Guest Post: Alisa’s Kitchen Composting 101

October 27th, 2010 - filed under: Furthermore » Guest Bloggers

Today I’m delighted to welcome our second guest blogger! Alisa is a long-time Bonzai reader and an accomplished urban farmer. Here, she breaks down the basics of kitchen composting – an important practice that not only reduces waste, but actually produces ‘garden gold’! Thanks so much to Alisa for this awesome contribution.


It’s such a waste to throw out food scraps, don’t you think? Especially if you’re a gardener or plan to be in the future – you can compost your kitchen waste! Of course, not everything is suitable for the compost pile, but you’d be surprised.

Composting is the decomposition of organic materials into a nutrient-rich substance for your garden. Plants love it and it creates a great add-in to your existing soil or a fertilizer.


Kitchen Scraps
Fruit cores, peels (carrot, potato, melon, etc), hard tops of squash, any fruit, any vegetable, and even egg shells are okay

Fresh Grass Clippings

Green Garden Waste
Dead leaves, plants that have stopped producing, bolted lettuce, dead flowers. When you clean out your garden in the fall, add all the dead plants to the compost pile!

Weeds That Have Not Gone To Seed
If you compost weeds that have flowered or have seeds, you’re risking creating more weeds when you use the compost!

Yard Waste
Leaves, needles, twigs, clippings from bushes, straw

Aquarium Water or Algae/Lake Weeds
From freshwater only. These add nitrogen to the compost.

Partially decomposed organic material that adds rich nutrients to the compost. Dog, Cat, and Reptile should be avoided.


Diseased Plants
This can harbor the disease and spread it to your plants later on.

Dog, Cat, Reptile Manure
It may contain pathogens that can harm humans.

Gypsum Board
Any housing material is a NO!

Anything From The Side Of The Road
Even if you clean up the dead weeds and grass from the side of the road there is a chance it has been sprayed with harmful pesticides and/or could contain petroleum residues.


Dryer Lint
Pet/Human Hair
Wood Ash
Wood Chips


Did it come from a natural source?

Will it break down? Is it biodegradable?

Does it contain toxins or pesticides?

Do I want this in my garden?


Collect your kitchen scraps and yard waste daily. Some people conveniently keep a compost bucket on their kitchen counter or under the sink, to add to as they cook. You can empty it at the end of the day to eliminate odor. There are also nifty compost containers with carbon odor-preventing lids.

Create your compost pile out of site and out of “smell.” It can get stinky! Also keep in mind that it may attract dogs, cats, and other animals looking for a snack. So, placing the pile behind a fence or in a protected area might be a good idea.

Once a week or so, turn your pile. Take a pitch fork or a shovel and agitate it, mixing it up a bit. Add different layers, too. If you’ve been adding a lot of kitchen scraps, then add a layer of grass clippings or leaves to help it decompose faster.

Keep working at it and adding on, for about a year. The following spring it should be ready to be mixed into your garden soil.

And I promise, your garden will thank you!

Here are some helpful sites:
Capital District Community Gardens


Alisa loves to live life to the fullest! She spends most of her time in her kitchen and garden each day. She is a foodie at heart and enjoys growing a large enough garden to feed her family in the summer months and into the winter. She and her husband grew up in the country but have created a small suburban farm for themselves in the Great Northwest. Gardening, cooking from scratch, preserving and raising their own food is their way of life and they enjoy every minute of it! Follow Alisa’s cooking & gardening adventures at Alisa’s Garden.

  • Gabriel Nagmay

    “Once a week or so, turn your pile”
    To many people that I talk to, this seems to be the biggest hesitation. They rightfully argue that they don’t have the time to turn a large pile every week. I try to assure them that this a recommendation – not a requirement.

    I have been composting my entire life and rarely turn a pile more then once a month (if that). Sure, it may take a bit longer, but even a stagnant pile will produce great compost.

    It also helps to explain “turning”. Really, you just need to break down and remix the pile.

    For me, the 3 bin method is easiest: You put all fresh material in the first bin – toping each layer with dead leaves or soil to reduce any smell. When it is completely full, “turn” it by moving it to the second bin. And when the second is full move it to the third. This bin is completed compost that you can use as needed.

  • Meghan

    I definitely need to revisit this in about a month when we finally move into a house! I know it is possible to compost in an apartment, but it always just seemed too daunting. Hopefully I can convince my husband that it is a decent idea when the time comes around. :-)

  • Adrienne Audrey

    We got an indoor worm composting bin for Christmas last year. Its great for apartments and small spaces. It fits right in the corner in the kitchen and it doesn’t smell at all. I highly recommend these for people who don’t have yards or want to deal with a large compost bin.

  • Serenity

    Does that fact that most of our food is genetically modified and pesticide laden change the value of homemade compost?

  • erosan

    @Gabriel Nagmay: That sounds like something I could try! I’ve got a question though: what do you mean with: “when the second is full”?

    Are the bins different sizes? because if they are the same size, wouldn’t the second become full as soon as you “turn” the first bin into the second?

  • Gabriel Nagmay

    I use 3 of the black bins that the city sells – but you could as easily use a wooden system:

    “wouldn’t the second become full as soon as you turn the first bin into the second?”
    See this is the one of the great things about compost – the pile gets much smaller as it continues to decompose.

    Yes, when you “turn” the first into the second it is immediately full. However, by the time that your first bin starts to become full again, the second will be 1/2 to 1/3 of the original size. So you top off the second bin a few times. When they both become full, it is time to move the compete second bin to the 3rd and final position.

    Trust me, by the time your 1st and 2nd bins are full again, that 3rd bin is more then ready to put in the garden.

    One more note: This system works especially well because mixing new and almost fully composted material helps to keep the microbes working after the initial decomp. You can think of the bins like this:

    Bin 1 – Fresh material. Hot. Quickly reducing.
    Bin 2 – Mixing just-decomped and almost-done keeps the microbes happy.
    Bin 3 – Completed, cooling and waiting to be used.

  • Meghan

    I like the sound/look of those wooden three-bin systems!

  • Sayward

    Great comments and great advice here. Thanks everyone! I also use the simple black plastic bin sold by the city, but when I have more space I’m totally going to go with the three-wooden-boxes method. I think it’s the best.

    @ Serenity – I don’t know about GM (it’s so understudied!) but pesticides are definitely something to think about when home composting. My understanding is that for the most part they do not break down. So, that’s a call that each individual has to make for themselves. I know people who only home compost organic food, and send the conventional stuff off to the city compost (Portland has curbside compost service along with trash/recycling)

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