THERE is no better time to start composting at home than fall.
I know many people have trouble with composting but few things in horticulture are easier to do than composting.
Most compost related problems originate with animals, insects and the smell of freshly decomposing compost.
I have composted in my backyard for 15 years and have never had any major problems. Sure, the odd raccoon wanders in for a snack and the odd mouse might run past. And on occasion there are a few fruit flies buzzing the bin but beyond those minor problems, no major problems have occurred, except finding a place for all that earthy goodness that the compost produces.
Choosing the right compost depends on how much green waste and the type of green waste you plan to compost.
If you do a lot of pruning, weeding, cleaning and generate an abundant supply of green waste then the municipally approved plastic bins are going to be too small, so maybe you'll need two or more.
If you need a large bin just for green waste and not food, then I suggest you build something that can accommodate a large volume. There are compost bins that roll, stand-up bins, bins made from old pallets or cinder blocks and many other homebuilt designs.
The key design features for any home-built compost are lots of air flow, ease of access and a way to put on a lid or cover during the winter to prevent the rainfall from soaking everything.
If you are composting table scraps the bin must be lockable, it must have a barrier on the bottom to prevent animals from burrowing in that also allows water and air to flow in and out.
Most municipalities offer some form of rebate for buying a compost bin. I suggest you take them up on their inexpensive offer.
The many municipally approved compost bins are tested and they work, provided you follow the installation instructions and do not modify the bin. Most importantly, municipally approved compost bins come with a plastic barrier or metal mesh to be installed under the bin to prevent burrowing animals from digging into the compost and those bins can be locked from the top.
If you have trouble with bears in the compost, plastic is useless. You'll need to buy or build something substantial that can withstand a bear's powerful inquisition. However, I have bears that visit my yard and they have never expressed any interest in the food scrap compost bin, they're more interested in the locked garbage can.
I have one compost bin for table scraps and a second for green waste. The food scrap bin prevents animals from getting in. The green waste bin is open and no animal has ever expressed an interest in it, since there is nothing to eat but rotting plant parts.
The problem of foul smells emanating from the compost can be solved by mixing in materials each time you put something in the bin. Mix green (food scraps) with brown (leaves, plant stems or even soil) together. The balance of green and brown will solve most smell-related problems.
If that does not work to your satisfaction, mixing or aerating the compost once in a while will solve the problem. I never mix or aerate my compost because I simply don't have time. Part of the smell problem associated with composting can be solved by finding a location away from the house to site the compost bin that will prevent any of the minor odors to waft out of nose distance. And, generally, compost bins should be located out of direct hot sun to prevent them from heating up and smelling.
As for chemical compost accelerators, in my view they are a waste of money.
If your compost's decomposition seems to be slowing down and starting to smell, you need to aerate the compost to allow oxygen-friendly bacteria to do their work and break down the green waste.
If the compost seems to be dry and nothing is happening, you'll need to water the compost to allow bacteria to access the water they need to break down the green waste.
I won't bother going into the thousands of metric tonnes of green waste generated every year in our region, or the rising costs associated with greenwaste management or the fact that multifamily dwellings and apartments are currently not doing their fair share of society's green waste recycling. Suffice to say, if everyone composts as much as possible at home we can all save money on future tax increases needed to fund green waste management. And we'll all have nutrient rich, earthy smelling compost to use for potting houseplants and growing our beautiful gardens.
For more information on composting visit the North Shore Recycling Program at nsrp.bc.ca.
Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist and chief horticultural instructor at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. For advice contact him at email@example.com.