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a post about compost

I have always wanted a compost bin, but apartment living or having young babies (i.e. good excuses) have stopped me in the past. Last year I finally got my compost bin; our progressive town offers them at a steep discount, along with rain barrels, which I have yet to buy. This is my bin:
It has a lid that shuts in a way only humans can figure out how to operate; it really works, which is lucky for us, since our raccoons love to open our “locking” garbage can lid. The bin has already quickly filled up almost to capacity. Now the compost inside is hard as a rock, so I won’t be turning it for a few months.I started it on my own with just a few basic tips from a pamphlet the town recycling center gave me. I knew I needed to learn more, but the idea of getting a whole book about composting seemed like overkill. I figured there would be plenty of knowledge around town, and I happily have a good way to tap the source. We have a great resource here called the Arlington List; a funny blogger actually started a new blog recently devoted solely to poking fun at our listserv. When I asked the almighty A-List about composting leaves, paper, and coffee grounds to balance the nitrogen and carbon (and keep the smell down), I got some nice replies. I am sharing the information I got from a neighbor with you so you can learn too:

Do not add both leaves and paper – they’re both high in carbon. It won’t cause any smell problems but it will take a very long time to decompose.

You want a good mix of “green” (high in nitrogen) and “brown” (high in carbon) materials. There are lots of websites that can help explain the mixture, what can be composted, etc. As a rule I try to add 2x – 3x the volume of browns to greens. This has the affect of heating the pile faster and preventing bad odors. It also means my compost typically finishes with some non-decomposed pieces of leaves but that’s fine by me.

Getting the coffee from Starbucks is a very good idea and the one down the hill is very good about it. They’re the ones who helped me with a compost experiment I ran which has been publicized by a variety of gardening and homesteading media. My post on it is here:
While that was almost exclusively newspaper and coffee grounds, the same would hold true for leaves and coffee grounds, though shredded leaves are always going to decompose faster.

Do you compost? What are your secrets to fast decomposition and low smell? Are there other tricks besides egg shells and coffee grounds I should know? Do tell!

Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Patchwork Living Blogging Bee and Simple Lives Thursday

Update (1/25/12): This post was a featured favorite on the Patchwork Living Blogging Bee