I was invited to an interesting meeting this week where people’s perceptions
about composting were examined and various barriers to, as well as reasons for
composting, were discussed. Being an enthusiastic composter for years and more
recently, initiating the Master Composter Program at the University of
Connecticut, I am aware that composting is not for everyone. It might be
difficult to convince an apartment dweller, for instance, that composting would
make sense since they typically would not have an outdoor area to apply the
finished compost to.
While most people think of making compost so that they can apply it as an amendment
to their yards and gardens, a more universal reason is to reduce the amount of
solid waste that either goes into landfills or gets incinerated. Solid waste
disposal uses land that could be repurposed, requires payments by individuals and municipalities, and can add to air
pollution when incinerated. Many households can successfully compost about 25%
of their solid waste.
One concern was the cost of compost bins and tools, which can actually vary from
practically no cost to several hundred dollars, depending on the composter’s
desire. This custom built, 3-bin unit was made by two Master Composters at our
Fall Compost and Garden Fair in Norwich on September 24, 2011. The cost was
UConn Master Composters also staffed a composting and worm composting exhibit and
held informational sessions on general composting and vermicomposting. UConn Master Gardeners were at the Fair as well offering free soil pH tests, tours of the rain garden, horticultural advice and presentations, children’s activities, and hosting a perennial plant sale. But I digress! Fancy, expensive compost units are not necessary.
Another potential stumbling block was the perceived need to bring collected kitchen wastes
out to the compost pile on a daily, or at least regular, basis even during the
winter months. Not everyone shovels a path to their compost pile. Some people
freeze their wastes during times when they are not able to get to the compost
pile. Others start worm bins in their cellars. Since our chicken coop is near
the compost bin and we have to water and feed the chickens, I must admit, I had
not given this problem much thought.
The feeling that compost bins will attract unwanted, four-legged varmints was also
listed as a reason why some people would not want to compost. While I have
found occasional evidence of some critter nosing around the compost bin, for
the most part in more suburban and rural areas this is not a huge issue –
unless you count the bear that one of our clients called to complain about!
Generally, if the compost pile just contains plant materials (eggshells are
also acceptable), any new food wastes are placed inside the pile and covered
with leaves or shredded paper, the pile is turned regularly, and somehow
contained, it will not attract very much unwanted wildlife. This may be more
problematic in urban areas and a more secure bin system may be needed. Keeping
items like meats and fats and grease out of the compost pile also makes it less
likely to attract undesirable creatures.
Probably the reason for not composting that surprised me the most was that it takes too
long to make compost! I do realize we live in a society where the desire for
instant gratification is quite pervasive. But, whatever happened to the old adage
that the best things in life are worth waiting for? I am not quite sure what
would be the best way to convince folks that finished compost is such a
marvelous addition to gardens that the few months it takes for the organic
materials to decompose can be compensated by years of improved garden
This time of year is a marvelous time to start a compost pile if you have ever
thought about doing so. There is no dearth of carbonaceous ‘brown’ material, in
the form of leaves and if there are too many to use in the compost pile they
can be stockpiled in a separate holding unit, fenced in area, or even in leaf
bags. A few handfuls can be used to cover food waste additions throughout the
winter months when you can make it out to the pile. Check out our backyard
composting fact sheet for basic information to get you started. Or, feel free
to give us a call at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center for answers
to your composting questions.
Composting……Because a rind is a terrible thing to waste! (Anonymous bumper sticker)