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Composting: It's Easier Than You Stink

Get a compost bin for free or cheap from your trash collector to start reducing your kitchen waste.

In college, I threw egg shells out of my dorm room window into the flower bed because I knew organic matter didn't belong in the trash, I just didn't have a way to compost.

But flower beds in Watsonville needn't be littered with egg shells. Watsonville residents can get free or low-cost equipment for home composting that are easy to use and produce high-quality soil for gardens or potted plants.

  • Watsonville residents can call the Public Works Department customer service line at (831) 728-6133 to order a free compost bin.
  • Residents of the unincorporated area of Santa Cruz County who are GreenWaste Recovery customers can get a free Earth Machine or Can-o-Worms bin in lieu of yard waste service. If you have yard waste service, the equipment is $25. Call GreenWaste Recovery at (800) 665-2209 to order. Non-customers can purchase the equipment at wholesale cost.

There's a whole website dedicated to teaching people best practices for composting in Santa Cruz County.

At our house, we went with the worm composter. I'm not saying it's better than a compost bin, which I've used in the past. To be honest, I just wanted the worm farm in the backyard.

Jerry Gach, a San Jose worm breeder better known in some circles as "The Worm Dude," explained that backyard composting—like in a bin—is good for yard debris while worm composting is best for kitchen waste. 

About worms, he advised: "feed them a lot. They’re very voracious. … all they do is eat, poop and breed."

Whether you select a worm bin or a regular composter, it's important to keep the project healthy. It may seem like any ol' food scrap should go in the heap, but there's actually a science to it. Here are some tips:

  • Keep a canister in the kitchen for food waste destined for the compost bin.
  • The compost pile needs to stay damp, but not soggy.
  • Don't compost meat or milk-based waste. It'll smell and attract animals.
  • If there are varmints in your neighborhood (rats, raccoons, even nosy dogs) make sure the top of the compost bin is secure. It shouldn't be a buffet for animals.
  • Don't feed worms yard waste, like twigs and grass clippings.
  • Compost might have an odor, but it shouldn't be vile. If it's stinky in your compost bin, turn it over with a shovel or pitchfork and add leaves. If the worm bin gets ucky, cut back on "feeding" the worms for a bit.

Gach said the problems with both types of composting usually boil down to too much mositure or too much "food" at once.

"You only want to keep your backyard compost pile damp like a rung-out sponge," he said, adding that it should have a healthy mix of carbon and nitrogen materials, along with moisture and oxygen.

Find more on the county website.

By the way, if you go with a worm bin, you'll need to get some worms. They're available at some stores, like ProBuild in Santa Cruz, and through individuals (here's a list with phone numbers). I scored a half-gallon jug of worms from a friendly Aromas worm composter through .

Eventually, you will turn your kitchen waste into beautiful, healthy soil. In the worm bin, it also will be full of nutrient-rich worm castings. Work it into your garden or use it to pot houseplants.

"You can put your compost on a fern, orchid and you don’t burn it up,” Gach said. He added that worm castings provide beneficial bacterial, “that’s what makes your plants grow so fabulously.”

Other bonuses? You reduce your trash output and, if you have kids, the whole effort is an at-home science project.

jana meares March 08, 2012 at 01:22 AM
I am all about composting!
Jennifer Squires March 08, 2012 at 05:30 AM
Share some tips, Jana!

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