Composting is a great way to limit your garbage and to create wonderful, clean soil for your garden but composting at a secondary residence comes with some challenges. Is it possible to compost somewhere you aren’t living full-time? Is it worth the effort?
Short Answer: Yes, you can definitely compost at a part-time residence, vacation home, lake house, beach house, weekend house, or any other kind of residence. You just need some simple tools, some space, and a lot of patience.
Composting is a simple, natural process where food scraps and garden waste can be transformed — with time — into top soil. There is no magic involved and while you can optimize things with proper techniques, lots of work, and fancy gadgets, none of those things are strictly necessary.
Compost needs to be put in some sort of pile where the material can decompose, creating heat, which aids the composition process. The most material, the more heat, the faster things break down. You also need some moisture and some aeration, which is usually provided by turning the compost in some way (with a shovel in an open pile or with a tumbling composter if it’s enclosed).
If you are composting at your full-time home it’s easy to check the temperature with your compost thermometer, to turn the compost (either by spinning it or shoveling it), and to check the moisture level. You can also look in on the decomposition and gauge whether you’ve done the one skill-based part of composting: added the proper ratio of green and brown materials.
When you are composting at a part-time home you’ll have to keep in mind a few things:
- You can’t turn the compost as often so the process will be slower
- Are aren’t around as often, so pests are more likely to try to forage in the compost
- Since you aren’t checking the mix frequently, you won’t have as many chance to check moisture levels
What all this ultimately means is that the compost at your vacation home will be slower to develop. But that’s fine, compost is a marathon not a sprint!
How To Help Your Vacation House Composting
What can you do to optimize your composting?
First of all, make sure your composting pile is as large a possible. The larger it is, the less sensitive it is to rain and an imperfect mixture of greens and brown materials. Also, larger compost piles create more heat and heat that heat better than smaller ones, so they build up moment that keeps the breaking down process going without you there to help.
One way to get a big compost bin is to get four wood pallets (the kind lumber is delivered on) and strap them together in a standing square. Start to fill this with your garden waste and food scraps and then throw a tarp over it, and your are composting!
If you don’t have access to pallets then buy something like the Geobin Compost Bin, which is basically a plastic fence will do the job nicely as well.
If you a concerned with pests, like bears or raccoons, you will want a turning compost bin. In this case you’ll want something big, since many of the small ones aren’t big enough to create the heat you need to efficiently compost, especially when you are away for weeks at a time. Additionally, it’ll help if the composter is insulated, so what heat is does have it’ll hold on to.
Our picks for turning composters are:
- Mantis CT08002 – Good size, non-insulated
- Mantis CT02001 Compact: Large and well-built with a hand-crank, non-insulated
- Jora Composter JK 125: Insulated, high up so easy to work with
- Jora Composter JK 270: Large, insulated, high up
- Jora Composter JK 400: A true composter monster. $1000 and 106 gallons
Another tip is to save your clean cardboard and rip it up (or shred it with a shredder) and use it for your composting. Weekend home-users tend to love composting because it means much less, and much less smelly garbage, but that means a lot of wet “greens” going into your compost. If you are typically adding 3 browns to 1 green in your compost, that’s a lot of brown to deal with that one weekend of food scraps!
How do you deal with this? You either need to save grass clippings or fallen leaves throughout the year and use these as your browns (this is almost impossible if you have a yard service that takes away your lawn waste) or you use shredded cardboard!
You might things newspaper is better than cardboard since it’s so lightweight and easy to shred, but it actually is a poor choice! Newspaper contains large amounts of a wood fiber known as lignin which actually breaks down very slowly. Cardboard is the better option.
Pests and Compost
Many people don’t compost because they are concerned with pests – – rats, mice, raccoons, bears, and so for. While this is a valid concern, it’s often something people worry too much about. Why is that?
To limit the possibility of pests invading your compost, you can take the following steps:
- Keep your compost totally vegan: No meat, no bones, no dairy, no animal products at all
- No fats: Don’t put oils, avocados, peanut butter, or anything fatty in your compost. The nutritional density will attract bugs and animals
- No cooked foods: Cooked foods smell good and the often contain salts, fats, and spices which make them more attractive to pests than bark and old leaves
- Use a closed composted that is off the ground: Even if your compost smells good, smaller animals, like rodents, won’t be able to get into a close, tumbling composter
- Higher brown to green ratio: If your compost has more grass, bark, and leaves and less food, the overall mix will be less worth the trouble than if it’s just packed with wonderful apple peels and squished bananas. Adjust the mix to make it closer to the dirt it’ll end up becoming
Lastly, and most of all, don’t worry about it. Composting is natural process and your scraps want to compost! all we can do is help them move along the process a bit quicker than they would on their own.