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JoAnne Skelly: Different way to compost

JoAnne Skelly

My friend Tamara recently shared her unusual composting method with me. It surprised me because she uses kiddie pools to store her kitchen scraps and some yard clippings. She puts two 3-to-4-foot wide pools together and then fills them with her compostables. She usually has three sets of pools going at once, one with “fresh” compost materials, one slightly aged and one ready to use.

Why I find this surprising is because it doesn’t follow the traditional recipe for successful composting, which includes adding green materials like kitchen scraps for nitrogen, plus dry materials such as brown leaves, shredded paper and the like for carbon, and some soil to supply the microorganisms that break everything down into usable humus. She simply dumps her kitchen scraps into the pool with no dry materials other than coffee filters. She doesn’t turn the stuff, just waits for it to break down.

Tamara occasionally waters the pools to keep the piles slightly moist so they will decompose. Another fact I found very interesting is that she doesn’t drill holes in the bottom of the pools for drainage. I would have thought the pools would get rotten and smelly, if water collected in them. However, she lives in Virginia City Highlands and says it is too dry for that to happen and she doesn’t over water the pools.

This easy method doesn’t produce the temperatures needed to sterilize the materials, so it wouldn’t kill disease organisms or weed seeds. It takes a long time to break down, because of not mixing the right amounts of carbon to nitrogen, not turning the pile and not creating a pile big enough to get hot. However, Tamara just waits the many months needed for the materials to decompose. She then uses the decomposed material around her plants. She says her plants thrive.

I asked her about critters, flies and other problems with having an open container of decomposing materials. She says occasionally her chickens get in, but she doesn’t have problems with rodents, raccoons or other animals. She also says the pools don’t stink and there aren’t flies. She did mention she sometimes covers the pools with black plastic with a few holes in it to help heat the materials up a bit.

She suggested crushing eggshells up before you adding them. Add coffee grounds and filters. Don’t add any oils or animal products or you will have critters.

I am going to try this!

JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at skellyj@unce.unr.edu or 887-2252.