Composting: 5 Things We Learned The Hard Way

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Howdy. Remember when we started composting last summer and didn’t really know what we were doing? Well. I am probably more excited than I should be to announce that it worked! We think. We’re pretty sure. Today I’ll share five things we learned about composting the hard way. πŸ™‚ Click through to join me…

Our method to achieve compost wasn’t exactly scientific. We followed the prescribed recipe of adding one part “green” matter, two (or more) parts “brown” matter to Ugly Suspended Barrel on our front patio. We kept the mixture quite damp. We turned Ugly Suspended Barrel to keep the oxygen abundant. We did all the right things (this was a great resource), but we were quite, um, relaxed about them.

Every couple of evenings last summer Caveman and I would say, “Oh yah. We should check compost tonight.” Then it would be a family activity to pull the hose over, take turns spraying the contents of Ugly Suspended Barrel, lifting the boys up to inspect the project, then giving the ugliest patio ornament ever a couple of hefty turns. Then we’d bungee cord the lid back on (we are very classy people, you know) and forget about it for several days.

When the cold weather came along we didn’t make a big effort to check if the compost was completely decomposed. We simply left it all. winter. long. so we have no idea how long the process actually took to finish. Maybe this summer we’ll get around to making two batches. After all, we learned a few things on our first round of composting.



If you’re looking to start composting or are just curious or if you know way more about it than we do and want to pat us on the back and say we’re on the right track, read on. πŸ™‚ Here are the five things we learned about composting the hard way:


1. Composting works better with two batches at the same time.

I imagined that toting our kitchen scraps out to the barrel be a wonderful, all-summer long task. It turns out that since so much of the mixture is brown, the barrel filled pretty fast. Then we just had to wait for it to “bake” and decompose, and I was back to throwing away my fruit and veggie scraps. Which, after being all green and reusing the peels, felt pretty rotten. (Hah! See what I did there?!) So really, if you’re going to do this, you’ll need more than one barrel or pileΒ  to “feed” while the first is decomposing.


2. Composting works better when you are diligent about cultivating it.

Like I mentioned before, I am sure the process would have been accelerated if we had been more attentive to watering the mixture and rotating it on a more regular basis. Or maybe actively checking it near the end of the summer so we could have started over. Just be serious about it.


3. Composting works better when you have a water source nearby.

We were glad to have the hose and water source just several feet away, which made keeping the compost damp easier. Nobody wants to be sloshing around buckets to water their compost. Just put your pile or barrel in a spot close to the faucet.


4. Composting works better if you have a garden.

Haha, um… duh. No but seriously. We don’t have a garden, so we drove our bucket of compost up to contribute to my parents’ thriving agricultural project. We most certainly could have found a friend with some veggie beds or a local community garden in which to donate, but it would be more rewarding to feed your own garden’s soil with your home-decomposed compost. πŸ™‚ Maybe next year we’ll get to try that…


5. Composting works better if you…don’t set it up like we did.

We don’t do anything the easy way, and so naturally we built our own enclosed tumbler out of a plastic barrel. Both Caveman and I agree that it is not the best compost tumbler design. First of all, because the barrel is suspended vertically on the pole it is very difficult to turn, especially when full. Secondly, the lid cannot hold the weight of the compost in when turning. We bungee-corded it and still I had to support the lid to make sure the contents didn’t escape. Thirdly, it’s just. plain. ugly. I think that if we are going to build one again, we’d either splurge for an expensive compost tumbler or maybe just try the less-obstrusive pile method.

ugly compost bin

Β So there you go. Our five things we learned about composting the hard way. Have you done any composting? Would you agree or disagree with our findings? I’d love to hear from you below!

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  • Nancy Thompson
    August 4, 2014

    We live in a condo so composting is not something I do any longer – and I feel guilty about it too. For a couple of years, we saved veg scraps in a bin on our back deck and then delivered it weekly to our son’s compost bin. I think this is the best thing we can do for our gardens and our landfill. Very informative post! Thank you for sharing your lessons learned. It will be helpful for beginners.

  • Joy @ Joyfully Green
    August 4, 2014

    Hi Evelyn!

    Wow, you guys are resourceful, building your own composting contraption! πŸ™‚ We had the opposite problem that you had–our compost was always way too wet and we have to add very dry things to it like wood chips, mulch, leaves, stale cereal, etc. If you do decide to buy a composter, I wrote my own post about our failures and successes. We finally found a good composter that works for us–hooray! Here’s the link to the post:

    Good luck!

    • Evelyn
      August 5, 2014

      Joy, I’m kinda glad we have the too-dry problem instead of the opposite. πŸ˜‰ Thanks for this link! I’ll check it out for the future…

  • Jayleen Zotti
    August 4, 2014

    I love this idea and really want to try it but am also intimidated by it. However, when we are buying compost for our garden, I reeeeaaaaalllly wish we had our own!

    • Evelyn
      August 5, 2014

      Jayleen, I was SOOO intimidated at first too. In a way, I still feel like a newbie! Since you DO have a garden, maybe you could find a friend or neighbor who composts and take the stuff off their hands instead of buying it! πŸ™‚

  • Charlee Anne
    August 7, 2014

    Hi Evelyn! I found you through Thrifty Thursday. We have a large space for a garden in our backyard, and I wanted to do something with it this year, but it just didn’t happen with a toddler and a small baby. So maybe next year! But this will help immensely because I really wanted to do our own composting. Pinning for future reference! Thanks!

    • Evelyn
      August 7, 2014

      Hi Charlee! Fun to have you here. πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by! Yes, definitely give it a go next year. It really wasn’t unmanageable with our little crew underfoot. πŸ˜‰

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