Composting—the controlled natural decomposition of organic material such as leaves, grass clippings, prunings, and fruit and vegetable scraps—happens with the help of oxygen-using microorganisms that transform these materials into compost, or humus, a nutrient-rich and biologically diverse soil enricher. The benefits are many. You save money by reducing the need to purchase fertilizers and soil amendments. Compost improves soil health and fertility and prevents erosion. It conserves water by helping the soil hold more moisture. And it helps the environment by diverting valuable organic materials from the landfill or incinerator.
Chic countertop collectors
Collecting vegetable and fruit parings, stale bread, and other scraps for your compost pile need not detract from your kitchen décor. A handpainted bowl covered with a perforated lid, a colander, or a cloth shields materials from view and insects, yet allows air to circulate, preventing mold and odors. For added style, use a china soup tureen (the ladle opening conveniently lets in air) or a small splatterware cooking pot with a lid.
Several companies offer sleek countertop collectors for compostibles. Gardeners Supply, (888) 833-1412, makes a 3.5-quart kitchen compost crock, available in cobalt blue or white, that looks like attractive china kitchenware. An activated carbon filter in the lid prevents odors, so you can go days before emptying. The company also offers five-quart containers in stainless steel and pressed copper, and a gallon-sized terra-cotta crock. Biodegradable cornstarch plastic liners are also available to keep your countertop container from getting messy.
Composters as lawn features
The humble outdoor composter, where organics are transformed into humus, is often relegated to a corner of the yard, out of view. For people with small yards, the idea of an open compost pile or a black plastic composter within sight of a patio or bay window can be a deal breaker. However, with a little creativity, composters can complement your backyard scenery.
Bins are easy to make out of wood, scrap pallets, wire fencing, fence boards, and barrels. These low- and no-cost composters can become attractive with the addition of finished siding. Picket and bamboo fencing make an easy composter or can enclose an existing one. Seek out fencing with hardy slats and weather-resistant wiring. Bamboo and Rattan Works, (732) 370-0220, offers half-inch bamboo-slat fencing as well as others made from flexible willow, twigs, and reeds. Hay bales, mud blocks, and even bricks also can be used as composter walls.
Another method is to insert five-foot-high branches or bamboo culms into the ground in a three- or four-foot-diameter circle. Space the branches three inches apart to let in air but hold the pile securely. Or, space them four or more inches apart and weave grapevines or willow branches through them for a more securely knit structure that hides its contents.
You can make an enclosed composter by drilling air holes in a barrel or an attractive plastic container. Remember that the ideal composter size is three or four feet high and wide; this allows for a critical mass of organics and biology. (If yours is smaller, insulate it to keep the biology cooking, and add worms.)
To further beautify your composter, plant evergreens, shrubs, decorative grasses, or climbing flowers such as nasturtium around it. (Beware of using morning glory and other invasive plants that may seed your compost with plants you don’t want to spread!) You might also plant nutrient-loving vegetables and berries around the perimeter to take advantage of the liquid nutrients that leach from the bottom of the composter.
Erect trellises around your composter and train primrose up them. This also helps ward off hungry critters. You can also buy a beautiful, ready-made flowering composter. The Scrap Eater by Sun Frost, (707) 822-9095, is an oak wine barrel brimming with plants. Hidden in the middle is a composter topped with a glass dome that helps heat up the pile. In addition to the plants, the composter is insulated with an air space, assuring that the composting microbes stay warm and effective.