Compost Conundrum

Compost building







With a sense of pride I used to delve deep into my composter to air out its mixture, poking my shovel beyond kitchen scraps, twigs and grass clippings to hit what gardeners call Black Gold. Sprinkled around the garden, this crème de la crème of dirt nutrients made the roses stand up and salute. And don’t get me started on the bumper-crop of ripe, red raspberries. Not only does compost improve the quality of a garden, it also reduces the amount of organic waste that would otherwise be schlepped to the landfill.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 27% of the US municipal solid waste stream consists of yard trimmings and food residuals.  Even though this material is organic, when trucked to landfills, it adds to greenhouse gases, wastes energy and produces methane. If that methane isn’t released, ka-boom!

Composting is the right thing to do. I wish I didn’t have to stop. Now every time I throw away coffee grounds or egg shells, the guilt eats away at me the way the red worms used to nibble on our apple cores. Hitting the sweet spot of temperature, air, moisture, browns, greens and food scraps demands diligence and fighting through the odor of unwashed socks. Yet when you get there, it’s like being in a cool club; you share a knowing look when you meet a fellow composter.

Like most good things in life, I took my composter for granted. Before I knew it, the overflow of Black Gold literally split our composter apart. None of this would have been a concern until I saw a rat scamper out an opening so fast, I barely glimpsed the long, hairless tail before it disappeared beneath the wood fence.

Designing a rat-proof composter

Rats freak me out, but I didn’t fold. I chucked the compromised composter and moved on with my high school kid’s help. He constructed a rat-proof compost bin with a metal mesh lining; rats’ teeth can’t penetrate the stuff. Starting from scratch, it took time to get to that sweet spot again where banana peels, coffee grinds and grass clippings go in and sweet smelling earth comes out.

My son planted heirloom tomatoes and cilantro for my favorite snack, Pico de Gallo, and I grabbed my shovel to sprinkle on the humus from our composter.  As I lifted the composter lid, I found a plump rat with shiny eyes settled in the center of the dirt mound. He gave me a cold, cold glare. I screamed ala Janet Leigh in Psycho. Mr. UnHollywood ran like a flash to me but the rat had fled.

Composter number two is gone.

Can I rekindle my love affair with composting? I long to do the right thing. If only I could just bag up my old produce and coffee grounds, I’d happily heave them to a composter off site. Any takers? Who can guide me through this compost conundrum?

Author Description

Cynthia Baseman

Cynthia Baseman is the author of 'Love, Mom: A Mother's Journey from Loss to Hope.' She writes about motherhood, the environment and education.

There are 14 comments. Add yours

  1. 21st October 2012 | Christina Simon says: Reply
    In Hancock Park, the rat problem was completely out of control. If we'd have had composting, it would have been Rat Park, not Hancock Park! Yikes! I have mixed feelings about this each their own, I think. But the rat issue freaks me out.
  2. 20th October 2012 | Michelle says: Reply
    This one looks like one nifty gadget! It does sound like you've had fun reinventing the wheel, but take a look! P.S. Hope the local rats don't use it as a "hamster wheel" ;-)
    • 21st October 2012 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      I've seen this. Do you use it?
    • 23rd October 2012 | Michelle says: Reply
      No, not a composter myself - just a finder of nifty gadgets!
  3. 20th October 2012 | irene says: Reply
    they're sneaky undaunted critters....but Vivien was screaming in the atlanta wind whilst 'janet' was in the 'shower'
  4. 20th October 2012 | Ilil Arbel says: Reply
    Well, I suppose this is the beauty of having the best of both worlds. I live in New York City and in Union Square, which is on my way to work, they have a Green Market. In there, there is a beautiful service -- they collect your kitchen scraps, tons of it from the thousands of us who love the idea -- and turn it into compost on their own specialized site away from the Green Market. I put all my kitchen scraps in a plastic bag in the freezer, and take it to the service when the bag is full. They recycle the plastic bags, of course. In addition, they sell (very cheaply) bags of the best soil you can imagine which they prepare from the compost, which I like to buy for my house plants. It seems to me that every suburb and small town in the country could create such a service, don't you agree?
  5. 20th October 2012 | fromdorothea says: Reply
    Thanks, pal. You've put me right off composting for ever. I'll learn to live with the guilt.
    • 20th October 2012 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      Forever's a long time. You might reconsider if the guilt ever starts to get you down. @Roberta has another type of kitchen composter that looks promising.
  6. 19th October 2012 | Carpool Goddess says: Reply
    I'm feeling faint just reading this. Smelling salts, please.
    • 20th October 2012 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      Once you start the whole process, you miss the routine of taking the food scraps out. Wow. That says something about me, doesn't it?
  7. 19th October 2012 | Roberta says: Reply
    I just bought a "kitchen top" composter. Thing looks like small garbage can. U can leave it on counter. I keep it under sink Has charcoal filters so it doesn't smell. I'm new to composting so I didn't get first batch correct. But I continue to work at it.
    • 19th October 2012 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      I wonder how long it needs to 'brew' before you can use it?
      • 19th October 2012 | Roberta says: Reply
        2-3 wks. Small space
  8. 19th October 2012 | lauradennis20869230 says: Reply
    Ohhhh heeeby, geebies just reading this! You're a better woman than I ... -Laura

Say Something, Why Don't Ya?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.