composting question
February 1, 2021 6:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm a beginner at composting, and have bought a kitchen counter bin(1.3 gallon) for collecting food waste, to be added to an outdoor tumbler. But I live and eat alone, so it will take a long time, ordinarily, to accumulate that much "green." One FAQ I'm using says to add fresh waste to the "brown" in the tumbler. How necessary is it that it be fresh, or how long would be too long to be adding to a single load in the bin?
posted by mmiddle to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Your problem is more going to be having a moldy bucket on your counter if you let it sit for even a week. Regardless, it'll still compost- it'll just be nasty.
posted by noloveforned at 7:06 PM on February 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Personally, years of composting has taught me that I can't get the material up to heat (160 degrees F) long enough without having a much larger pile. I now favor the Berkeley method, which takes as a minimum about 1.5 cubic yards as its lowest successful size. With the amounts you are using, if it were me, and if I had access to a garden or even a grass lawn, I might use your kitchen scraps for trench composting. Or, you could go in completely the other direction, and lean into the stinky anaerobic side of things, and do Bokashi composting. But I don't think you have the volume of kitchen scraps, ("greens" in composting parlance) which would also need to be mixed with a much larger volume of dry material ("browns") in order to have a successful traditional composting operation. If you continue to use a backyard tumbler, just make sure to add some dry material, even if it is shredded paper or newspaper, or fallen leaves. You won't really be making compost, but it will eventually produce a satisfactory mulch. When I was in your situation, I used my kitchen scraps to feed an undersink worm colony, which produced lovely castings, and is a very forgiving operation. Well, those are some options you may not have considered, I hope that helps you decide. Anything you do is certainly better than just throwing the kitchen scraps out with the trash.
posted by seasparrow at 7:44 PM on February 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

I'm not positive but I think "brown" refers to leaves and grass clippings. The "green" may turn brown in color - and stinky - but it will still be green.

Onions and crap are going to get horrendously stinky - like dry heave stinky - in the bottom of the bin after more than a couple days. It doesn't smell with the top closed but bringing the empty bin inside and rinsing it can be rough. I put a couple of paper towels on the bottom and that soaks up the juice and helps a ton. Some people also use compostable liners.
posted by ftm at 7:45 PM on February 1, 2021

I've been doing lazy composting for years. I pay no attention to brown vs. green. You want a certain amount of volume, so add leaves or grass clippings to your food waste. Got neighbors? Maybe a couple of them would like to contribute veg. craps to your tumbler.
posted by theora55 at 7:48 PM on February 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

I use the bokashi system mentioned up above which uses a bran additive every couple of inches to ferment the waste. I then add that to my large (220 litre) compost bin outside. That is what's meant by green waste, as are any lawn clippings, leaves etc. The leafy bits. My partner and I fill one bokashi bin (18 litre) over about 2 weeks and then leave it to ferment for another 2 weeks whilst we fill the second. We don't eat meat, so our veg trimmings may be a little higher than someone on a more omnivous diet. The bokashi bins have little taps on the bottom to allow you to drain off the liquid byproduct. Watered down, this makes an excellent plant food.

The brown in your question I think just refers to the brown compost in your thumbler, or at least it does that way it's written, however, in composting generally, brown waste refers specifically to things like bits of tree branches, the woody bits, and a compost bin needs both to produce compost. I don't have a lot of that in my garden, but a great substitute is paper, card and egg boxes. Currently we have nearly everything delivered, and the brown paper used as padding in many packages gets torn up and goes straight into the compost. Any letters on ordinary, not shiny, paper get shredded and they go in too. Plain cardboard, egg boxes, all in. That takes care of the brown element.
posted by Faff at 11:25 PM on February 1, 2021

I'm also of the lazy composting camp. There's not a lot of care about composting ratios.

And because I'm lazy, and don't want to maintain two waste streams or make too many trips to the compost bin, I put any un-recyclable paper (mostly food wrapping) straight into the kitchen composting bin. Then dump the whole thing out into the outdoor bin when full, every week or so.

