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Even when you don't follow the rules, compost happens

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Does anyone really compost by the book? You know, put down a green layer, a brown layer, a green layer, and so on in a bin that measures approximately 4 by 4 by 4 feet. Then turn, turn, turn, to quote Ecclesiastes by way of Pete Seeger.

Who gets garden waste in the correct three parts brown to one part green proportions? Or stores waste until there are the right amounts of brown to green?

Who has time chop every bit of refuse or to turn a pile — which is a near-impossible job — every week? Or regularly check the pile’s internal temperature to make sure it has reached the ideal temperature of 160 degrees F.?

I confess: I don’t worry about microbial balance and the bioavailability of carbon and nitrogen. I just toss stuff in bins and wait. I don’t make proper 3:1 layers. I don’t turn the piles. I don’t add activators or water. And I don’t get compost in 30 days.

Composting is defined as a method “to accelerate the natural decay process,” so my laissez-faire approach barely qualifies. My waiting time for finished compost is several years. At the moment I have six large bins going, a privilege that comes with living on 13 acres. If the piles smell — and they sometimes do when there is too much nitrogen-rich green matter — no one except my husband complains.

Fences may or may not make good neighbors, but stinky compost piles definitely do not. Gardeners living on postcard-size properties should consider using an enclosed container rather than an open bin for their composting. Kermit the Frog was right: It’s not easy being green.

Made from recycled plastic or metal, closed composters, many of which rotate with the flick of the wrist, have names like “Spin Daddy” and “Earth Maker.” They are widely available at garden centers and from online vendors.

The bad news is that most are not cheap, and that they rarely, despite the testimonials, produce compost in three weeks.

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