My NatureMill automatic composting machine (pictured left) was among the gems left behind by the former tenant of my apartment. It is a small electric composter that uses heat and motion to speed up the natural decomposing process of organic materials. I keep it in my kitchen and it magically turns food, paper and plant scraps into fertile soil that I can use in my garden. THIS BLOWS ME AWAY.
So how does it work? What does pee have to do with it? And why does anyone need a $299 machine to do something that already occurs naturally? I suppose those are all reasonable questions. Be prepared to be amazed...
The process of composting is basically just decomposition- it's nature's way of recycling dead materials. Humans have created a few techniques to speed up this natural process, such as worm bins (aka vermicomposting), backyard compost piles, and grasscycling. The NatureMill is faster, cleaner and more compact than any of these methods.
To start, I had to plug in my NatureMill, and it has to stay plugged in at all times. I added some living soil from outdoors into the chamber, along with 2 cups of sawdust pellets and 2 tablespoons of baking soda. The combination of these ingredients creates an environment full of active living cultures. It's like having another pet! I now have a hamster, a fish, and a heated box of living cultures.
Whenever I have organic scraps to get rid of, I don't put them in my trash can. I just lift up the lid and throw them into the interior chamber of the NatureMill! The cultures and heat break down the organic matter, the machine turns to mix it all up, and in a few weeks it turns into fresh compost that looks and smells like garden soil. I can add new scraps every day at any time, and I add more sawdust and baking soda every few days to keep it in balance.
The instruction manual to this machine is very intimidating. There is quite a lot of bold and ALL CAPS and italic text, scattered with underlines and highlights. Heck, I even found a sentence that was all caps bold underlined:
DO NOT EAT & WASH HANDS THOROUGHLY AFTER CONTACT.
This is because fresh compost can actually be pretty dangerous! I can't take a batch of compost straight from my NatureMill and throw it into my garden. Among other health risks, the nitrogen levels are so high that the compost would actually burn and kill my plants. When the compost is ready to be removed from the NatureMill, I'll have to cure it in an uncovered bucket outdoors for at least 4 months before it can come in contact with my garden. To give you an idea of how strong it is, one part of fully cured compost should be mixed with 10-20 parts regular soil.
Things I've discovered I can compost aside from the usual food waste:
- used or unused paper napkins
- latex condoms... used or unused!
- lint from the clothes dryer and dust from behind my refrigerator
- used matches
- wine corks (real cork, not your Three Buck Chuck foam corks)
- coffee grounds, including the filter they were brewed in
- my pet fish when he dies (hey, it'll happen eventually, I gotta get ready!)
- my hamster's droppings (and possibly my hamster when he dies as well)
- white glue
- Q-tips (the cardboard ones, not the off-brand plastic ones)
- teabags, but take off the metal staple that attaches the tag
- hair clippings, hairbrush tangles, and plucked eyebrows
- the shells of lobsters, crabs, shrimp, oysters, crawfish...
- nail clippings
- toothpicks and wooden skewers
- pet hair, fur and feathers
- pencil shavings
- natural loofah sponges
- swill beer left at the bottom of bottles
- cotton tampons and their cardboard applicators
- Post-It notes! Including the sticky part!
- vacuum cleaner filter contents
- weeds from my garden and dead trimmings from my houseplants
- human urine (oh boy!)
- walnut shells... they're toxic to plants!
- charcoal ashes from my grill (wood ashes are ok)
- cat or dog droppings
- dyed or shiny-coated paper
- fats and cooking oils, which can act as a preservative to hinder decomposition
- bones, such as from my buffalo chicken wings
- any dairy products except for moldy cheese
- any kind of meat (meat will indeed decompose, but it attracts some SERIOUS critters in the meantime)
- human excrement (aw, shucks!)
Since I've started composting, I've cut down severely on the amount of trash I produce. This is great for the environment and all, but guess how many kitchen trash bags I've used in the last 2 months: Three. At that rate, It'll take me over a year to get through this 20-pack of trash bags I have in my closet. Hellooooo, money saver!
What are the downsides? Well, it can be a bit loud when the gears start turning to flip the compost a few times a day. And if you aren't aware of keeping the balance of materials (equal parts greens, paper, nitrogen, etc), it can start to smell a bit earthy. The one major issue I've run into is that I have too much material to compost and it can't all fit into the NatureMill at once.
Shop for composters at the NatureMill website. If you decide to buy one, let me know in the comments below- I have 3 coupons for the NatureMill store that I'd like to give away!