The things that didn’t decompose…

We started our compost bin from scratch when we arrived here in August—-immediately, the very month we moved in. By month 5, we had rich, black, ready-to-use compost.

We shoveled a bit out for the fall garden but didn’t really have enough until the spring garden. I dug in through the bottom and pulled it out a few weeks ago–almost 3 wheelbarrows full. Along the way, I found a few things that didn’t compost so well. Just so you know, and don’t waste your time like I did…

So….what do we have here?

Corn cobs and avocado skin take FOR-EVER to break down. But they will. The inner lining from the Weet-a-bix package will not. Shame. I really liked that cereal. The Better Oats oatmeal packets decompose on the outside, leaving what you see here– small packets of plastic that aren’t going anywhere. So, those are out too. I refuse to purchase either anymore. I can make my own oatmeal. Wheat cereal is another story …. And the paper board from a Dairy Queen treat. That doesn’t go anywhere either. (I knew that. I just thought maybe this time?)

Apparently, Q-tips (the non-plastic kind) take a while, but they will disappear. I put many in there, that was the only one I spotted.

Hickory nuts. They aren’t going anywhere either.

They’d rather sprout. I had to pick each one out. Learned my lesson.

And rather large mango seeds…though I didn’t see the avocado seeds anywhere. That’s strange. The dead bodies and road kill didn’t work out so well either. Kidding!

Soon I’ll tell you all about the new garden where we’ve been spending all our spare time.

It has been exhausting. I could have slept right here in my gloves and shoes…and hat. The ants and bugs didn’t even faze me.

Two community garden plots + the back yard garden. I’m determined to can.

I was so tired, I couldn’t decide which was more interesting….my dirty fingernails…

Or watching my man work. WHERE does he get this energy if he gets up at 5 in the morning? (I say as I type at midnight and he’s sound asleep! ha!)

Happy gardening everyone! I’ll show you our garden soon. Right after this nap…

 Have you tried an experiment in the compost that just didn’t work?

29 responses to “The things that didn’t decompose…

  1. I haven’t had good luck with eggshells breaking down. I don’t worry about it, though, just plop them in the garden along with the compost, but it does make me wonder about people who start their seedlings in egg shells and expect to be able to plant them out, shell and all. Those shells are tough. After all, they’re meant to protect baby chickens!

    Love your pictures, by the way! And I relate very well to the feeling of being plum tuckered out and able to do nothing but stretch out on the grass…what a lovely way to end the gardening day…

  2. littlegreenblog

    Fascinating. I’m just experimenting with some ‘compostable’ veg packaging from a supermarket over here. I have brand new compost bins so really looking forward to seeing what happens. Pity about the avocados as I eat one most days! Perhaps I should shred them up before composting; even the chickens won’t eat them!

  3. “compost from scratch” good title..so who’s the chicken that scratches the stuff all day? well, yes some material does not break down as fast as others–good–as it provides calcium, phosphorus etc at different rates (like some vitamins) and is absorbed as needed by plants..
    if you freeze egg shells and avocado skins in a plastic bag, pound your fists at it to crush them next morning and it will be ground ready at planting time..boiled chicken soup bones brake down same way as well; just be sure to stick them under six inches of compost, or you may inherit big brown eyed pets overnight.
    btw; the ‘mango seed in picture is an avocado seed <mango is flat and fuzzy. i wish i could grow these here..may try fig some day, from seed.

  4. hey, i forgot to note that nuts; especially with outer shell included, are not a material to compost are they contain juglones and other toxins which inhibit plant growth under the nut trees.. these emissions eliminate competition for the future seedling trees..sure they all break down eventually and create fine black mulching..but..not for years.
    boiled and steeped in water, the green shells or leaves make excellent anti-bacterial for washing animal wounds or chicken coops..which also retards the bacterial composting process = if your compost appears slightly retarded, remove the nuts..no offense to precious earthy gold.
    and matt’s little squirrelly friends may believe in nut heaven if you keep the nut store open out there.

  5. I was about to say that those seeds look like avocado but Nadine beat me with that ;)
    I planted a few last year and we are growing two trees now :)
    Those seeds look exactly the same way as mine when they sprouted.
    In our compost bin it takes a while for egg shels to decompost.

  6. I’m itching to get our garden started now too. Good luck with yours!

  7. I’ve been there too with the mango and avacodo stones. Plus the supposedly cellophane bags that were compostable…NOT! Have a great Easter weekend.

  8. @ Sharon–thanks for the comment. I wonder too about those darn egg shells. The roots are determined but so fragile to go through something so tough. I love the idea of your blog—gardening and cooking from scratch–and with your sister to boot! How fun!

    @Little green blog—can’t wait to hear how well the bag breaks down. There were so many things I was wrong about! I bet you’re so excited to try out the new bins! How fun! Yes, shred the avocado shells up a bit. I know they’ll break down, they just do it so slowly! Nadine says to freeze them first!

    @Nadine–My husband loved your comments. “She has a really good point,” he said. “Especially since you love to pound things.” (I have a horrible temper, and it usually results in the pounding of my fists on the bed with each word to make my point, which sometimes makes me feel better but not always.”) So, that comment made me laugh along with the chicken one. I’ll most certainly put those suckers in the freezer. And the nuts in the shells make perfect sense. And years we don’t have, so I won’t be trying that again. What about peanut shells? They’re different, right? Because I always put those in and they disappear. You’re right. That was an avocado seed, not a mango one. How odd. The mango one must have broken down? That seems impossible. Those are huge!

