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What you need to know: Composting

 Posted by on March 15, 2010
Mar 152010

By Chris Reinolds

Composting can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. From piling green and brown things in a corner of the yard

Most compost bins need aeration, like this metal mesh enclosure. (Photo: Bureau of Environmental Services, Howard County, Md.)

Compost bins need aeration, like this metal mesh enclosure. (Photo: Bureau of Environmental Services, Howard County, Md.)

to buying that perfect compost bin, you’ll generate the same end result.  Those of us who turn and nurture our piles can expect more compost in a faster time period, but regardless our gardens will benefit from a little or a lot.

There are a variety of containers and methods to composting. They include:

  • Plastic bins/barrels.
  • Wire mesh enclosures and loose piles.
  • Worm composters.
  • Indoor composters, even motorized filter composters.

Gardening experts lean toward the simpler methods of piles and outdoor enclosures. Closed systems require more turning because there isn’t as much air and water.

The enclosures and bins are mainly to prevent rodents and other animals from getting into the compost, which may be more of a concern in dense urban areas. Homeowners in the suburbs or rural areas can use compost piles without much animal interference.

If you use the pile method, experts say to add dry materials around the outside of the pile to reduce smells.

Sam Hartman, program coordinator for The Ecology Center of San Francisco, suggests a simple approach. Begin with a 3 foot by 3 foot square area in your yard. Enclose it with wood posts and wire mesh.

The University of Missouri extension service  provides illustrations and instructions this type of compost pile, and others, including using an old barrel to make a spinning composter. The churnable composter will work more quicker.

But because it may be easier to stick with a looser routine, many gardeners say stick close to the ground with this earthy process. Like Hartman, Georgia gardening expert, author and television show host Walter Reeves also advocates simplicity. He suggests homeowners pile compost in the corner of their yard where two fences intersect.

But Reeves cautions gardeners not to rely solely on compost to create a bountiful harvest. Make sure to add soil conditioners to your garden beds.

“(Compost) is a component of your garden, but it will not produce the volume to satisfy all your needs. Adding compost to the soil is gonna really jump start the flower bed or vegetable process,” he added.

Getting Started

After you’ve secured a container, you’ll need a pitchfork or large stick and a pail to collect kitchen scraps.


A bamboo scraps collector that could pass muster in the neatest kitchen.

Once you start collecting food scraps, you may want to make a small investment in a composting pail. These pails, which include carbon filters to destroy any smells, are pretty enough to sit on your kitchen counter and start around $20. Some choices can be found at, or any of a dozen gardening supply stores online.

Clean Air Gardening offers a bamboo scrap pail with a place for charcoal filters in the lid, a nice combination of design and sustainable materials.