Some things are meant to be, whether we like it or not. To me, composting is inevitable if you really enjoy gardening. I live with my mother in Chester Springs, PA and I have as much gardening freedom as one can have in a new townhouse development where landscaping is restricted by an association. I’ve filled the pre-designed garden beds with as many perennials as I can tastefully handle. I even posted signs in Spanish (at the suggestion of the landscaping manager) telling the yard crews not to pull anything. I also told the landscape manager that I would trim the bushes this year, since the crews always trim too early or too late.
At the risk of sounding like a garden tyrant, I’ll admit, I have considerable control over what’s done to my mother’s yard. But in the last year, as I’ve become more intensive with my gardening, I’ve asked her numerous times if I could put up a compost bin and she’s given me an emphatic “No”. This is because she once had a friend who kept a very smelly compost bin. With the houses so close together, she’s afraid of becoming the negligent “stinky-neighbor.”
So little by little, as I’ve done my own pruning and disposed of dead annuals, I’ve tossed it all in a discreet pile in the center of a ring of tall shrubs toward the back of the property. By June of this year the pile was so large that I gave up being quiet and discreet. I purchased some bags of leaf compost to aid the decomposition and I started stirring it like a legitimate compost pile. Mom finally noticed it then. And after looking it over, giving it a few sniffs, I think she warmed up to the idea.
Then one day in early July, I came across a book called Diary of a Compost Hotline Operator by Spring Gillard. It’s a humorous, sometimes corny, account of a woman working at a compost center in Vancouver, Canada. It’s also a fairly instructional book with plenty of composting scenarios that a beginner such as myself can remember and learn from. For example, no meats or cooked foods (that’s where complaints of smells and vermin often come from). And layer the pile with carbon rich materials and nitrogen rich materials. There’s also great suggestions of literature, organizations, and websites to match with the topics in each chapter. As I’ve read this book I’ve become more empowered and adventurous with my composting. I started throwing in refuse veggies like old tomatoes, melon and cucumbers, then coffee grinds and tea bags.
My compost had become more moist, and rich with worms, but keeping it damp and ventilated during an historic heat-wave was tiring. And I have to admit, though the pile didn’t stink, it sure was ugly. Dried branches and bits of veggie scraps were likely visible from next door, and later there was the over-sized tarp I tried to use to help heat up the mound (aside from electric blue, camo-pattern was the only kind of tarp I could find at Kmart, it looked pretty weird).
About a month ago I started planning to save money (I never seem to get around to actually doing it) and I decided I would buy some fencing or an actual bin, whether my mother liked it or not. But then during dinner one night, mom showed me a pamphlet from the Township that was put in our door. It detailed a new recycling plan, involving the single-stream method and at the very end, there was a note about homeowners being able to request a free plastic compost bin! She was encouraging me to get one, and it’d be FREE! After calling the municipality phone line, I picked up my new bin the next day.
The compost bin turned out to be one of those easy snap-together bins with flip-up doors for loading scraps and a sliding door toward the bottom, to remove older compost. The pile fit in well, with room at the top of the bin for future scraps.