    @Mom Photographer–we were given an avocado tree started from seed. It was doing so well and then I put it out in the sun instead of in the window and the leaves started to wilt so I brought it back in, but it doesn’t look so good. Any suggestions?

    @Lightly crunchy–thank you! Am looking forward to your future posts of your lovely garden to-be.

    @Bridget–thank you Bridget! I hope your Easter was lovely too. Aha! So, I’m not the only one whose been tricked by those bags in the compost. I really thought they would break down!

  9. Jenn, we have our avocado outside all the time (since I planted them). They are in the full sun just for a few hours a day. Jay trimmed it last year – he totally cut it and they looked like 4 or 5 inches of bare sticks.

    This is how they looked before he did that:
    http://momphotographer.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/home-made-home-grown/

    About 6 weeks ago one of those trees started putting on leaves like crazy. The second one still doesn’t look good (read: has no leaves at all) but it’s not dying.
    He read somewhere they those threes should be trimmed once a year (before Winter).

  10. Jennifer, this is how our trees looked before Jay trimmed them last year.

    http://momphotographer.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/home-made-home-grown/

    after that they looked like bare 5 inches sticks for the entire Winter. About 6 months ago one of them started putting on leaves like crazy. Jay said they they should be trimmed once a year.

    We keep them outside all the time even during the winter. now they are get a few hours of sun every day but most of the time they stay in shady place

  11. no trick to the biodegradable bags, it just depends on your age…if you are in your thirties, the bag will surely brake down to invisibility before you go back to the earth…however if you have spent more than 5 decades on the planet; well you may be digging up dull shreds of bag for the rest of your earthly being…every time you disturb your garden.
    warning: worms and chickens do not like avocado stones or bag bits..burn those, then add to compost.

  12. In my compost I had tomatoe and zuchinni plants growing …I guess from seed I had put in several months ago…anyway, they looked good to me so I dug them up very carefully and put them in pots so the cold weather wouldn’t kill them…you wouldn’t believe how big they are….they are in pots in my back bedroom window…they are BEAUTIFUL and HEALTHY….I must plant them SOON

  13. wow- you are hard core- sorting through the compost looking for packaging. Amazing.

    • Thanks for stopping by katsmama! I was pulling it out to use in the garden and was just shocked at everything that didn’t break down. I always thought everything broke down…eventually!

  14. @ Donna—thanks for your comment! Christopher had cherry tomatoes growing in his compost last year. What a treat when that happens and you can plant them!

    @ Nadine—The bag outliving the planter. Depressing. :(
    Can’t they come up with something to break down faster? I bet they can. WHY it isn’t in the store right now is what I find so darn frustrating. You know we’d all be buying that instead. Don’t they see that?

    • could the fact that crude oil is kept at an artificially low price 9 yes i said low for all the machinations involved..when europe has been paying over $6 a gallon for a long time at the pump..US has ‘enjoyed’ or grumbled about $3 and now$4 average) so as i stated economics govern the product..the cheaper the packaging, the larger the profit margin..that’s why we do not get much progress in health and welness concern.
      i have seen old cellophane agonizing in ten year old dumping grounds–not a pretty sight..yeah! i’ll survive my packaging..barely.

  15. Jennifer – I love this post – especially love seeing the things that didn’t compost! I have a ton of trees and no way can I compost all the leaves myself, but I always keep a few bags on the south (sunny) side of my house or garage over winter – instant compost in the spring. Unfortunately, the only way I’ve found this to work is by using black garbage bags.

    My fingernails are always black in the summer from working the yard – I try to remember to rake them over a bar of soap before I go outside – it helps some. (Even my gloves get dirty on the inside, when I remember to wear them!) Good news – I recycle my tooth brushes and keep one hanging near my utility sink just for dirty nails.

  16. @ Frugal Hausfrau–glad to hear the dog was okay. That’s a lot of avocado at one setting! It’s true–black garbage bags work well. But hey, if you can reuse them over and over….and over. We have some from before we started this and we reuse them for yard work/leaves we pick up for the compost. We’ve had those suckers for years now.
    Rake your fingernails over a bar of soap BEFORE going out. I would never have thought of that! I especially like the old toothbrush for dirty nails idea!

    @Nadine—VERY good point! Depressing but true.

  17. Hi Jennifer,
    I just started helping out hubby in the yard; as I tend to just watch him do the work since I hate to be out in Florida heat. Only when the weather is nice will I venture out there to help (love that picture of Matt working). But, I do pass on as many tips learned here to hubby, so it works out fine after all. LOL

  18. When I was clearing out my flat in England before coming back to Canada, I wanted to dispose sensitive papers. My next door neighbor offered her compost bin, she says the worms love paper! She call the compost her ‘wormery’ – have you ever bought worms to add to your bin to speed up the decomposing?

  19. @ Marcia–I hope it helps if only a little. I’m sure your husband has much he could teach us!

    @Alison–We’ve thought about the worms but haven’t tried them yet. I guess it would make it decompose much faster. Good idea!

  20. A few things I’ve learned – Mango seeds will decompose – in about two years. On the other hand, mesquite pods are probably impervious to a direct nuclear hit. Palm fronds break down rather nicely and fairly quickly. And worms don’t do well in a closed compost container. The heat is more than they can withstand.

    • Juwannadoright–I did not know mango seeds ever broke down! We haven’t been in one place for two years yet. Guess that explains that! ha! :)

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