A Compost Bin That Costs $0.00

Let it all rot. That’s the point.

Paul Greenberg

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More than a pile of sticks

Last year I bought a climate refuge.

A wooded acre in New York’s Adirondack Mountains 5 hours due north from New York City. And now, what to do with it? Some readers of my last column suggested that I should do nothing at all. Just leave it be for the animals and native plants. And that’s definitely on my mind. One of many dreams for this acre.

And yet, one dreams of a refuge, a retreat. Some place in harmony with the land that, at the same time, is a home. Are these two ideals incompatible? I’m not sure yet. That’s what I’m hoping to learn in the course of the next few years.

Yes, there’s a risk of critters getting in. Yes, it looks a bit like something from The Blair Witch Project. But really. It’s brilliant.

As a compromise beginning, recently I put up my first structure made entirely from what I could find on the land. I first came across this particular structure a number of years ago while researching an article about Helen and Scott Nearing, a couple that went “back-to-the-land” in the 1930s and stayed there a long time. Scott lived to 100 first on their Vermont and then their Maine homestead. Helen lived to 91. They ate raw vegetables mostly and did a lot of physical labor. “Bread Labor” as they called it in their classic homesteaders bible Living the Good Life (now published simply as The Good Life by Schocken books).

So as tribute to Scott and Helen I used their wisdom to make a compost bin on “my” land. It’s an ingeniously simple structure. Collect about 40 dead branches, 3 feet long, ideally about an inch in diameter. Set them out in a square and then build up, tinker toy fashion until you’ve got something about waist high. Got more branches? build a second one next to it. The point is you can load compost into one bin over the course of a year, say. When it’s full you simply dismantle the bin and then turn the compost into the one. By year two you’ll be ready to put it on your garden (and probably we’re talking 2 years until my home is built, if I build one).

Yes, there’s a risk of critters getting in. Yes, it looks a bit like something from The Blair Witch Project (as a particularly acerbic ex-girlfriend put it when I showed her the photo above).

But really. It’s brilliant. It costs exactly nothing. It barely changes the character of the land. Animals like it. The spaces between the tinker toy branches allow the compost to aerate, accelerating the rot.

But what about the structure itself? Won’t it rot?

Yes, that’s the whole point. Let it rot. All of it.

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org