Adventures in composting

Going green
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  July 11, 2007

Mistakes stink
In the June 29 issue, I described the Kiss My Face Active Enzyme deodorant as an effective odor-repellent. Much to my dismay, I’ve discovered that in fact it is not. I’m trying Tom’s of Maine now, but I have a feeling this is going to be a long process of trial and error. Sorry, colleagues and friends!
A few weeks ago, I mentioned my plan to compost all my food waste (except meat and fish, which smell bad and attract pests as they decay), which would help decrease how much garbage I send to the landfill.

To be honest, it isn’t going so well.

First of all, my second-floor apartment — even with its porch space — isn’t the ideal location for a compost heap. So I had to find buckets that were appropriate; but even then I had a dilemma because the buckets need to be able to drain (and I don’t think my downstairs neighbors want compost water dripping onto their heads). I knew that some people use vermicomposting (worms!) for indoor, apartment compost, but I’m not sure I’m up for a worm farm in my kitchen quite yet.

I finally ended up with empty three-gallon kitty litter containers, which I punched holes into and placed in disposable metal trays.

For a couple of weeks thereafter, I thought the system was working smoothly. It felt great to toss vegetable scraps, eggshells, and the occasional paper towel or ripped-up newspaper into the bucket, knowing my weekly garbage total was decreasing every time I did so. Plus, I was eager to add the contents of the bucket (which would transform into the "dark, crumbly, nutrient-rich" material I’d read so much about) into my herb garden and hanging tomato plant.

But before I could truly enjoy myself, the bucket started to smell — bad. Assuming that it wasn’t getting enough air, I transferred the sopping mess to a different kitty-litter bucket, into which I’d stabbed many more holes. I added more newspaper in an effort to dry it out.

Despite my earnest efforts, however, my entire porch started to smell like trash — and the bucket was attracting hundreds of flies. To me and my sensitive nose, it was an irreversible mess. Now both buckets are sitting tightly closed in a giant garbage bag, waiting for next week’s garbage pickup.

Was it the containers, or what I put into them that caused my system to fail?

Ultimately, I think it was my lack of attention. Unlike the large compost piles you’ll find on a suburban lawn, which can handle rougher love, porch composting requires frequent aeration and small scraps; too often I was throwing large pieces in, and leaving them there without stirring them. Small-bucket compost doesn’t need any additional water — it’s moist enough in there — and I think I added too much wet garbage (i.e., veggie-based soups and sauces).

I can’t afford a professionally made porch composter (F.W. Horch in Brunswick sells a nice one for $159), so I’m going to start afresh — and more attentively — with a new bucket, a better balance of dry and wet items, and more frequent tumbles.

At this rate, my plants will be dead before they can benefit from any homemade compost, and all I’m doing is producing grosser garbage.

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Deirdre Fulton: dfulton@phx.com

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