Each person’s common sense, or knowledge base, depends on the experiences of their life and the circumstances they have dealt with. If you were raised on a farm or ranch, or have been gardening for a long time, or are a pet- or livestock-caretaker, or are a scout or camper, the knowledge gained from those experiences will help you when composting. Prior information about plants, animals, and how nature works will serve you well.
If you have no experience in these areas, you can read and experiment to develop common sense as you go along. Read as much as you can. Carefully consider the reasons behind a recommendation. When you experiment, research first and use small quantities.
I tend to be conservative in my recommendations so that those new to composting don’t start off with big problems they can’t solve. You will certainly hear about people doing some of the things I advise against. Sometimes their circumstances are unusually accommodating. Sometimes the person is a risk-taker or experienced enough to handle additional challenges. Remember that just because something can be done doesn’t mean it is a good idea.
For instance, I recommend that you do not compost meat in a traditional home compost pile due to the difficulty of creating an environment sufficient to decompose the meat before you develop a pest problem. A reader once emailed me asking “Why do you tell people not to compost meat? It will decompose fine. I composted a whole cow last summer.”
He was telling the truth – he had photos. But he was an experienced composter who lived on a large ranch and had access to a tremendous amount of sawdust (carbons) to absorb liquid and mask the odor of the recently-deceased cow (mostly high in nitrogen). Since no one lived close to the decomposition site, he could experiment until he had figured out how much sawdust was required to mask the odor and absorb excess liquid.
I would not consider this a suitable project for a beginning home composter, or even for the average home composter. I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m saying I don’t advise that you try it.
So read, think, experiment. If something doesn’t sound right to you, keep reading and keep asking questions. If you are unsure or uncomfortable using an input, don’t. Have fun.
Mary Tynes, Master Composter, www.mastercomposter.com
Image Credit (top left): http://www.flickr.com/photos/orangeacid/212005705/
Image (bottom right): BioPod Plus Grub Composting Bin