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  • Lynette Mejia

The Lazy Gardener's Guide to Slow Composting

So, here's the thing: stuff decomposes. Before there were gardeners, or gardens, or heck, before there were people, plant matter was dying, falling to the ground, and composting. No brown-to-green ratios, no turning every couple of weeks, no careful monitoring of internal temperatures. Stuff just composted. All on its own.

This is the guiding principle behind my own compost piles. I have several of them, all going at once: a small vermicompost bin with trays, a larger rolling composter with two compartments, an even larger wire-framed two-bin system with a built-in sifting side, and the biggest, messiest of all--the giant pile where I deposit really large cartfuls of material and my daughter dumps the daily gifts from mucking out her horse shelter. With the exception of the rolling composter, which gets a quick turn of the handle every once in a while, I never turn any of them. Ever. And guess what?

I get compost.

Beyond the basic rules of composting, which is to say, I don't put meat or grease in my piles, I don't really worry too much about what goes in. For the most part I keep weeds out, since slow composting is also cold composting, and so doesn't reach the temperatures necessary to kill weed seeds. Otherwise, though, I pretty much put whatever in there - vegetable and fruit scraps, cuttings from the garden, leaves, sticks, small branches, etc. It all goes in. I don't water the pile, either. During dry spells the pile is dry, and during wet spells the pile is wet. There's no smell, no muss, no fuss.

Every autumn (for the horse poop pile) and every couple of years (for the wire bins) I use my trusty homemade sifter, and, like magic, I have beautiful, rich compost. It's not a perfect system, and probably not a good idea if you're looking for a fast turnaround time or obsessive about the stray seed getting in here or there. For quality, though, it can compete with the best of them.

A few weeks ago it was time for the wire composter to be emptied, so I snapped a few photos as we went. We sifted wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of beautiful, rich soil, just crawling with fat earthworms, beetles, and other good decomposers. I even came across a beautiful little Dekay's brown snake, which I hurriedly deposited in the veggie bed along with its load of soil so that it would be warm and right at home. I hope it's out there still, eating slugs and harmful insects and living its best life.

A wire compost bin with compost in the bottom and a pitchfork
Emptying the wire bin after a couple of years.

A wire compost sifter sitting atop a wheelbarrow covered in compost
One of the sides has been fitted with wire to make a built-in sifter.

A wire compost sifter sitting on top of a wheelbarrow. There is compost beneath in the wheelbarrow.
The finished product ready to go into the garden.

A raised vegetable garden bed made of cinderblocks planted with tomatoes
Added to the tomato bed, ready to start growing!

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