The internet is a wonderful tool for getting quick composting advice. Many people are willing to share their composting expertise with those just getting started, as well as experienced composters who’ve run into a problem or want to try something new. Some responders are more experienced than others, but the variety of perspectives can collectively provide a more complete answer to your question.
The key to getting useful information from online composting forums and blogs is to ask good questions that give respondents enough information about your situation to answer your question. That includes giving information about your general location, your resources, and your goals. Consider the following two questions:
Ambiguous Question: What kind of Compost Bins on CompostMania should I buy?
There isn’t enough information to answer this question with anything but a personal preference or a laundry list of manufacturers. If there was a single bin that was best for every composter, the other manufacturers would soon go out of business and only one bin would be offered. Instead, there are a growing number of alternatives to meet a wide variety of needs. A better question would contain specific situational information like this:
Better Question: What kind of compost bin would be best for me? I have a 40’ x 50’ lawn with minimal landscaping and two deciduous trees in front, and 40’ x 40’ vegetable and flower garden in the back. I live near Gulf in USA so can garden most of the year except late Dec–Feb. No wildlife problems other than an occasional mouse or rabbit. I want to make high volumes of compost to apply to my garden. Only other source of material is neighborhood yard wastes.
What a difference!
We know the types of waste and about how much waste he is generating, the climate, potential pests, and what he’s trying to accomplish. With this knowledge, reasonable compost bin recommendations could be made or appropriate alternatives suggested. Recommendations for this person would be far different than recommendations for a person in an apartment in Anchorage wanting to responsibly dispose of wilted potted plants and food scraps; and completely different than advice for a 40-acre llama rancher near Dallas who wants to sell finished compost as a side business.
So, what information is important to include when asking for composting help? The six factors listed below are usually enough to get a conversation started in the right direction.
- Geographic area in which you are located and type of terrain. (Provides clues to length of composting season, material sources available, weather challenges, temperature, humidity, and wind conditions, etc. The advice given to someone who lived in a rainforest would differ from that given to someone in arid desert conditions or someone who lived in farm country.)
- Type of home and space you occupy or from which your waste is generated, and number of people generating waste, e.g., apartment food scraps from a family of four, coffee grounds from a 100-employee office break room, 200-acre cattle ranch, 2-acre vegetable garden, 10’ x 10’ yard of patio home, etc.
- Types and amount of waste you generate or have access to. (Different materials present different challenges. Those challenges can be best met with certain methods or equipment. In addition, the response to a problem can differ significantly depending on whether you are composting ½-gallon or three truck-loads of a material.)
- Your objective. (Some people are focused on what they want to do with the finished compost, others just want to dispose of wastes responsibly and may have no use for the finished compost.)
- People involved other than yourself and/or other than a healthy adult of average height and physical condition who may participate in the composting effort, e.g., disabled, elderly, children, hired gardener, ill or otherwise physically weak, short, etc. (If you have special needs or circumstances, it is best to say so up front.)
- Pests in your area, including wildlife and stray animals. (Potential pests are a safety and health issue and, as such, should always be brought to the forefront.)
As always on the internet, follow appropriate precautions regarding safety and privacy concerns when giving information about yourself. You don’t have to give your street address or even your city, for instance. You can just refer to the general area, e.g., southeast Louisiana or northern California or outside London.
While you are online, be sure to answer any questions you can. The best way to learn about composting quickly is to think through answers you know, organize your thoughts, and articulate them. This is why all good Master Composter programs require a specified number of hours service to the education of others.
Join the conversation! If you can’t answer all parts of a question, just contribute what you know or what you’ve experienced. Describing approaches you have tried that didn’t work can be as valuable as describing an approach that worked! You don’t have to have the world’s best answer, just start out with “My experience is . . . .”
Mary Tynes, Master Composter, www.mastercomposter.com
Image Credit (top left): http://www.flickr.com/photos/mezuni/2205003791/