Passive Composting, Win Win I Say

Heather says:

I’m not a gardener. Every once in a while -usually in late winter- I have these grand ideas that it’s going to happen and suddenly I’ll have the time and energy to invest in the garden. Then life shows up and it sits on my bucket list for a while longer. That said, I do have a compost pile.


I don’t want to send kitchen scraps to the landfill, that’s a huge waste of prime space.

I’ve read about elaborate compost piles, where people have magic ratios of brown (dead leaves) and green (grass clippings) that get a compost pile working at top speed producing great compost for their gardens. I don’t have a garden t0 feed, so I’m not in a particular rush to have perfect compost.

What I do have is the lazy man’s version otherwise known as passive composting. In our case it is a pile in the farthest corner of the yard. In the spring, summer, and fall every few weeks I throw the bag on the mower and add that to pile -the rest of the time I just use the mulching feature. In the late winter or early spring, whenever I get around to raking, the leaves go in the corner¹.

Each night the vegetable and egg portion of our kitchen scraps go out to the passive compost pile -meat would attract pests. If it were an active or hot compost pile, I’d need to chop up the scraps to facilitate their breakdown, but again, with the not in a hurry. Everything, including my coffee grounds (and there are a lot of those, sad to say) goes into a bowl with a lid in the kitchen. Once in a blue moon, I hide the scraps by scooching some of the other stuff over it with my foot. This is terribly hard work, I’m sure you can imagine.

I’ve been doing this for a few years and the pile hasn’t changed that much in size. I’d say it’s working. Sometimes the environmental choice doesn’t have to be a lot of hard work. With a passive compost pile we’re Reducing the amount of trash going to the landfill and eventually I’ll get around to Reusing it. Maybe. In the meantime, I’ll let nature be in charge of the Recycling.

If you’ve ever thought about composting and decided it was too much work, maybe give passive composting some thought.

¹This is the opposite of Baby, because nobody puts Baby in the corner.


  1. @Hobby_Farmer on April 21, 2011 at 7:55 am

    A compost tumbler is a pretty easy way to make compost, too. By the way, if I come over and dig out your compost pile, can I have the compost

  2. What Is This — Moncks Corner Moments on January 8, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    […] usually take a very passive approach to composting, but this year the heap has gotten a little […]

  3. Becky on September 11, 2010 at 9:39 am

    I so agree with you on the passive composting. We started a compost pile and just put up some chicken wire and we just throw everything in it including all of the leaves we pick up in the fall. We throw all of our food leftovers in it except for meat and we have been getting some of the most beautiful dirt from it. I have friends that have all of these "rules" they follow for their compost piles to the point that if I had to follow the rules, I would never compost! I also think about our ancestors from the past who just did the passive composting. They didn't read rulebooks or anything like that.

  4. @carnellm on September 11, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Thanks for this! I have wanted to start composting for a long time, but thought I needed to go the whole "rabid" com poster route. I will give this a try. And now I know an expert to turn to. 😉

  5. Lucy on September 11, 2010 at 8:22 am

    I'm a lazy gardener: containers in the past, straw bale this year, lasagna style in the future. This year due to my being busy and not taking care of things my lettuce bolted big time. I yanked it out and figured why put them in the garbage? I would toss the plants on my gigantic (40' x 80') manure pile and cover them with the day's cleanings (about 50 cubic feet of straw and manure). Um, hello skunks! Even covered they attracted skunks. There were other critter tracks as well, raccoon I think. In the garbage the plants went. How do you keep the critters away?

    • LisaB on May 17, 2011 at 9:02 am

      I tried a straw bale garden last year, with four bales arranged in a square with the hole in the middle. When I decided the whole thing was a bust I started using the hole to toss compost in. That's when the garden came back to life–well, that, and it finallly rained. The straw broke down over the winter and every once in awhile I kick some of it over the compost. I think the dog gets in it sometimes but I don't really care. She keeps the other varmints out.

