But on the same page was the item that really blew
me outta the water. The
Jumbo Self-Aerating Bin. A plastic compost bin so tall that the poor woman
pictured in the catalog is lifting her kitchen scraps almost shoulder high to
toss them in. You can have the pleasure of lifting all your compostables this
high for a cool $399 plus delivery. I'm sure a big part of the high cost is the
"patented aeration tube" running up through this tower, which is designed for
those who "prefer the toss-it-and-forget-it approach to composting." And the
creators of this thing also subscribe to the fiction that you can open a door
and easily shovel fluffy, finished compost from the bottom of the bin, even
though there's weeks' or months' worth of kitchen scraps sitting on top. And they
have conveniently placed the patented aeration tube dead center in the bin and
in the way of your shovel.
I don't get it.
Not true, I do get it and it makes me sad and a tiny
bit angry. Rather then helping novice gardeners meet their challenges with a bit
of composting knowledge, they come up with a product that holds out the – I
believe – dubious promise of solving their problems as long as they can write a
I like Gardener's Supply and I use some of their
products, so I hope they will consult a bit more widely before they put some of
these products on their shelves in the future.
So what should a gardener who wants to compost
without being enslaved financially or physically do? First off, two bins are
better than one. And you can buy a fleet of composters for the price of one of
these Jumbos. After you've properly filled the first one, you let it compost
while you fill the second one. In all but the coldest climates, by the time
you've filled the second one with kitchen scraps and what-all, the first one
will be finished and ready to be emptied into your garden beds.
The pair of bins I use come from this same company,
in fact, but they suffer from the unflattering name of Gardener's
Supply Exclusive Deluxe Pyramid Composter. They have hinged lids, a rodent
screen for the bottom (though you can do like me and get cheaper hardware cloth at
the hardware store). And they have holes in the lid to allow rainwater to keep
the compost from drying out and going dormant–which it can do. When I bought my
two, they were selling for $99. Now they go for $169. Which makes me wonder if
the price of plastic really went up that much or if maybe I should be looking
for a comparable competitor's product to recommend to my clients and garden
class students. Hmmmmm.
Now, do you want to know how to have compost that
never needs turning? Anyone who can make a salad can make never-needs-turning
compost. Just remember the three basic components of a salad in descending order
of quantity: 1, leafy
stuff, 2, chunks of vegetables and
3, a dribbling of dressing to give
So, likewise a good compost starts with: 1, shreaded leaves,
2, chunks of kitchen scraps (including
egg shells, coffee grinds, paper towels, even some garden trimmings, etc.) and 3, a dribbling of garden soil to
inoculate the other ingredients with the zing of those inexpensive and hungry
If you've been trying to compost without adding soil
(i.e. the "toss it and forget method" advocated by the catalog folks) and are
disappointed that your bin is so stinky, just start adding soil and you'll find
that the composting microorganisms from the soil are out-competing the stinky,
rotting microorganisms from the food scraps.
To make this process easier on myself, I keep a
covered garbage bin full of leaves (shredded by the lawn mower) with a
re-purposed, broken garden fork next to the compost bins. I also keep a 5 gallon
nursery pot full of garden soil with a re-purposed, rusty trowel as part of my
So now that you have the ingredients, here's how I
make a Compost Salad: 1, dump the kitchen scraps in the bin,
2, dribble some soil to add composting
microorganisms and then, 3, scoop a forkful or two of shredded leaves to soak
up moisture, cover the mess up and keep the fruit flies down.
And then I never, ever turn it, because the
microorganisms do the work for me and I have better things to do. Instead I just
head back into the kitchen, make myself a gin and tonic (with the money I saved
by not buying the new and improved compost starter) and sit in the garden with
some friends and reee-lax.
Frank Hyman's photos
clockwise from left: green composter has been filled and is settling as it
composts; black composter is being filled; bin holding shredded leaves and
broken garden fork; small container of kitchen scraps with a bio-degradable
liner; 5-gallon nursery pot with garden soil and trowel.