That may be an exaggeration, but all the complaints about composting come when they’re not well taken care of. And that includes the smell, my friends.
There’s no more natural smell on Earth than rich, healthy soil. Which is another word for compost. Decayed, composted organic material makes up a huge part of what we consider healthy dirt. It’s the smell of life. On the other hand, there is also the smell of rotting food garbage. That’s not so good. And that’s what a compost pile will start to smell like it things aren’t going well. And when I am involved, things often do not go well. It’s just a fact. My yard’s not big enough to get away from a steaming pile of stinking rotting food scraps.
Reason Four: The Sights. Even the fanciest, most expensive store-bought composter has to go somewhere. Here in Modern Suburbia, our homes are in rather close quarters, which I don’t mind one bit. But there’s nowhere I can put a compost pile where it’s not going to be seen by me or my neighbors. And I don’t think they have any desire to look out their windows at me sweating and swearing over a compost pile. I mean, I haven’t done any polling, but I’m making an educated guess.
Last Reason: Money. I’m too cheap to spend the hundreds of dollars it takes to get a really nice compost bin and all the tools of the trade that make things easy. Some call me frugal, some call me a cheap bastard. I’ll accept either.
Let’s recap: Composting is a Good Thing. Keeping a compost pile working efficiently takes Work. They sometimes stink. They sometimes attract animals. They sometimes aren’t so pleasant to be around in a small yard. So what does someone like me do? I want to turn my organic scraps back into the earth, not seal them in plastic bags for all eternity. But I don’t want the hassle of a compost pile or the scorn of my neighbors. I want to have my cake and eat it too. Jeez, I’m a selfish fella sometimes, aren’t I?
In an effort to not throw away so much perfectly good organic stuff, I’ve started doing something. I’m not entirely proud of it, and I think it may earn me the ridicule of the neighborhood as much as my theoretical poorly-maintained compost pile would. Something I call ‘lazy composting.’
Here’s how my Lazy Composting works. First, we have a guinea pig. This little guy is a prodigious eater. They did right by putting the word ‘pig’ in this animals’ name, because it fits. He’s the first step in my lazy composting process. He takes care of an amazing amount of leftover vegetable and fruit scraps. He’s Mikey. He’ll eat anything. And like it. He turns all this food into harmless little poopy pellets which are easily gotten rid of outside.
Second, for other items such as fruit or vegetables that have turned, they go into the woods. We luckily have a small wooded lot behind our house. There’s deer and rabbits and squirrels and other animals there that need to eat. Their normal diet consists of our expensive, well-manicured landscape plants, so anything I can do to get them eating somewhere else is worthwhile. Old apples, carrots, kiwi, oranges, things like this get pitched into the woods to let nature do with them what it will. The animals usually take care of this stuff before it gets a chance to start piling up. We try really hard to get it WAY OUT there so it’s not bothering anybody.
And last, the thing I’m most proud of, the most innovative aspect of lazy composting: I just throw the stuff into the yard. By stuff, I mean mainly banana peels and coffee grounds. For now, at least. A few weeks ago, I decided I didn’t want perfectly good banana peels to end up in the trash, so I just opened the door and threw one on the lawn. Much to my surprise, I went out a day later, after the peel had soaked in the sun, only to find it had blackened and shrunk to half its original size. A day after that, the damn thing had very nearly disappeared. Yes, I discovered that a banana peel left on a lawn literally vanishes after only a few days. Gone! Back to nature. The dehydrating power of the sun at work.
Here’s what I’m talking about:
I’ve been throwing coffee grounds on the lawn, and in the garden and landscaping, for a long time. It’s a neat little healthy snack for plants that otherwise just gets landfilled. My new trick is that I include the filter as well. It’s all going into the yard. Our paper, unbleached coffee filters dry out in the sun very quickly. Then, when I mow the grass, I simply mulch the filters just like leaves. Gone! Finely shredded and returned to nature.
The only sticking point to throwing this stuff on my lawn is the strange looks I may get from the neighbors. I mean, I’ve got banana peels and coffee filters in my yard. I admit, it may seem weird. I’m looking at changing this process to include some type of container to put this things in to keep them hidden from sight. Either way, it’s amazing to watch how quickly these things disappear back into nature. It’s pretty cool.
As far as the yard itself, for goodness sake don’t waste your time bagging your mowed grass! Make life easy and mulch it right back into the yard. A mulching lawn mower will chop up the grass into little bits that break down into the soil. It’s basically free fertilizer for the grass. Your lawn will love it, and you won’t throw out your back bagging it. Learn more about the benefits of mulching grass HERE and more about environmentally-friendly lawn care HERE.
I recommend everybody give composting a shot. If you want to try a full-blown compost pile, go for it! It’s probably not nearly as difficult as I imagine it to be. Or buy a guinea pig. Hell, buy a real pig. They’re probably really good at getting rid of your food scraps or unwanted bodies. A lot of people compost their material by simply digging a hole and burying it, which is probably what I would do if I had the space. Or try worm composting. Having thousands of worms eating your garbage in your house, that sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Apparently it works quite well. Let me know.
Whatever you do, do something to keep natural, organic materials out of the trash stream. Nature’s much better at taking care of it and reusing it than we’ll ever be.
And “Compost?” I hate the word. Always have. Let’s come up with a new word, shall we?