Compost, What Are You Waiting For?

by Katy on February 8, 2010 · 25 comments

The Oregonian newspaper recently published an article on how we Portlanders will soon be able to start composting our food waste in our yard debris cans, which get curbside pickup.

Portlanders will even be able to compost such food waste as bones and food soiled paper, like pizza boxes and paper towels. This is fantastic news, (especially for me) as chicken bones are one of the components of my monthly pickup that’s pretty damned foul after baking in the sun for a month.

But shouldn’t we already be composting our food scraps?

The city Metro department  sells discount composters, and according to their website:

“Approximately 500 pounds of material is composted annually in each of these bins.”

Wow. I’ve been composting since 1998, which means that I’ve diverted 6000 pounds of material from the landfills and yard debris collection areas. 6000 pounds that didn’t have to get trucked away from my home. 6000 pounds of organic material that enriched the soil on my property.

It’s great that the city is setting up a convenient way for Portlanders to compost their “kitchen scraps,” and yard debris. But there’s no reason why we should send this black gold away.

The reality is that even in green-friendly Portland, Oregon, the majority of people don’t compost. And unfortunately, it takes major government intervention for significant change to occur for most. For some, it’s because apartment or condominium living is non-conducive to a compost bin. But for others, it’s due to the mindset that starting up a compost pile is a complicated and smelly endeavor. (Note — my compost bin smells just fine.)

eHow, (one of my favorite new how-to sites) has a nice simple page on setting up and maintaining a healthy compost pile, which should get even the most citified beginner on her way.

Do you compost, and was it difficult to get started? Please share your insights in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Shannon February 8, 2010 at 3:49 pm

We’re pretty new at composting. Our biggest issue was just figuring out where to put it (or anything else, as we don’t have a fence, and our yard was just this big empty green canvas.) What we ended up doing is we are basically doing a heap in a different spot each year, then turning it and mulching it to turn into a new bed. Last year’s heap is this year’s herb garden. This year’s heap could be next year’s flower bed. Also it was important to me that it not be an eyesore, so I planted a bunch of different sunflowers and marigolds around that area, and put up a cute fence around it. Critters don’t care for marigolds, and all the flowers made it look kind of pretty.


Karen February 8, 2010 at 4:24 pm

We are regular composters. We put in lots of food scraps and lots of stuff from the garden, and it really isn’t troublesome at all unless the weather gets stormy, and then I have to figure a way to run the can outside. But this is nothing compared to how much we benefit from the compost pile and how much black gold gets returned to the garden.

Incidentally, my Dad always composted. I believe it was a leftover from WWII when anyone with even a smidgen of yard space raised a garden and composted scraps. I began composting this time around (about ten years ago) because I found an absolutely unused, pristine composting bin for $4.00 in our local thrift store. I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something!


Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green February 8, 2010 at 5:34 pm

I compost. I have a tumbler and love it! I have gotten one batch so far. Once you get in the habit it’s very easy.


shymom February 8, 2010 at 5:39 pm

We compost, but I still fill my green bin pretty much every two weeks.

I have one lazy man’s compost pile that is mostly made of various yard clippings that I piled in a wired container and have left to do it’s thing. I have one compost pile that is enclosed in plastic that takes food waste and some yard waste–we have rats in the area so the food waste needs to be enclosed.

Since this fills up rapidly I also have a worm bin for the rest of the food scraps/coffee grounds.

The green box gets things that I don’t want to add to my compost–mostly things that are pernicious like oxalis, ivy, blackberries. Plus any of the redwood and pine needles from our trees that I don’t use as mulch between my raised beds or the larger branches that I don’t want to wait to break down.


magdalena February 8, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I wish I could compost more. I do when we are settled and know that I can maintain the compost. We live in a small municipality, so there’s not much chance of a community composter. Yes, meat bones are a problem, I can’t feed them to the dogs like other meat scraps (barring fat, also a problem) and I can’t compost them or the raccoons would have the pile all over the yard! When I lived on an isolated farm, I could dump them in the hedgerow or the ravine for scavengers. That’s not possible anymore! Is there any way to compost meat by-products safely or must we become vegetarian?


Brenda February 8, 2010 at 7:34 pm

I love composting, it is like a science experiment. It is so cool how food and yard waste turns into dirt. My garden loves it too.


