|From cartoonist Ted McCagg’s Tumblr Questionable Skills.|
I have made a few changes to my personal composting policy recently and I thought I’d share them because they go against what I’ve been doing for years and years – and I suspect you may have been doing the same. Everyone’s garden is different because everyone has their own time-frame, ability, microclimate, and goals. My time-frame is pretty wide open, my ability pretty decent, my microclimate soggy and cold, and my goals are on a mortally unattainable scale of Martha-Stewart-meets-John-Seymour kind of beauty and bounty blend. (Translation: what works for me may be madness for you.)
The changes are these: 1) I have stopped putting eggshells in the compost. 2) I have started putting paper towels and facial tissues in the compost.
Here’s why: 1) My compost bins are as soggy and cold as the rest of the yard and don’t break down some things. Egg shells are one of these things. I’m not sure why I have blindly persisted in loading my compost with egg shells for years on end when every turn of the pile or sift of the finished product clearly shows that they are impervious to the weak powers of my non-nuclear pile. I’m sick of seeing them littering the surface of all my flower beds so out they go and into the trash. Ah – there’s the twinge of guilt. There’s the reason I kept putting them in the compost even though they were doing no good. I have a pathological aversion to the garbage can. Which must be why change #1 couldn’t happen without change #2. 2) Paper towels and napkins and facial tissues which have been used (but not used for anything terribly oily or meaty, like wiping out a pan after frying bacon) are perfectly biodegradable – although, admittedly, they don’t add a whole lot to the nutritional profile of the resulting compost. They are just cellulose bulk in the compost – but they aren’t anything else in the trash can either and they can’t be recycled. Ergo: compost them. So, one item in and one item out.
Here’s a quick rundown of the rest of the policy:
In: Vegetable food scraps, cooked or not, that cannot be fed to pigs or chickens and have not been cooked with meat products.; coffee grounds; used paper towels, napkins, and facial tissues untained with grease or meat; chicken poop and bedding material; leaves (We only have one deciduous tree in the yard. If I had more though I would save them up for making leaf mold, which is a good soil conditioner.); weeds; dead vines from the vegetable patch; pruning trimmings (run through the chipper, if possible).
Out: Pits from peaches, stones from cherries, and other super hard nuts and seeds that don’t break down for years; egg shells for the same reason; anything tainted with meat juices, such as bones, meal scraps, skin, organs, etc.; tea bags; manure from omnivorous or carnivorous animals such as cats and dogs (which can carry scary zoonotic parasites and diseases and need their own special composting system); plants that have fungi or viruses that can’t be killed by frost (such as the late blight and rose black spot which plague our area). Many books and blogs advise against composting perennial weeds in cold bins like mine, but the only plants I have had come back in zombie form are those damn mallows and, oddly enough, squashes.
As my gardening biblesays, “Anything once alive will compost, but some items are best avoided for health or practical reasons.” In our system, anything tainted with meat gets thrown out because it will stink to high heaven while it rots and it will attract unwanted visitors like rats. If we had more property I might bury biodegradable but potentially stinky items like these, as well as the bones and innards left over from chicken butchering. And, being a former subscriber to Archaeology magazine I would have to refer to it as a “midden”.
My reasoning here is that I don’t feel like removing the teeny weeny little staples and neither do I feel like getting stabbed by them through my gloves when I’m sieving the finished compost. Also there is the possibility that your teabag is made of a wispy nylon material that won’t decompose. (What we drink on a day-to-day basis is good old cheap Stash, whose FAQ confirms that their bags are essentially paper, which means they’ll biodegrade just fine.) When we drink loose tea the leaves go in the compost bin.
Pears, Pauline, Editor-in-chief, Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. DK Publishing, Inc. 2002.