Paper is good for lining the bottom of the bin and making it come out easier. It'll stink, and if you don't have a sealable lid (ours is an old feta bucket, so it seals fairly well) and are sensitive to smells, you might consider keeping it in the fridge. Or just empty it often especially in summer. My parents always had a compost bin, I just deal with the smell when emptying it.
posted by kjs4 at 11:36 PM on February 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

If your kitchen waste has already started rotting, I don't think your compost bin will mind. But it will make your life more unpleasant, in the kitchen and when the time comes to take it outside.
Might be worth taking it outside more frequently?
posted by vincebowdren at 1:36 AM on February 2, 2021

We have been using a super simple method for about 7 years now. Made bins in the back of the yard out of pallets. Use a lovely glass jug (also about a gallon, I think) in the kitchen to keep scraps. Run it out to the bins whenever we think to or it gets full. The glass is really easy to scrape and/or hose out. It goes in the dishwasher when we feel like it should. We were sad when the first jug broke, but a second was easily found at a thrift store, same as the first one.

This worked really great when my kids were still at home. We have always cooked from scratch a lot. It has been working just as well during quarantine with just the two of us. We have also had a slowly expanding garden this entire time, so leftover bits from shelling peas or stringing beans to get them ready to blanch and freeze also go into the bins. Same with the stuff left from tomato and pepper sauces. We also toss in egg shells, stale rice, and coffee grounds. We've also added grass clippings, depending on how things were going in the yard.

End result is that we rarely have an odor problem. The occasional mold problem gets taken care of by some hot water plus soap and scrub or maybe a run through the dishwasher after scraping into the bin.

We do use our compost, but really the best result for us is that we have hardly any gross wet garbage to leave in a bag on the curb every week (smaller garbage collection bill as a bonus). There's really no odor to offend the neighbors or us because of open breathable bins. And we share garden goodies with the neighbors anyway, so our earthy, hippy ways are accepted in our lovely community.
posted by lilywing13 at 5:11 AM on February 2, 2021

I also do the lazy method, but the downside is my compost literally takes months to be useful, which kind of sucks. Turning the pile helps some, but not that much. And my pile has no smell, or at least no smell different from the yard.

I tired bokashi for a while, but those meal/pellets were more expensive than I wanted to spend.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:33 AM on February 2, 2021

Be definition, all this will biodegrade. Everything else is an optimization to reduce the time it takes, the smell it produces, or the pests it attracts.

The harm in having too much brown (leaves, grass clippings, shredded newspaper) to green (vegetarian kitchen waste) is that it slows the process down relative to the perfect balance in a large enough pile. It won't get hot enough to kill pathogens, so don't go putting meats and things in there. I compost in a big bin and don't bother turning, just layering greens and browns. I could dig out finished compost from the bottom, but what I really do in spring is dump it all out and put the stuff that looks like soil in the garden and the stuff that doesn't back in.
posted by advicepig at 11:47 AM on February 2, 2021

Best answer: You can keep your kitchen waste in a sealed container in the freezer. This actually helps the material break down more quickly when it goes out to the pile. Frozen stuff doesn't decompose in the freezer so no smell until it goes outside.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:56 AM on February 2, 2021

I think you are getting your browns and greens mixed up. Browns are dry, carbon rich sources, like dried leaves, paper, mulch. Greens are fresh, nitrogen rich sources, like your kitchen waste, grass clippings, and garden prunings. If you are only adding kitchen waste to your compost, you need to add more dry material, or it is going to stink, drip, and not compost.

I am also a single person with a compost tumbler (2 chamber) that I use for kitchen scraps. I keep the scraps in a 2 L container in my fridge that I empty into the bin every couple of days. Every so often I add browns, particularly shredded paper or dry leaves, until the mix is moist but not wet, and doesn't smell. It takes me about 2 months to fill one side of the tumbler, which I then leave to sit to compost while I fill up the other side. I do also have a large mesh compost bin for grass and garden waste, since I have to do a whole bunch of pruning.
posted by neatsocks at 10:51 PM on February 2, 2021

A worm bin seems ideal for this situation.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:40 PM on February 3, 2021

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