Mrs. B February 8, 2010 at 7:36 pm

I live outside of Seattle and we can put everything including meat or bones in the green bin too. We can then go to the compost site and buy a load of the compost to use in our yards. I am not sure I would want to use that compost on my garden if it had meat and dairy in it. I think it would be fine around the flowers and shrubs.


Bellen February 8, 2010 at 8:57 pm

I was raised composting, I’m in my 60s. As a kid it was regular composting piles. As an adult it has been compost piles, a round chicken wire tomato cage with scraps on the inside & tomatoes on the outside, scraps run thru the blender and then buried in the garden when we had only a 40’x30′ yard including the garden, and now we bury scraps, and dead fish from the recent cold spell here in FL, at the bottom of our new raised beds and filled them with soil. We will go back to the scraps in the blender as the growing season goes on and I’ll use a bulb planter to dig the holes that I pour the compost soup into – won’t disturb the garden while adding nutrients.

From many people that I’ve talked to I get the feeling that they think it is a very scientific/serious/only one way to do it project. Just start with kitchen veggie scraps, when you conquer that, go on to a small pile outside using kitchen scraps & green garden waste. Proceed from there.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl February 9, 2010 at 3:24 am

Oooh, you are so lucky you’ll have a place to dispose of bones. Those are one of the few food waste things that makes it into my trash can.

I do compost, and am amazed at how much it’s reduced our trash output.


WilliamB February 9, 2010 at 4:21 am

I’ve been composting for about 6 years. I found it a little hard to get started – my first pile was all kitchen scraps, icky![1] Then I actually did a bit of research online and found the “Soil, Compost, and Mulch” forum on the, and also After that I was up and running and never looked back.

[1] Kitchen scraps are all “greens,” and greens get stinky when they get old. Once I learned to add “browns” my pile never smelled again.


barbara gingold February 9, 2010 at 5:02 am

About five years ago I started a new garden and, simultaneously, a compost heap under a huge pine tree in the furthest corner of my small (by American standards) back yard in Jerusalem. It’s all on a dry slope with more stones than soil, where nothing at all had been planted in at least four decades. Since this was to be a low-budget, low-maintenance garden, the “lasagna (lazy) method” of composting looked like a suitable addition: no work, no fuss, no special equipment – all you need is veggie kitchen scraps and a lot of patience! I laid on my little weekly bags of kitchen peelings in one layer, and covered up each new addition with whatever “brown” material I could wrassle up – mostly weeds and leaves, shredded newspapers in a pinch. It got wet in winter rains, but I didn’t water the pile during our annual six-nine month drought season – our water’s too precious to waste on compost (and gray water too heavy to lug down two very steep flights of stone stairs). Bottom line: just a few months ago I started “mining” my compost heap, and way down at the bottom is the loveliest black soil I’ve ever seen in Jerusalem – which is now being scooped into every new planting hole I make. And all this time, it didn’t take more than a few minutes a week to compost (not much more than hauling the same stuff to the trash bin), it never appealed to critters, it never smelled and never asked anything of me (or city authorities) – it just did its thing while I did mine. Highly recommended – and if you’re lucky enough to have spare water to keep your pile slightly moist, by all means do so; your compost will “cook” a whole lot faster.


Katy February 9, 2010 at 7:44 am

Compost in the holy land. I LOVE it!

Aza kef!

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Jeanne Grunert February 9, 2010 at 5:16 am

I wonder what they plan to do with bones. Bones and animal fat/animal products should NEVER be used in garden compost unless heat treated. In home compost piles, animal bones/fat/meat attracts vermin and is a breeding ground for E coli and other bacteria. Never add it. As for a town or commercial compost pile, I can only guess that like bone meal, they’re going to superheat it.

I write an organic gardening column, blog for a couple of garden centers, and wrote a book on gardening – “Get Your Hands Dirty: A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening.” Anyone curious about composting but not sure where to stay, give me an email and I can send you links to some of my articles on it or answer your questions. My website (for work – my contact info is there) is and if you click on my name above, you can find me through my home & gardening blog.

Composting is great…frugal, adds back to the soil…nothing beats it. But bones and soiled pizza boxes? Anyone new to composting, say to yourself “Kids – don’t try that at home.” Stick to plant waste, like carrot peels, potato peels, apple cores, lettuce, even washed out eggshells are okay, but no bones & pizza boxes in the home compost bin, okay?


sandy February 9, 2010 at 6:32 am

I’ve used a compost pile for yard and garden waste and vegetable scraps for years, but it’s a lazy pile, only turned once or twice a year. Stuff like sticks, vines, prickly things, and tough plants stems go into the municipal pickup where it is turned into compost called Dillodirt.

