Compost Chronicles | Passionately Inspirational Human
Ready to compost at home but not sure how to get started? Check out Adriano’s step-by-step system that will inspire you to just do it! He is so charismatic about the fun and work of composting that you just want to go hang out with him in his backyard, turn his bin, and dig your hands into the rich soil the Earth has rewarded him with.
The Compost Chronicles series highlights families in various circumstances who have all found a way to compost at home that works for their lifestyle. Hopefully, you can be inspired to give it a go and help our planet become a little healthier.
Did you know that composting can transform your trash into new life? And that new life, in the form of microbes, fungi, earthworms, and more, provides the foundation for much of all other healthy life on Earth?
Composting is a great way to create healthy soil to support people and our planet. Healthy soil is also a magical carbon sink that absorbs carbon from our atmosphere and helps cool the planet. While dead dirt has few living organisms, a teaspoon of healthy soil has more living organisms in it than the entire population of humans on Planet Earth!
We need everyone to learn how to compost at home and make it a part of everyday life.
Don’t think you can compost? We’ve got a whole set of resources on Everything To Know About How To Compost At Home, including more Compost Chronicles interviews. All of this information about how to compost at home will hopefully prove that just about anyone can make space and find a system to turn their food scraps into nutrient-rich compost to enrich our soil, feed our food cycle, and limit the food waste that ends up in landfills.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you live, your family, etc…?
My name is Adriano Vieira. I am an environmental engineer working with water treatment and
reuse. Jodie, our kiddos, Melbee (8 yrs. old), Pavine (7 yrs. old), and Ensi (5 yrs. old), alongside three
cats, Nesta (18 yrs. old), Pineapple (~2 yrs. old), and Blackberry (~2 yrs. old), live in Richmond, Virginia.
We are a pretty diverse bunch, as Jodie is from upstate New York, Melbee is from Dallas Texas, Pav is from Uganda, Africa, Nesta is from Austin, Texas, and I was born and raised in Brazil. The three true Richmonders are Ensi and Pineapple and Blackberry (adopted at the Richmond SPCA).
Tell us a little bit about why you decided to start composting.
It started what seems like a long time ago when Jodie and I still lived in Dallas, Texas around 2008 or so. At that time, Nesta was the only other creature with us. We began by not wanting to send leaves to the landfill.
In the fall, we saw several brown bags filled with leaves and aligned by the curbside in our neighborhood. We thought we could use them as mulch in our yard to save money. It was also more sustainable that transporting the leaves somewhere else.
Additionally, we would not need to buy bags to collect the fall leaves from our own yard if we used the leaves from our trees as mulch too. We dedicated an area in our yard where we placed all the fall leaves from our trees. We gathered leaves from the neighborhood as well, collecting the bags of leaves from the curb in the neighborhood. Then, throughout the year, used the decomposed leaves as mulch for our garden.
From there, we started learning more about composting (beyond just “mulching” leaves). Soon we started collecting all our vegetables and fruit peels and made another area dedicated to composting with a composting bin. We had many more leaves than vegetables and fruit scraps, so we started collecting orange peels from the nearby coffee shop to increase the amount of composting soil we could generate.
What method of composting do you use?
We use composting bins (Pic 1a) where we intercalate layers of vegetable and fruit scraps and coffee grinds with mulched leaves on a weekly basis (Pic 1b). Once we add a layer of greens, I try to cut the
vegetable and fruit scraps into smaller pieces to expedite the composting process (Pic 1c). We have two bins; one that is active and filling and the other is full and “maturating” (Pic 1d).
Once the active bin is full, I empty the “maturating” bin by moving the composted soil to vegetable beds, flower beds, or even into a bin dedicated for final composted soil.
How long does it take for your active bin to fill up?
It takes about 6 months to fill the active bin. When it is full, it turns into the maturing bin. The two composting bins take turns between active and maturing.
How long does it take for your maturing bin to get into your bin dedicated to final composted soil?
The compost matter in the maturing bin takes about 3 months until it’s ready for use. However, I just transfer it when my active bin gets full (~6 months or so). If I need the compost before then for our gardens, I just take it from the maturing bin and use it on the soil. Turning the maturing bin more often speeds up the process a bit (and everything matures faster in summer than in winter due to the heat).
Once finished, the maturing bin becomes your active bin?
Yes. Once I transfer the contents from the maturing bin into the final composting bin, that bin is empty and I begin to fill it. The other bin that was active becomes the maturing bin…meaning I don’t add to it anymore and just turn it from time to time.
Does this transfer of bins all happen at the same time?
Generally yes, I switch the bins all at the same. The active bin fills most slowly (~6 months or so). Thus, I usually do all the transfers every six months. However, if I collect more scraps and the active bin fills faster, I could rotate the bins every three months (usually enough time for the maturing bin to get ready as fully composted soil).
What happens in the colder months when it takes longer for items to decompose?
During the winter, the composting process slows down. The maturing bin takes about four months to finish processing instead of the three-month timeframe in the summer. However, that time is still shorter than the six months it typically takes to fill the active bin.
