Thursday, March 19, 2009

Composting Success Has Me Shouting "I Made Earth!"

It wasn't easy, and it took me an entire year, but I did it. I made dirt!

I realize that making dirt doesn't sound that exciting, but consider this: I made it by composting my garbage, specifically old fruit and vegetable scraps and newspaper.

If this still doesn't sound amazing, please also consider that I live in the middle of Chicago, where composting is not so common and, one might argue, also quite difficult.

Here's the thing. Because of rodent problems in the city, you only have two composting options:
  • A worm bin - Will compost your waste very fast, but requires love and attention and a willingness to have worms in your house
  • A fully-enclosed compost bin or tumbler - Requires exact proportions of different materials to avoid odors and takes a long time, most likely because the batches are too small and the compost isn't getting enough air
I used a compost tumbler and found that it took a loooong time (a year) and smelled a bit unsavory (not horrible, but not great). Now, if done exactly right, a compost tumbler won't generate any bad odors and can be fast-working, but I'm going to defend myself and say that that's not so easy to do.

So here's the point of my story:

If you live in the suburbs or in a small town, you don't need an enclosed bin to prevent rodents. You can basically throw all of your organic waste into a pile and wait for it to turn into dirt.

Don't believe me? Here are some resources to learn more:

Composting Information from the EPA
Composting for the Homeowner, from the University of Illinois
Compost Guide - Composting Fundamentals

p.s. I know there are a lot of people in the suburbs who already compost. Kudos to you! Maybe you can train your neighbors?


Kristi said...

Wow! Your blog is awesome :)!! I just followed the link from NPR. I've been slowly trying to get off the consume-constantly band-wagon for the past two years now. It's been a gradual but rewarding process. I am currently attempting to garden... Anyway! Keep up the fun posting!

God said...

Dear Jeanne,
That's my job. Thanks for making it easier on me!

- God

Anonymous said...

Where did you get that great composting bin? Thanks for this really helpful story :)

islandveggie said...

I made my own worm bin. I find it very easy and smell free.

Anonymous said...

I wanna make earth! In what type of container do you keep your food scraps? Does it get smelly? How often do you empty it into your compost pile?

Shelby S. said...

In my home town, we are attempting to implement a community composting center: a plot of land set aside for a giant compost pile where people can drop off vegetable scraps, scrap paper, leaves, grass clippings, and horse manure. The Center then sells fresh fertilized, healthy soil back for very low prices. In many other towns in Southeast Alaska, the city goverment pays for the construction of the compost center, as well as for one full time employee to manage it. They can be expensive intially (you have to purchase a bobcat to turn it) but are super beneficial for the community and even make a little money. I know Chicago is a huge city, but perhaps it could look into a community composting center? Which could intern support community agriculture by providing the soil.

Toad734 said...

I make dirt too, I have 2 dogs, all I have to do is not whipe op the floors for a couple weeks and there you have it, dirt. Doesn't take nearly as long as it took you though.

The leaves is what gets me in Chicago, people just leave them all winter and then in the spring their is just black sludge everywhere.

Toad734 said...

Oh, and another point I wanted to make about my comments earlier is that cars are 70% more fuel efficient, and cleaner, than they were in 1970.

Guess what one of the main reasons is for that?


Even the Chevy volt and a lot of other green cars are switching from glass to plastic, from paneling and other material to plastics, even lighter forms of plastic. PP for instance, which is in your door panels, dash board, etc. are lighter than water. PC which is replacing glass for sun roofs, mirrors, headlamps, etc. is lighter than glass, Nylon PC/ABS and ABS is lighter than Aluminum and steel. All grills and many other "chrome" items such as grills on cars are PC/ABS which is chrome plated and lighter than steel. This allows cars to be more fuel efficient and thus greener.

By the way, all the materials I mentioned are items that I can recycle.

Plastic is sometimes the solution.

If one truly wanted to be green they would sell their car, live with the Amish and go vegetarian. Cars/transportation and our diets contribute more to global warming and have more negative impacts on the earth, environment and humanity than fruit peels and plastic and as pointed out, sometimes things like plastic are the solution, not the cause.

