Many gardeners are reluctant to begin composting yard waste and kitchen waste. Composting takes too much time and energy, it’s a dirty chore, the piles are ugly, smelly and attract flies and vermin or there’s no room in a small yard or garden for a big pile of compost.
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These concerns or objections are not unreasonable. Big compost piles can become big projects. But small compost piles made up of only fallen leaves and twigs or a daily small bucket full of kitchen waste are very manageable even when yard or garden space is at a minimum. And the time and effort are rewarded with fresh compost teeming with beneficial microorganisms and fungi that can be turned into the soil, into raised beds and added to container plants.
The rapid composting method described here takes only two to three weeks to create fully decomposed compost and is best used for composting fallen autumn leaves and small twigs: it’s a one-season process. It takes a little longer for a pile of kitchen waste to fully decompose, but composting kitchen waste can be done throughout the year.
To start rapidly composting fall leaves, collect enough leaves to form a 2-cubic-foot pile of only leaves and very small (1- or 2-inch diameter) twigs or bits and pieces of twigs. Avoid adding leaves from diseased trees or those with heavy pest insect infestation. These leaf piles won’t generate enough heat to kill disease pathogens or pest insect eggs. Keep the pile evenly moist (you’ll want to place it near a water source) and turn it with a rake or shovel every day – the leaves won’t be heavy. Don’t add any more leaves to that pile; start a new pile or two if you want more compost. That’s the entire process, very simple, very easy. Within just two to three weeks, the first 2-foot pile of leaves should have turned into a bucket full of black, crumbly, sweet-smelling compost.
For kitchen waste composting, you’ll need a pail with a tight-fitting lid that you can place on the kitchen countertop or in the sink. The pails are carried by most home stores or can be purchased online. Stainless-steel buckets are sturdier and a little easier to keep clean than ceramic. Pails with a carbon filter insert for the lid will keep down any odors; kitchen waste can get stinky, especially in the summer heat.
It’s a good idea to start the kitchen waste compost pile with a half bag of commercial compost to mix in with the first pails of waste. Add vegetable and fruit peelings, skins and pits, spoiled fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds and unbleached coffee filters, tea bags and empty eggshells. Don’t add any grease or other fats, bones, meat or dairy. Keep this pile moist but not soggy and turn it every time you add another pail of kitchen waste, chopping large pieces into small pieces with a shovel. When the pile reaches an optimal size, stop adding waste and start another pile. Avocado pits and corncobs will take a little longer than cherry tomatoes to decompose, but within four to six weeks you should have finished kitchen waste compost ready for the garden.