Turn food waste into black gold for your plants.

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Steve Bender

Eggshells. Coffee grounds and used coffee filters. Fruit and veggie peelings. Moldy bread. Stale crackers. Time was when I used to toss all this stuff into the trash can. But cheapo that I am, I thought, “Why not make free compost from all this?” I got an Aerobin composter, placed it outside under my screened porch in the backyard, and started filling it with the aforementioned kitchen waste.

I also added leaf and stem clippings from the garden, shredded paper documents soaked in water (just TRY to find my offshore bank accounts!), a shovelful of garden soil to inoculate the mix with beneficial microbes that break things down, and even yeast and malted grain derived from homebrewing.

I wanted my compost to be happy.

Was it ever! Things got cooking in there so fast, especially in summer, that the 123-gallon composter never filled up no matter how much detritus I threw in. Stale bread turned blue and green in just a day. Using a garden fork to turn the compost in the bin every once in a while sped things up even more. After eight years of watching me dump organic waste in the composter, my son, Brian, asked, “Dad, when are going to use that compost?” “When it’s done,” I replied. “When it’s done.”

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Brian entered and finished college, found a job, and moved to Virginia before I ever touched the compost. Too bad he wasn’t around this spring. Because in a moment of weakness, I removed the bottom access panel from the composter, inserted a shovel, and transferred a small portion of its contents to my wheelbarrow above. Glorioski! I had cooked the compost to utter perfection!

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My compost has no smell. It does, however, contain just about every nutrient and mineral a plant could want. Upon seeing it, my plants began squealing with delight. “Feed me! Feed me, kind sir,” they begged. I did. I mixed the compost into the soil when planting something new in the garden (it’s ideal for loosening hard clay soil or helping sandy soil hold water). I top-dressed existing garden beds with it. I used it when repotting plants. I was tempted to eat some, but resisted.

So far, I’ve named of a lot of things you can put in your composter. What things should you not? Don’t put in whole fruit, unless you enjoy a million fruit flies buzzing around you every time you take off the lid. Don’t put in meat, bones, or pet food either, as these attract animals. And don’t compost your spouse. The police always search the bin.