Learn more about Tyler Weaver and his quest to save the world one composter at a time.
BalconyContainerGardening.com: What are the best items to compost, and what items should be kept out of compost piles and compost bins?
As long as it isn't plastic, glass, aluminum, hazardous waste, meat, dairy, fish or oily stuff, throw it in the compost bin. I'll add bioplastics to the list, too. I feel like not enough work has been put into that stuff to determine whether or not it's properly compostable. I mean, look at the Sun Chips bag. What appeared to be an honest effort went bad: They didn't break down in home compost piles, and everyone got upset. Bioplastics don't experience prolonged temperatures for long enough in home composting efforts to be successful. However, I do think that ASTM D6400 is the proper standard for the decomposition of compostable plastic bags in a commercial composting facility, and I strongly urge avoiding any product that uses oxo-biodegradable technology as it's a sham.
At home, my composting setup is pretty simple. I drink a lot of coffee, so there's plenty of grinds in my bin. I shred leaves and add them for browns, as I don't have easy access to manure. I shred cardboard and bank statements for the worms, and I find that adding a bunch of fruit waste gives my outdoor pile a charge. Worms play in the dryer lint. It's a hard balance of nerding out on what is composted, versus keeping it as simple as possible when I teach others. My most important audience is getting people to get from zero to one, you know? "Keep it simple, stupid," they say.
BCG: What makes THE BEST compost to use for gardens? Have you found the best "recipe" of ingredients to put in?
The best compost for gardens is the stuff you make yourself, in my experience. Well, maybe that's not entirely true. I have yet to get store-bought compost that outperformed my own compost. I think that has to do with the fact that my stuff is obviously fresh from the tumbler/worm system, while store bought stuff sits in a bag for a while, just becoming more and more lifeless over time. Nonetheless, I highly encourage people to make their own compost to see for themselves how much waste they can reduce at home and put to good use.
As for the best recipe, I don't know. I tend to go heavy on the browns and take my time with it. I like to watch the process, but I don't like to turn a pile every day or want to worry about it. If you shred your material, pay attention to moisture and keep out the obvious bad stuff, I think it's hard to go wrong. As a city slicker, I wish I had better access to manure. That stuff is awesome for composting. However, my focus is to get people going in cities and cramped spaces, so manure isn't usually available. I work with what's readily available to me with the least effort.
BCG: How often do you add compost to your container plants?
I add compost at the start, but that's about it. Maybe after a few months I'll add an inch or so when I notice the level of soil in the plant container has decreased. I make a lot of compost, and I don't know what to do with half of it. I often give it away to friends.
BCG: You live in Philadelphia. In cold weather and extreme heat, should people bring in their bins? If so, do you have any tips for doing this with the least amount of bugs and water leakage?
Worm bins? Yes. Compost bins? No. Outdoor composting works most of the year, and in the coldest months, if you were really on top of your game and motivated, you could probably keep it going. Since I don't generate a lot of material (which is on purpose), I have no need to do so and just pay more attention to my indoor worm system in the colder months. Bugs aren't really a problem in the colder months for me. In the summer months, I make fruit fly traps, but in the winter I don't have to do anything, really. I hate winter, but it's great for indoor composting without insect pests.
BCG: Is there anything else you'd like balcony gardeners to know about composting?
Do it. I can't imagine what gardening is like without composting. Composting is really satisfying, and your plants love it too. If you look up the Clash of the Composts! video on my Youtube channel (see the video on the right), you can see how my experiments went with using compost versus not using it…pretty drastic results. I always urge people to look past their initial perceptions of what compost is. You wouldn't believe how many people think it's disgusting, when really it's just the most natural cycle of life occurring. Keep it dirty!
Read about Tyler Weaver in another BalconyContainerGardening.com interview.