If the idea of composting conjures up images of rancid buckets of ooze on kitchen countertops, think again.

St. Paul resident Peggy Thomas has turned her house and garden into a productive composting system that supports the conversion of organic matter — from garden to table, and back to garden again. Little more than rainwater, leaves, and dirt keep the ecosystem purring.

And, “Now is the perfect time to compost!” Thomas says, as garden production wanes and leaves fall — providing critical layers to the composting mix.
Furthermore, it’s all quite easy, she asserts. Her main goal is “keeping water on the land” — not gushing into the storm sewers, sending yard waste to the rivers and lakes — while augmenting the otherwise sandy soil in her garden.

Urban Composting How To’s

Composting food waste in the kitchen
Thomas sorts organics from inorganics in her kitchen composting system.

A childhood on Rainy Lake, then a trek to the Cities to launch her career as a land use planner, required her to move her practices from a rural to an urban locale.

So her St. Paul set-up is simple: a lidded bucket for vegetable matter sits in her garbage can in the kitchen, separated from recycling. When full, she moves it outside to an enclosed bin where it decomposes for three seasons. There, she layers the kitchen waste with yard and garden waste to mask odors, and dirt and water to keep the microbes working their magic.

Backyard compost bin
Thomas adds kitchen and yard waste to her backyard composting bin.

In the winter, she moves the organic matter outside to a lidded garbage can where it freezes. She adds a layer of leaves there, too, to mask smells. By the spring, she can dig the composted material from the bottom of the bin and move it to the gardens. She then dumps the winter compost into the enclosed bin, where the decomposition continues.

She also has a 4’x4’ open wire bin in the corner of the yard to compost weeds and leaves, which nature breaks down to about 10% of its original volume, when the earthy mixture is ready for the garden again.

Strawberries and peppers flourish after compost enriches Thomas’ garden.

Thomas emphasizes that a composting system “doesn’t have to be perfect or high tech,” to produce the sumptuous strawberries, colorful peppers, and chandelier of tomatillos that grace her September garden.

For more on suitable materials for composting, visit: www.nrdc.org/stories

For further reading, Thomas recommends Invisible Nature: Healing the Destructive Divide between People and the Environment by Kenneth Worthy.







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