The biggest luxury I ever had was a half-acre garden, featuring an enormous fortress of a compost bin protected by a chicken-wire shell specially designed to repel varmints. Take that, raccoons.
Not that it worked. No self-respecting raccoon—or opossum, for that matter—is going to be put off by anything less than the maximum-security precautions of a federal penitentiary. Most nights, we could hear scrabbling.
"What if they storm the house?" my husband, a light sleeper, asked.
"They don't want our jewelry, they want our garbage," I reassured him. "It's far more valuable."
This is true, by the way. When you compost, you feel like Merlin, performing some powerful alchemy to miraculously turn garbage into gold. You don't even need a garden to do it; it works just fine under the kitchen sink. It is in fact so easy that even the raccoons could compost, if they cared to earn an honest living.
Above: Step one: why shouldn't garbage look pretty? The Brushed Stainless-Steel Compost Pail ($29.95 from Williams-Sonoma) will minimize odors from food scraps, as well as look shiny on the countertop. (N.B.: We have admired other metal compost pails.)
Above: I call this "Still Life with Dinner Scraps." Yes, that's the papery skin you shucked from garlic and onions, as well as a few stalks of thyme, stripped of leaves. Photograph by Patrick Barber.
Above: You don't have to get fancy—for years, I tossed scraps into a big mixing bowl on the countertop—but a container with a lid does a better job of keeping the flies away. Enamel is a good choice: it rinses off easily. The Enamel Storage Jar is £18.95 at Cookshop UK.
Above: If you don't have outdoor space, you can install a compact, odor-free composter under the sink or in a corner of the kitchen. Earn extra points for a stylish red DIY project (above), via AT. Or purchase an Automatic Composter ($395 at Uncommon Goods) that comes with a supply of sawdust pellets, baking soda, power cord, and an instruction manual describing what you can and cannot throw into it (hint: no diapers).
Above: In a perfect world, you would build your own composter. By "perfect world," I mean one in which you are very handy with tools, have all weekend to hammer pieces of wood together, and were blessed with a design sense as highly evolved as Ryan Boren's. A three-bin system speeds up the composting process. You can segregate "green" and "brown" materials, and then mix them, in roughly equal parts, in the third bin.
Above: As you can see, we're still in the perfect world, with a tight-fitting lid (see: "varmints"), ventilation, and plenty of room to hold everything you can imagine wanting to compost, including: wood shavings, leaves, garden debris, vegetable scraps, crushed egg shells, shredded newspaper, and coffee grounds. For smaller gardens (or if you're not the DIY type), we favor a simple wooden bin, such as the ECO Composter ($149.99 at Bed, Bath and Beyond).
Above: Successful composting under way: If the worms are happy, you're happy. Photograph by Patrick Barber.
Above: A lemon tree sprouts in a compost heap. Image via Casablog. Is this not the loveliest sight you've seen all day?