Composting is the process of recycling food products (egg shells, spoiled greens, etc.) and other organic materials (cut grass, leaves, etc) back into the earth or into a dirt compound rich in plant nutrients. Residential systems often have an indoor collection bin and an outdoor compost pile or decomposing receptacle. A passive compost pile simply decomposes into the earth, while a more advanced system will harvest soil for planting. In addition to reducing carbon footprint, your Croton neighbors are composting to beautify their yards.
Source: Highfields Composting
What inspired you to start composting? When did you start composting?
When I was a child in the late '50's into the early '60's my parents used to burn our leaves in the fall. It was quite fascinating for a little kid. Soon though, my folks saw the value in saving those leaves and composting them for their gardens. Eventually, the composting system grew to include all grass clippings and all kitchen scraps. My brothers and I were the workforce, my father was the supervisor; we mowed, weeded and raked and added it all to the pile. I use the same basic system to this day, but without the indentured servant labor pool.
What’s the most common question you get about composting from friends or family?
No, it does not smell or attract animals! That seems to be the most common question. The leaves, grass clippings and other yard waste are not an attraction, but the kitchen scraps need to be buried into the pile to avoid attracting wildlife.
How did you go about researching your approach to composting?
My approach has been informed mainly by past experiences. There's really not much to it. Make a nice pile, turn it occasionally to introduce more oxygen and Mother Nature does the rest. In fact, I merely roto-till the pile in spring to further break up clods and pulverize the leaves a bit more before I screen the compost into a useable form.
What was the setup process like? The seasonality?
My compost is just a pile back behind the garage, no fencing, no border; almost out of sight, out of mind. There is a seasonality to my process though. About this time of year (mid-March) I rent a small Roto-Tiller from Ossining Lawnmower (914) 941-2749 and till the pile to loosen it up and break it down a bit more. It takes only a half hour or so and then I rush back and return the tool and pay a bit less than the full daily rate. After the tilling I begin the screening. I built a 2' x 4' wood frame with a chicken wire screen which I place over sawhorses and a tarp. This step removes pine cones, any woody sticks and other debris like stones. I then screen it a second time with a finer mesh which catches the Japanese Beetle larvae and other objects I don't want in the gardens. This screening process is the most labor-intensive aspect of the process. I break it up: do it for an hour or two, then do some more a few days later, and continue on until the entire pile is screened and sifted into soil-like compost. At the same time that I am preparing the compost, I am removing all of last fall's leaves that were used as mulch around the bushes and on perennial beds. This mulch then becomes the basis for next year's compost.
Did you need to purchase anything? Would you recommend composting, and any particular products?
I wholeheartedly endorse composting. Other than renting the Roto-Tiller there is almost no expense. My screens were made with found objects, and my pile is just that: a pile. No frame or border at all, just a simple 5'long x 3'wide x 3'deep mound. The amount of screened organic matter that is created eliminates the need to buy bagged product from the garden center, which saves me money and does not contribute to the carbon footprint of moving dirt around the country. We produce enough for our 4 raised beds and flower gardens here at home, as well as the boxes we have at the Municipal Building Community Garden. Whatever is left over after the planting season is finished, we use as a dressing to enrich the soil and discourage weed growth.
What sort of things do you compost?
Everything from the kitchen, except meat and dairy products, goes into the compost, and we avoid adding anything from the garden that may be bug infested or shows signs of disease. Otherwise, it's leaves, grass clippings, deadheaded flowers that have not yet gone to seed, hedge clippings, you name it, it all goes into the pile.
Was it an adjustment to further separate your garbage and recycling?
No, I've been doing it since I was a child, it is an easy habit to get into. We start by putting food scraps into a small container on the kitchen counter, then add that to a larger container outside the kitchen door, and when that's full, we dump it into the compost pile. The deep of winter requires a little patience, but you get used to it. As a matter of fact, when you dig into the pile in winter and see steam coming out you know that decomposition is still going on!
Anything else you’d tell a person considering composting?
It's a breeze, and the benefits far outweigh the minor amount of effort required (at least the way I do it.)
For more information on Ian Murtaugh’s experience, email him at email@example.com