Compost Success In Spite of Myself

Growing in a bad location leads to the compost bin

Composter? or plant cemetery?

Last year we bought a nifty device called a “drum compost bin”  aka “outdoor retirement home for failed garden experiments, dead squash plants and inedible parts of an onion.”

Composting is supposedly dead simple. Once you achieve the zen balance between carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and water, then keep everything turned, watered, aerated, pampered, fed, circulated, flipped, flopped, and cherished, compost appears effortlessly as if by magic.

Compost success in spite of everything!

Compost! Ignore the recyclable bags. They take longer to break down but they will eventually do so.

Compost! -and a few recyclable bags.

We assembled the drum compost bin in under an hour, with the help of an electric drill-driven screwdriver and a few select swear words to get the panels to line up properly.

Once the bin was assembled, I threw in leaves, twigs, a half head of broccoli, and assorted onion peels, tossed in a bit of Compost Starter and water, and waited patiently for a day or so.

Not surprisingly, nothing much happened.

Over the course of a few months, I pushed more onion and cauliflower and broccoli into the mix, added in handfuls of dead leaves if available – spun the barrel, poured a glass of water once a month or so, and spun again.

Then I forgot about the compost heap for awhile… like all winter long.

Winter turned to Spring, so I threw a couple of pints of water into the bin, and spun the bin, twice. It’s now June, and I’ve added two more cups of water since March. I added a teensy sprinkling of compost starter in April, completely ignoring the rules to “Liberally sprinkle 2 cups of starter, turn compost and water. DO NOT SOAK.”

So I did everything just right (for about three months…) then threw caution to the wind, and broccoli to the heap —and a year later, I have compost!

Certain stuff shouldn’t be composted

There are detailed lists of things not to put in the compost bin. These are handy if you don’t know how to play the Animal, Vegetable, Mineral game (or don’t have access to a preschooler):

  • Animal stays out.
  • Vegetable goes in.
  • Minerals are rocks.
  • Rocks taste funny.

There are exceptions. Earthworms are animal but do a great number on compost heaps. I guess they meant dead animals stay out. No chickens, no ducks, no goats in my compost bin.

Before acquiring the nifty compost bin, I read all the instructions on how to compost, got all the nifty tools and kits and stuff, got a stainless steel kitchen compost bin for under the sink, got a special little watering can.  I even got The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, a book on how to compost.

Hint: if you get an under the sink bin, you’ll want recyclable compost liner bags. These will save you lots of washing out the bin.

Caveat Compostor

We live in the high ‘n dry desert. If you live where it rains, and if rain can get into your compost thingie, you may not need to haul a glass full of water from the kitchen every few months. Your mileage may vary.

Compost starter - add two cups, water gently, and stand back!

Compost starter – add two cups, water gently, and stand back!

Composting is not an indoor sport. I’m an indoor gardener. Most of my attempts to garden outdoors are met with disaster, catastrophe, and gales of laughter. Avoid the temptation to set up your compost doodad in your indoor gardening room. Your spouse will thank you.

Close the compost barrel lid before spinning the compost barrel. Yes, yes. I know. You can quit laughing now.

Follow the rules at your own risk. I got some nice compost by ignoring the rules. I might have gotten even better compost by following all the rules.  Or I might have gotten squat. Honestly, I don’t know.


To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass


Compost 101 for the New Gardener

bad way to compost

Bad compost approach. Bad bad compost. *smack*

My original composting attempt is a failure. I admit it. This is what I get for not doing my research.  What I’m making is a hot mess, not compost. So today I launched my formal effort to start doing compost right. Here are the links and advice and resources that I’m following, as well as a peek at the equipment I’m planning to get.

Gardening 101 Takeaway:
Don’t just dump stuff into a plastic bucket and call it “composting.” The smell alone will knock your moccasins off.

Sooner or later, it’s time to face the topic of compost. We can only go so long on store-bought potting soil and salvaged coffee grounds. So wrinkle up your nose and dive right in. (Don’t take that literally.)

