what’s old is new again


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Several months ago I was watching Lisa Cholodenko’s film “The Kids are All Right” and had to laugh out loud when Annette’s Bening’s progressively-minded character goes on an angry rant about the latest trends in her hip Los Angeles social circle. She exclaims in a mocking voice,

“I’m sorry guys, but I just can’t, with the f**king hemp milk and the organic farming and heirloom tomatoes. ‘Oh no, don’t throw that in the trash, no man, you gotta throw that into the composting bin so the f**king worms can sh*t all over it and turn it into glorious mulch and we can all feel better about ourselves.’ God! What a bunch of bullsh*t!”

What was funny to me was realizing that something as old and ignoble as composting (which I’ve not only been doing all my life but which pre-dates Moses—really!) has now somehow become so trendy it’s subject to derision. It’s as though the whole idea of compost has been composted itself! (For those interested in knowing more about the history of composting check out this article by the University of Illinois extension.)

Regardless of whether composting happens to be “in style” or not, it’s still makes sense and it’s easy to do. Collect vegetal waste, let it rot, put it back into the soil. It’s that simple. Why throw something out when you can put it to good use?

Over the years I’ve composted with many different methods. When I was a child we had a simple wood-frame compost box in the backyard that my dad built from scrap wood. When I moved out on my own I used a variety of smaller portable premade bins, tumblers and worm boxes (all of which work well and are readily available in local home and garden stores or online at places like compostbins.com). But once I had a family and a larger garden I outgrew the standard containers and just started composting in big uncontained heaps (very slow and not so pretty.)

I must confess that after a lifetime of using these various composting methods I started to develop a “fantasy composter” that I yearned to have. (Some girls want diamonds…well, what can I say?) I had always liked the basic wooden frame that I had grown up with but wanted something even larger that allowed easy access for turning over and removal. I had my heart set on a classic three-bin system.

Well my dream finally came true last March when a friend offered to build one for me. Since then, it’s been producing loads of wonderful “black gold” for my garden. It’s easy use since the front slats are all removable, making it a snap to turn over the compost and move it from bin to bin. It makes me so happy every time I harvest a pail of rich, beautiful compost and see the wonders it does for my garden.

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For those interested in building a three-bin system like this, there are lots of places to download free plans online such as this one from Seattle Tilth as well as a variety of others offered by a Washington public works agency.

And while I’m on the topic of composting, there’s also the issue of collecting your kitchen waste. I’ve had numerous ugly and stinky containers sitting on my kitchen counters over the years and the best one I’ve found by far (not ugly and not stinky!) is this stainless steel compost keeper. It’s really a very tidy way to contain your old peelings until you can get out to the bin.

Even if you live in an apartment or aren’t a hardcore gardener, it’s still possible and useful to compost. And honestly, you don’t have to start drinking hemp milk or stop shaving your legs in order to do it.