Compost Conundrum: Backyard Box, Indoor Bin Or A Can-O-Worms? (Part I)


Backyard bin image by Pete Baugh; worms by kafka4prez at flickr

Let me just say up front that I've got a black thumb and a lazy disposition. It's taken me about ten years to go beyond backyard gardening 101, with many frightful failures. The only thing that pushes me forward is the fact that there's nothing like plucking the greens you'll eat in the evening's salad right out of your very own plot.

So like it or not I've had a variety of backyard compost bins in my smallish yard. The results have always been less than satisfying. While I was very good at filling those cheapo black bins, I was never good at the follow-through - the turning and aerating, the emptying out and sifting required to actually use the earthy results. Keeping the green/brown ration right was always a struggle - I didn't start with Collin's great Green Basics: Compost. Rotating bins - been there, done that - without substantial improvements. Worms, I considered...but only considered. So when I read about the NatureMill indoor bin that promised to do all the work - no mess, no smell, no shoveling or turning - I was completely sold and put the item at the top of my birthday wish list.The NatureMill has been around for three years, so the only excuse I can give for my time lag in finding out about it is inertia (and the rotting hulks already in the backyard). But when I did read up on NatureMill I got re-energized about composting. Takes 120 pounds a month! Meat, fish, dairy ok! Diverts two tons of garbage from the landfill (and my garbage bin) in its lifetime!

And then there was reality. NatureMill is a hot composter, which is why this fairly small unit - 20 inches high, 20 inches deep and just 12 inches wide - can process so much in a relatively short time frame. From the moment you start, you pretty much have to keep the composter plugged in continuously, and according to the company, it will use about 5 kWh each month - roughly the same as one incandescent night light. So far, so good.

You also have to "season" the NatureMill - regularly feeding it sawdust pellets and baking soda (two costs not obviously explained on the web site) - and build up the good bacteria that will be munching on your peelings and scraps. In spite of promises, the NatureMill isn't odor-free. While it doesn't emit the (sometimes) noxious stink of a damp outdoor compost, it smells...very slightly mushroomy and well, let's just say you can tell decomposition is taking place.

In addition, the NatureMill makes some noise. It hums, a bit more than a white noise machine, and it periodically switches into a more active mode of gentle grinding. Enough to wake us once in awhile and make us wonder who or what is creating that strange sound. Then we remember and go back to sleep.

Lastly, the resulting compost really can use some additional drying out, especially if you are going to use it on indoor plants (I'm not, because of the previously mentioned black thumb).

So while I don't think NatureMill is the perfect indoor kitchen composter - we've decided to relegate it to the basement - it does take out a lot of yuck factor of having compost going, and makes it a lot easier to compost during the winter, when I'll just let the hulks outdoors go into hibernation. But stay tuned as Barcelona-based THer Petz Scholtuz gives her side-by-side comparison of the NatureMill and the worm-based Can-O-Worms system. NatureMill also has a newer model that has a foot pedal, is available in lots of colors, and has 'vacation' mode. Perfect for me.

See also: Getting Ready For Earth Day: Compost Your Own Organic Waste and TreeHugger Picks: For The Domestic Composter

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