Seeking the ultimate compost system

Credit: Carol Pope

Above: Perfectly good but slightly lumpy compost after three days in the indoor composter. We’ve since started blending it in a food processor for a more pureed result.

We all have our dreams and one of mine has been to find the ultimate compost system. Let’s be honest: for all its environmental and garden-boosting glories, compost can be a big hassle! How many of us have opened our outdoor compost bin to come face to face with a mouse or rat? I have, and even came to the point where I got into the habit of using a very long stick to propel the lid off the compost bin, hoping any visiting rodents would make a dash for freedom before I came close. At some point, I became super conscientious and kept a large pile of drying leaves and another of soil handy for lasagna layering: compost, carbon, soil, compost, carbon, soil. The rewards were rich: only an occasional mouse came to visit, and we had worms like I have never seen them before, literally hundreds in every shovelful. I felt like a glorious giver of life to our earth.

Of course, once I had it all figured out in our bear-less neighbourhood, we moved to bear country two years ago. What was a good system once was now was tantamount to baking a compost pie for these roaming beasts living in the forest immediately behind us. Attracting them was dangerous for us, and even more risky for them, as a bear conditioned to seeking food from populated areas poses a risk to humans and may need to be “eliminated.” Trench composting, where one simply buries kitchen waste in trenches, is also a no-no, as bears can sniff out food many feet down.

Throwing valuable vegetable and fruit peelings into the garbage had me in a terrible funk, so my husband took it upon himself to solve the problem. For Christmas, he ordered me an indoor compost bin and a thrilling gift it was!

Made by Nature Mill, this compost bin came with many promises. It would turn over 120 lb. (55 kg) of kitchen waste, processing vegetables, fruit and even dairy, fish and meat scraps. And while there was a slight odour, it would be reminiscent of “damp wool, sourdough bread, or mushrooms.”

nature mill indoor compost binAbove: To get the indoor composter going, you need kitchen scraps, baking soda, a little dirt from your garden and sawdust (or the sawdust capsules that arrive with the composter). We started ours in our basement to test it out prior to moving it to the kitchen. In the end, we opted to keep it in the greenhouse.

Let me say that while I wouldn’t be without my indoor composter, there were days when “damp wool” was not a fitting description for the stench emitted from our bin. I’m willing to admit, though, that our compost may have been off-balance, needing more baking soda or sawdust, or perhaps containing too many citrus-fruit scraps during mandarin-orange season. It seems to be a matter of getting the right chemistry. Also, with a family of five and a heavy emphasis on fruits and vegetables in our diet, I know we demand a lot out of this little machine.

compost in nature mill indoor compost binAbove: Inside the indoor composter.

Again, perhaps because of these abundance and balance issues, we have also have had some trouble with fluid overflowing from the bin. Admittedly, this is worse during those weeks when we go through a couple of watermelons and add the rinds to the compost; still it was enough for us to make the decision to move the composter outdoors to our greenhouse, where we could simply spray off the floor with a hose when there was leakage.

nature mill indoor compost binAbove: In the greenhouse, our slightly warm indoor composter is a great place to rest a growing plant or tray of germinating seeds.

Actually, positioning the composter in the greenhouse has worked out very well, as it provides a warm surface for a tray of germinating seeds, and it takes up very little room.

Another limitation with our NatureMill composter was that it would jam on occasion. When it did, it was usually just a matter of waiting it out until the machine worked through the difficulty. Nevertheless, to speed up the composting process and eliminate jams we decided to chop all our kitchen scraps up in a food processor. This works beautifully, as within three days we now have steaming “chunk-free” compost ready to be dug into the garden!