File this one under, “sounds like a good idea, but still to be proven.” Since we have no garbage disposal in Sonoma (we’re on a septic system) and we haven’t yet arranged for garbage pick-up service, we’ve suddenly been confronted by the amount of trash that can be generated in only a weekend of meals. I’m talking just plain old organic trash — fruit skins, leftover food, vegetable peelings. Given the off-the-grid type of lifestyle we’re trying to live up there, bagging it all up in plastic and hauling it to the dump didn’t seem right. But putting it out in a compost heap and having rats, raccoons and other critters attack it seemed even more wrong.

Then on the Internet, I thought I found the perfect solution: an indoor, super-efficient composter. Well, as always, things sound so much better on-line. This may still turn out to be a good idea, but it’s more complicated than I thought it would be.

The composter I ordered was the Nature Mill Plus Edition. The promise: hassle-free and odor-less operation — just throw stuff in and your compost is ready in two weeks.

As you can see, the Natures Mill unit is only a bit larger than your average terrier.
Lucy’s shaking head is from the ripe smell that occurs before the “biosystem” in the
unit has stabilized.

Well, almost. Turns out making compost is more complicated than making the most finely balanced Rhone style varietal. The balance has to be just right, and to do that you need constant adjusting and fine-tuning. And it’s very finicky about the size of the stuff you throw in. I’m spending more time and attention cutting my scraps into uniform pieces than the sous chefs at the French Laundry spend preparing their artfully composed vegetable side dishes.

Don’t misunderstand me, the Nature Mill unit is pretty amazing. You just throw scraps in there — even meat and dairy which most composters can’t handle. The thing keeps everything at a constant high heat, turns it over every few hours and beeps at you when your trash is cash (so to speak). I’m still not able to resist opening the cover every three hours and marveling at how fast lunch turned into humus.

The downside, well technically there is no odor. IF you’ve got everything balanced correctly. That means the proper ratio of “greens” (high water-content scraps like vegetables) with “browns” (coffee grounds, coffee filters, old bread — basically composter “roughage”). Too many greens and ewwwwwwwwwww.

We find we’re now balancing our meals for the benefit of the composter. “Wait, we’ve got lots of salads and vegetables in this meal. We’ll need this meal to include some bread and coffee grounds to balance that out.”

You can always adjust things with sawdust and baking soda. But it’s a delicate formula and I’m still figuring out the magic combination.

Then there’s that rich compost that comes out in two weeks. Sure it looks like great garden earth. But what they don’t tell you until page 12 of the User’s Manual is that this stuff isn’t “cured” yet. Apparently, it’s so rich it’ll burn a hole in your petunias. You need to let it sit out in the sun for a bit to simmer down the nitrogen content.

It wasn’t that suggested “double composting” I minded. It was the fact that the dogs found this curing compost very tasty eating. And I didn’t much care for their “double composting”.

Don’t let your dogs eat your curing compost. Or you’ll have double composting.
And it won’t be the kind you want to work into your garden.

I’ve just ordered a Sun Mar Tumble Garden Composter — guaranteed to be animal proof and operate with just a crank of the handle.

While researching this second tier composting solution, I also noticed you can even get a Pet Poo Composter!

Given that I already field compost the stems and pressings from the grapes and we’ve just constructed the ultimate three tiered horse manure composting system for when we start getting livestock. . .well, you can see that this composting business is a slippery slope.

Pretty soon I’ll be growing things just to feed my composters.

So do I recommend the Nature Mill indoor composter? Yeah, I’m really warming up to it (little composting humor there!) I’m slowly learning its eating habits and, in the end, it’s better than holding rotting kitchen scraps in those green buckets for a week in order to hand it over to San Francisco’s curbside composting pick-up.