  6. Carol Shive Mirek on September 11, 2010 at 7:50 am

    I grew up with a compost bucket in the house. My father would empty it daily into his compost pile and then work it to be perfect for his garden. Definitely not passive but it kept the smelly stuff out of the garbage can, and it did wonders for his flowers and vegetables. We have been discussing bringing back that bucket, but haven't yet. I think that will be added to our list of things to find when we clean the basement.

  7. Kristin on September 10, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    We call it feeding the iguana… Because in costa rica, this is how they “composted” and the big iguana came and ate everything which really speeds up the process. No worms needed. “Feeding the iguana” was added to the chore list. We even put up a “beware of attack iguana” sign on the fence. Really, it makes great soil without all the math!

  8. @chipmathis on September 10, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    I started a compost pile last year to have something to do with the leaves that fell in my new backyard. This summer, I built a 2-bin system and got a little crazy. Like stealing grass clippings from the neighbors' yards at 5:30 AM crazy.

  9. Joyce on September 10, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    I am a gardener and I've composted pretty much the way you for many years. I do cover the kitchen scraps with the leaves or grass when I had them to the pile because otherwise some of our wildlife like to play with the eggshells and move them all over.

    It takes longer to break down than if you do it in a compost tumbler and fuss about how much brown and green you have but it gets there. About once a year dh digs down and gets out the finished "brown gold" from the bottom and mixes it into the vegetable beds or into the backfill as we add new plants

  10. Jean on September 10, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Thank you! I have always been far too scared to compost (what with specific ratios, what's green, what's brown, chopping and layering and turning and timing and watering and additions of this and that…) so I don't. Now that we have goats and chickens it's sort of a moot point, but good to know that it still can be done without all the fancy footwork. I should still set up a corner in the goat pen for a compost pile though – they don't always eat EVERYTHING and one place to toss might be nice for what they leave. I've heard of some people using their chickens scratching to "stir" theirs, but ours would have it all over the yard if I allowed that.

    Although, I suppose we DO already do this with the shavings in the coop and the barn and the weeds we send the kids out to the "junk pile" with way, way, way out back….

  11. Amy at CreativeSpace on September 10, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    One of my favorite gifts was a compost tumbler. It's basically a round heavy-duty plastic ball with a lid on one side and slits on the other. It sits on a small platform, allowing the "juices" of the compost to run down into the base. (There's a spout on the bottom where I can empty it, but I haven't worked up the courage yet to do that.) My garden dreams are still that, dreams, but I adore composting. I dump in my veggie/egg scraps, some shredded newspapers, and coffee grounds then give it a turn. I love it, even though I have yet to use the compost for anything. Also, there are bugs GALORE in that sucker. Opening the little trapdoor is like opening a window into the world of insects. I'm always happy to close it again, trusting that they know what they're doing in there.

  12. Keter Magick on September 10, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    "Compost tea" is a very smelly (as in put it far away from the house!) but efficient way to deal with kitchen scraps. I made my own bin out of a trash can, four bricks, some screen wire, a plastic spigot, and a short scrap of hose, and use the "tea" to water plants every couple of weeks. Plans for making this kind of thing are online.

  13. Toy Lady on September 10, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    I have learned (the hard way!) that if you're going to actually use your compost, it may not be the best idea to add a lot of seeds from various vegetables (tomato, squash, cucumber, etc.). I spent the better part of the first half of the summer pulling up little tiny tomato plants from my garden!

    • Keter Magick on September 10, 2010 at 1:59 pm

      Look into "hot composting" if you want to reuse scraps that contain seeds without this drama.

  14. ThatBobbieGirl on September 10, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Every time I have tried composting, it gets full of ants and I freak out and spray the pile. That's probably not so good, eh? Is it okay for it to be full of ants?

    Heather: movie references For.The.WIn!

    • HeatherSolos on September 10, 2010 at 11:07 am

      Thank you!
      I'll make sure this question gets its own post next week, I am sure you are not the only person with this issue.