I don’t ever have enough garbage to put it out weekly, so I keep a bag in the freezer to temporarily store bones and other meat bits that would quickly smell bad if left in the garbage.


Lisa February 9, 2010 at 11:19 am

I’ve composted for years and keep a pile going outdoors year around. I guess mine is somewhere between the lasagna method and the lazy method. I dig a shallow trench in my garden area, fill it with food scraps, then top it with the browns and cover it with some soil from the next trench. Our garden gets the nutrients spread around in this way. And the blender method along with the bulb planter works great for spring and summer months.


EL February 9, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Katy, I live in a condo, without any yard. and I can barely keep a plant alive. I certainly don’t need fertilizer for the one pot of scraggly greens that’s currently at death’s door, that I do have. So I guess what I’m waiting for is… what do I do with compost I don’t need? I figure I have to throw it out even if I make it. Put in that context, making it seems like a lot of unnecessary work. Won’t it break down in the landfill anyway? Do you have a better idea for me?


Maniacal Mommy February 9, 2010 at 2:16 pm

We have been composting for quite some time now. We recently upgraded our heap by using pallets (available for a buck a piece around here if you can’t get them for free) and wiring them together. Great for the garden!


Mary Anne February 9, 2010 at 2:23 pm

I started composting in the late 1980’s and have had my own black bin and ‘stir’ from the beginning. It never smells but does not begin to accept all our yard waste. Fortunately, out county has an arrangement with a local landscaping company and favorable drop off hours from April through early January. I was puzzled by your comment on the chicken bones since I was taught that no protein, like a butter soaked baked potato skin or meat, should ever go in one of these bins. Vermin love that. The worst pest I ever saw in the bin was my least favorite living thing: a very long snake. After I finished screaming, my husband reminded me it was aerating the contents.


Kristin February 9, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Ok, this may be a really strange question but I can’t seem to find the answer. I do not compost but want to start, my question is I live in ND and it is commenly well below zero throughout most of the winter so my compost is going to freeze into a solid block, our one day a week of above freezing temps is not going to thaw out my frozen block to allow me to turn it so I can’t imagine there is going to be much composting going on. And there are definetly no grass clippings or leaves to be found for many months. How do I compost throughout the winter in below zero conditions and with little to no “browns”?


Jackie February 9, 2010 at 5:36 pm

I have a compost bin that I add to all winter. In the fall I mow up and bag a bunch of leaves. Then I add these saved “browns” along with “green” kitchen scraps throughout the winter.

Not much action happens when it is cold. But any time it heats up a little, some composting will occur. If you layer browns and greens, stirring isn’t as important.

Ideally a compost pile would have plenty of greens, browns, moisture, and air and be turned frequently. But composting will still happen, just much more slowly, in less than ideal conditions.

By the way, my pile is frozen solid right now also.


Lisa February 10, 2010 at 10:04 am

Kristen- You can also use shredded newspaper &/ or torn up pieces of cardboard as the browns in your pile. It takes me through the winter months.


Carla February 9, 2010 at 7:32 pm

I’m like El…..I live in a townhouse with no yard. In addition to all the work of schlepping my food waste outside (and into sub-zero midwest temps five months a year), I would also have to find someone to come and haul away the end product. No thanks. Katy’s story about finding Mickey’s cousin in her compost bin pretty much sealed the “I don’t want to compost” opinion with me (I don’t do well with the IDEA of rodents, let alone knowing that one might be living in my compost bin…..)


oldboyscout2 February 9, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Non-compost subject: The Portland OR’s main newspaper “The Oregonian” has ,written by Leslie Cole, one the best guides to smart food shopping I have ever read in the Tuesday Feb. 9 “FOODDAY” section . Most of the food being bought does not require hours and hours of prep .


Katy February 10, 2010 at 7:27 am


I too was amazed by how incredible that article was, and that’s actually what I was going to write about today.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Tracy Balazy February 10, 2010 at 8:54 am

My husband built a backyard compost bin last year from scrap wood, and all of our yard waste and food scraps, coffee grounds, etc., go in there. We don’t eat meat, which solves that problem. I think this year we’ll buy some red worms to help the compost along.


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