It certainly doesn't hurt to compost or not buy shampoo bottles or trash bags but in the long run, there are far more damaging things out there than a shampoo bottle that can be recycled.

cara said...

I became a compost enthusiast last year when we did exactly what you said - put all our compostable trash in a pile (a big plastic bin)and waited for it to turn to dirt. And it did!

Great blog - just found the link from NPR. I write for a site called findingDulcinea and we have some good gardening resources there, including info on composting: This is a cool story, too, about people returning to gardening when food prices got so high...I'm sure this is in the current economy, too:

islandveggie said...

I did a worm bin tutorial on my blog :)

Dustin Foust said...

Somehow I have stumbled across your blog and I'm really glad I did. Great stuff!

Birthblessed said...

I live in the city, and I have an open compost. I'm on a fairly large lot that used to be suburbs 40 years ago, though... I only put raw fruit and veggie scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds. Never anything cooked and never anything fat/meat/dairy/grains. I don't have a problem with rodents near the compost.... I have seen no more rodents than before I had the compost. And I have 2 outdoor cats, which maybe helps. They do catch and kill maybe 1-2 a month.

Laura W said...

If you have mold allergies, that unfortunately prohibits composting. It seems terribly likely to make me sick.

Kelli said...

Do you have any pointers for speeding up the process in enclosed bins? We recently moved into the city (and do have a rodent problem...) so switched to an bin similar to yours. We have a LOT of vegetable matter to compost and need to speed it up!

LifeLessPlastic said...

Kelli, you've probably noticed this already, but the process definitely goes slower when it's cold out, so by default things should start speeding up once it gets a little warmer. As for additional suggestions for speeding the process up, I suppose one idea might be leaving the lid open during the day (I think most rodents come out more at night) so that your compost can get more air. Additionally, it sounds like you're going to have to find more sources of brown material for your pile since you have so many food scraps--leaves, black and white newspaper, yard waste, etc.

Beetles and Bees said...

You're so cute--"I made Earth!" I am composting as well--EVERYTHING possible. I love it! I've just taken on a few chickens as well. Thanks for a great post and for your inspiration.

Rebecca said...

My first compost bin was one of those big rubbermaid containers. I just wanted to see if it would really work. I kept an ice cream bucket with a lid underneath my sink for scraps and then every day or two would take it outside to the bin. Everyonce in awhile I would throw in some leaves or grass clippings or dirt. I would water it every week or so, and leave it covered the rest of the time. Come spring I had some great compost. Then I built a bigger two-sided system. One for the stuff that's set to use, the other side is the stuff that's cooking and that I'm always adding too.

P.S. Here are a couple tips for beginners. Don't think about it so much. Just make sure you have some brown stuff and some green stuff, and you table scraps (no meats or dog poop!) Stir it and water it every now and then...and presto! You have compost!

Rebecca said...

@Beetles & Bees -
Do you throw you chicken poop and feathers in the compost? It's great for it!

Nhu-Ly said...

Hi Jeanne,
I discovered your blog recently and I am very impressed by what you are doing! I guess the German gave you some ideas in that matter ;-) Anyway by looking at this article, I was thinking that you should show/picture us what you actually have as trash, I mean in your dust bin. Because I guess if you do compost, recycle paper and glas, there must not be much...
Cheers from Köln

dennis said...

i am about to explore the world of bokashi composting.

seems to be a lot of potentially beneficial effects of it. you can use the bokashi as a feed for birds, the liquid produced is good for septic tanks and can be used as a plant spray (diluted) and the food waste composts into some great soil.

Danielle said...

I love my worm bin. I teach elementary school, and my class keeps a worm bin in the classroom. We feed the worms on "Wormy Wednesday," and we keep track of the decomposition by observing the temperature, smell, and texture. We also look for baby worms and worm eggs. Quite possibly the greatest lesson on decomp ever... we still love it, and we started back in December. The smell is significatnly less than regular compost, and it only took us 3 months.

Chris said...

Composting is big in my list of to dos in the coming years. I'm a beginner, but this will be one of the resources I'll keep visiting while learning.

Good to know a lot of people are into this. I don't think it's fairly common in my neighborhood though.