  15. @JayMonster on September 10, 2010 at 9:59 am

    I have been composting for years. It is true that you can make composting a lot of work, but there really is no need to do so. In general the passive method works great even for those that do have a garden. Once you get started, you just dump on the top, and pull the soil for use from the bottom. I am often quite amused (and somewhat saddened) to see people throw away all the stuff that would make for good composting, and then go out to the store to buy organic soil that was made by composting the same ingredients they just threw away.

    • HeatherSolos on September 10, 2010 at 10:44 am

      I think people get turned off by rabid composters. I know they exist, I've seen forum flame wars over the topic. Not that there is a topic under the sun that hasn't seen a forum flame war, but I can see how a composting newbie would become intimidated or overwhelmed by the idea.
      My goal, as per usual, is to just make the concept a little less intimidating, perhaps a few more people will give it a shot.

      • @JayMonster on September 10, 2010 at 11:45 am

        And as per usual, you did a great job! I was simply agreeing that while depending on what or where you read composting can be a royal pain, it really isn't.. or doesn't have to be.

  16. @JayMonster on September 10, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Just to be clear (if not for you, then for others that may think of doing it) , if by the term "by-products" you mean your pets droppings, this is a very BAD idea and should never be done. Waste like cow manure is processes and dried to remove bacteria (plus the cow manure if from cows that are only grass fed, helping to reduce bacteria as well), the use of pet droppings in compost that is to be used in a garden can help make your compost TOXIC!

    • asyhre on September 10, 2010 at 10:04 am

      I deleted as I do not want to cause trouble.

      • @JayMonster on September 10, 2010 at 10:17 am

        That wasn't necessary. All your points were all valid and good discussion (and not a cause of "trouble") , I just wanted to caution others as to the potential pitfalls of using pet droppings as compost material and this really did add to the discussion (I think). I'm sorry if it came across as anything else.

        • asyhre on September 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm

          Thank you, I just did not want to put information up if it could potently harm some one.

  17. amikim on September 10, 2010 at 9:52 am

    We do passive composting, plus a bit. DH will turn the stuff with a shovel from time to time, and maybe add some fill dirt (and maybe lime?). But for the most part it's just collecting kitchen scraps, grass and leaves and sending them out to the backyard when the container gets full.

    BTW – if you can't find a good 'compost keeper' for your kitchen, you can use an old ice bucket, so long as it has a lid. We keep ours right next to the sink – when we peel veggies or fruit, the scraps go straight into the bucket. While our old compost keeper did have some kind of charcoal filter thingy to contain smells, so long as you empty regularly (say, weekly) and keep the lid on tight, there shouldn't be a problem with smells. Old ice buckets are usually a lot cheaper than new compost containers, too.

    • @JayMonster on September 10, 2010 at 11:47 am

      This is a good point. Also, we found "compostable liner bags" for our storage container. This way weekly, we just grab it, bag and all and dump it in the composter… keeps from having the container getting too stinky, smelly and dirty.

  18. amblin on September 10, 2010 at 9:51 am

    We do the same thing. A pile in the back corner of the backyard behind some bushes. So many people bag up(in plastic bags arg!) grass clipping and leaves then send them to the landfill. This way is not only easier, but a bit more friendly to the environment. Win Win!

  19. @jimvoorhies on September 10, 2010 at 9:44 am

    I have jillions of leaves and would also have lots of grass cuttings but the big thing for me is stuff from the garden – giant cucumbers we didn't notice or dead plants. THat sort of stuff will take a long time to break down, but I'll cover it with leaves & grass clippings when I get them. I ended up buying one of those boxy composters at the garden store for $50, but a pile works great too. Eventually,,, you'll have stuff you can spread around plants or use with houseplants or just scatter in the yard. Not putting it in the landfill is a good thing.

  20. Malia on September 10, 2010 at 8:51 am

    I've often wondered about this method without knowing that it had an actual term to go with it! I want to compost (and I, too, often have grand gardening plans that go awry) but I thought I needed to set up some fancy bin system. I kind of figured that one could do exactly as you described here especially if there was no need immediate need for fertilizing a garden I had just never heard/read of anyone of actually doing it! This weekend I will find my own corner for compost (but certainly not Baby).

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