Are there restrictions on what you put in your compost bin + why?
Yes, we only put vegetables, fruits, coffee grinds, eggshells, and dried leaves in our composting bin.
We do not add leftover cooked food (except boiled corn cobs), small branches, or grass trimmings.
We don’t add leftover cooked food because we do not generate any. Yes, I do live on leftover food…and nothing goes to waste. Small branches take too long to compost even when we cut them into smaller pieces. We use the grass trims as mulch around our trees.
For your compost at home, how do you store the scraps until they are taken to your compost pile? Does it cause any smells, issues, or take up space you might not have?
We have a container for the daily collection of vegetable and fruit peels and eggshells that we keep on the kitchen counter. As we cook or prepare any meals, or even just get fruit for a snack, we fill the daily container.
Then, every night, we transfer its content to our weekly container that has a lid and is placed inside the house, in the mudroom. The contents in the weekly container get transferred to our outside composting bin once a week, usually on Sundays, together with trash and recycling activities. With this daily/weekly routine, there are no issues with smell or restrictions with space.
Do you have any special tools, containers, or products that help make composting easier or more accessible for you?
We use two composting bins and have one big bin for the final composting soil. (see pic 1a above) We use a small shovel to turn the active and maturing compost bins once a month or so. Moreover, we have a leaf blower that can vacuum and chop leaves.
What do you use for your browns in the bin? Do you store them anywhere?
Mulched leaves collected throughout the fall from our yard as well as from the neighborhood make up
most of the browns in our composting bin. We stored the mulched leaves in bags by our compost bin as well as in our shed.
Are mostly food scraps from your home kitchen making up your greens in the bin?
The greens in our compost bin come mostly from our home food scraps (vegetables, fruit peels, and
eggshells). However, we get some food scraps from other sources too.
Sometimes we pick up coffee grinds from the local coffee shop. We have a food scrap collection container at work that I bring home for our compost bin. And our lovely neighbor Titia also collects food scraps for us. We occasionally have food scraps from a cookout in the neighborhood (lots of watermelon rims in the summer!), and we even collect food scraps when we travel to bring home to the bin.
Related Reading: 5 Ways To Compost While Traveling + FAQ For Composting On The Road
How does your family feel about composting?
They are all on board and participate with great enthusiasm, knowing we are doing something great
for mother Earth. By the way, “Ensi” means “Earth” in Luganda (one of the main languages spoken in
Uganda, where Pavine was born).
Do you have any issues with critters getting into any of the bins?
As far as critters, I never had issues with them. I believe there are two main reasons we have been able to avoid any uninvited guests. We have our composting bin covered with a secure lid so it’s not easy for animals to get into the bins. Also, we always add leaves as the top layer of the composting pile which eliminates any odors.
For the indoor element of our food scrap collection, we are sure to always have it covered as well. Once in a while, fruit flies start populating it. It’s not bad but maybe unpleasant for some. Deep cleaning the bin every 4-6 weeks helps reduce any fruit fly problems, which tend to crop up more over the summer than in the winter. Most of the time, just a few water rinses will suffice to keep the indoor collection bin clean.
Related Reading: How To Store Food Scraps For Composting At Home
Have you experienced any benefits from composting, especially ones that might have surprised you?
We eat a lot of vegetables and fruit. By composting their scraps, we decreased much of the solid waste we sent to the landfill. In fact, I was surprised by how much it decreased.
With that reduction, we can use a very small trash bin in our kitchen, and we do not need or buy trash bags anymore, which is more sustainable and saves money. Most of our trash goes directly into the trash bin as it is dry. Sometimes, we reuse small plastic grocery/Walgreens/Target bags that we occasionally bring home when we forget to bring our own reusable bags into the store.
Do you feel there is diversity in the composting community? (ethnicity, gender, age, etc.).
I don’t know many people that compost aside from one of our neighbors (female) and a friend. I would assume though there is room to improve diversity. At the very least, there is a lot of room to get more people composting!
I think the easiest way to get more people involved is to through public school education, from K-12. This type of transformation needs to start at the kindergarten level. It is more difficult to educate adults. And if you are educating a diverse school, that would be a good start.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers about your composting practices, especially to help beginners gain confidence that they too can compost?
Start anywhere you can, and you can progress from there at your own pace. Composting is very simple. Once you have a system in place that works for you, your home, yard, work schedule, etc, it will feel second nature and not like another chore that one drags to get to it…
If it becomes a chore, you will probably know because it may start to smell (as you aren’t taking care of it enough). Also, once you put your hands on the composting soil you generate, you will have a very satisfying feeling and as you created something great, valuable, that can grow life, and is not a “waste” anymore.
About The Author
Rupa Singh is an ex-social entrepreneur and mom of three kids connecting them to their South Asian (Indian) roots + sustainability. Organizational wife to an altruistic architect. Advocate for low waste + thoughtful consumption. Continually unlearning + learning. Her bullet journal + audiobooks + morning ritual feed her spirit.