Here’s where I am so far:

The Concept of Compost

Lifted straight out of Wikipedia, the go-to knowledge base on all things, here is the start of their definition page:

Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment. Compost is a key ingredient in organic farming.

At the simplest level, the process of composting simply requires making a heap of wetted organic matter (leaves, “green” food waste) and waiting for the materials to break down into humus after a period of weeks or months.

Sounds easy, huh? Believe me, I left out tons of information, including how it all works. You can read it, of course, at Wikipedia – handy if you have an avid curiosity for how things work.

Practical Composting

Unless you have a nice neighbor willing to go sharesies on her compost operation, you’ll have to tackle your own composting,

If this is your first composting project, invest in a bin or system. You’re making soil to put around veggies and herbs that you will eat, so it makes sense to listen to the experts.

Most people will want a two-step system: First, a pail or catch bin in the kitchen to collect household waste headed for processing. Second, the place where the composting actually happens, usually set up outdoors (although there are some setups that compost right in the kitchen).

Norpro(r) Compost Keeper (93)Norpro(r) Compost Keeper (93)


10.5″ x 8″ White

Store peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds and vegetable scraps for transfer to your garden composter.

Includes filter in lid to keep compost odorless.
Replacement filter Ace no. 6173736
Brand: Norpro
Availability: in-stock

Buy or make a kitchen pail where you drop scraps that’ll go out to your compost bin. Ideally this will have a well-fitting lid, a filter to remove odors, and a sturdy handle or two. Stainless steel is great since it won’t absorb odors and can be cleaned easily, but a plastic catch pail that’s dishwasher safe is also a worthy choice. My choice – the Norpro Compost Keeper (see green box)

For the composter itself, find a place that is close to a water source and easy to get to from your house.

How to Compost – Resources

I am not going to pretend to know everything about this! Since I am still learning as I go, here are the resources I’m using, and why I’m relying on them:

Deciding on Composting Tools

Spin Bin 60 Gallon Compost Tumbler
Spin Bin 60 Gallon Compost Tumbler
List Price: $179.99
Your search for the perfect composter is over now that you’ve found the Spin Bin 60 Gallon Compost Tumbler. Made in the USA of 100% recycled plastic, this composter arrives in four parts cutting down on the cost and materials required for shipping. It’s even green in transit. Supported by a sturdy steel stand, it’s easy to stir your compost – just give the bin a little push and ’round and ’round it goes.
Brand: Clean Air Gardening
Availability: in-stock

These are a few of the devices and tools I’m considering. I am leaning toward the Norpro Compost Keeper for the kitchen. For the outdoor part, I really like the idea of this Spin Bin. First, it’s 100% recycled plastic. Second, it looks light enough that I can spin it around without needing help. Third, it looks like relocating it would be a snap, unlike the box-on-ground systems and heavier spin systems – some of those look as substantial as cement mixers!

Bottom Line:

When I get my outdoor garden area set up (soon!), there’s no way I can afford to buy a ton of Miracle Gro to prepare the soil for my new plants and seeds.  By starting a compost project now, I’m reducing the amount of household waste that gets hauled to the dump. I’m supporting my new garden. And I’m saving some cash!



Thank you for putting up with my trial and error for fonts on this blog. Garden Lass is back to a sans serif font as of this writing. Sorry for the eyestrain!


Norpro(r) Compost Keeper (93)

Norpro(r) Compost Keeper (93)


10.5" x 8" White Store peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds and vegetable scraps for transfer to your garden composter Includes filter in lid to keep compost odorless Replacement filter Ace no. 6173736 [Read more]

Click to Buy This at Ace Hardware

Brand: Norpro

Geobin Compost Bin

Geobin Compost Bin

$44.99  $31.99

Affordable, easy-to-use, and highly effective, the Geobin Compost Bin is expandable up to 4 feet in diameter. It's adjustable size makes it ideal for homeowners with limited space availability and it's especially convenient in metropolitan areas. This bin features a perforated open-air system whi... [Read more]

Click to Buy This at Hayneedle

Brand: Element Creative Llc