Living with a Composter
December 10, 2011
My composting experiences and experiments throughout the years have been defined as much by the people with whom I was composting as by the more typical influences of location, bin, or materials. I grew up composting with my family – arguing with my older brother about who would take the food scrap bucket out to the big pile by the garden, relying on my parents to do almost all the work, and occasionally helping Mom scoop some finished compost from the bottom of the mound to mix in with the seeds of spring. My formative composting years were marked by my family’s no-nonsense, minimalist management strategy, a product of busy lives, the already luscious topsoil of Iowa, and winters ill-suited to venturing outside.
Dorm living and tiny apartments led to some lapses in composting during my time in college until my roommates and I adopted the compost bin of a nearby campus garden as our kitchen waste dumping ground. Our “system” was no paragon of composting. We allowed food scraps to rot – sometimes for weeks – in the 5 gallon bucket under our sink before one of us got around to walking it to the garden. Nevertheless, I have nearly fond memories of dumping that anaerobic sludge into the bin because it was our anaerobic sludge.
When my husband and I moved to San Diego County, we were happy to rent a place with a little garden and some inherited worm bins. My composting enthusiasm increased as I started taking gardening and composting classes with the Solana Center. While Nathan was deployed to Afghanistan, along with all the mushy messages, I sent him a picture of a handful of my half-cooked compost – and fully expected him to share my excitement.
I’ve learned a lot about the social side of composting in these different households made up of family and friends. No matter how excited you or I am about composting, it is important to recognize that the project requires at least some degree of cooperation and patience from others. There are a few considerations that can help guide your household in designing a composting system that works for everyone:
Assign responsibilities based on each person’s motivations. For example, I’m more invested in the garden, so most of the turning, harvesting, and use of the compost falls to me.
Determine the limits of how much each person is willing and likely to contribute to the effort (and don’t expect any more). This is a function of commitment but also of time, energy, and level of composting knowledge.
Most importantly, stay flexible and reevaluate your system periodically. Our composting projects shift with seasons, work schedules, garden developments, and whether or not we have been eating our vegetables. Composting, like all of this green-living stuff, is part of a grand, on-going experiment, each of us figuring out our paths as we go.