Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Naturemill Composter Review

I finally broke down and purchased a hippie appliance that I have been watching for a couple years. The NatureMill company has a series of home composters. All of the previous models had some issues with design or construction quality so I waited for the latest version to be out a year before I got one. Cities like Toronto and San Fransisco have curb side composting programs, most do not. According to the EPA, kitchen waste is the number 1 least recycled potential item. A third to half of all household waste can be composted. We recycle, but especially as we are trying to eat better, lots of vegetable scraps get thrown away. Compost piles are cheap, but we don't have a good spot for a compost pile, they aren't for many food scraps, and I don't want to carry scraps out there in the winter. So a home composter seemed like a good solution.
The naturemill unit is basically a low density polyethylene cooler. You know those cheap white ones. It is much thicker and nicer and is recycled and recyclable. The unit comprises of an upper mixing chamber and a lower curing chamber. The compostable items go in the top, it mixes every 4 hours. A pump continuously circulates air and then discharges through an activated charcoal filter so it doesn't smell too much. The unit also heats the mixer to 140F for rapid breakdown. The process is supposed to take two weeks, one week in the upper chamber and one in the lower. I got the Pro XE version which has a heavy duty mode. I got one from their direct outlet so it was much cheaper than a straight purchase. There aren't too many people that detail their experience so here goes.
This is the type of items we typically throw out. We started with coffee grounds, a banana peel, a rotten tomato, some tomato scraps, and an apple core. They suggest cutting up any stringy or long pieces so it doesn't tangle in the mixer.
Day 0 (Starting the unit): The scraps go in the top along with a cup of starter soil from the garden. Since kitchen scraps are usually full of water and nitrogen (green) heavy, the pH is balanced with some baking soda and the brown fraction balanced with saw dust pellets. Some pellets were provided to start up. I have an unlimited supply of saw dust from Jerad's shop, but will experiment with other brown replacement items.
Day 1: Not much left already.
Day 2: Yesterday I through in a few items similar to the initial batch.
Day 2 (loaded): More coffee grounds, apple cores, and some rotten lettuce and old baked beans.
Day 3: The breakdown process results in lots of water vapor. At this point we had a steaming pile of compost.
Day 3 (loaded): Ok, it seemed to be working with regular items so I gave it a challenge. An old flower bouquet and some bills went in along with banana peels and the wood pellets.
Day 4: It did pretty well with everything. Although I cut them down, the stems from the flowers probably weren't the best thing since the woody parts take a long time to break down.
Day 4 (loaded): I heard that paper towel and toilet paper rolls are good compost items. I also threw in some newspaper ads. The flower stems were still visible. At this point the machine was pretty full. They state that this unit is suitable for households of 5 and can take 5 lbs of food per day. Although we had people over this weekend and generated lots of scraps, the two of us managed to fill it up quickly.
Day 5: When loaded to the brim some of the stuff builds up on the edges. I scraped the sides down.
Day 5 (loaded): Just to see what happens I kept loading.
Day 6: Almost everything had broken down except for the glossy newspaper which didn't do anything.
Day 7: The instructions say that it takes two weeks to make a batch of compost. They weren't real specific about, is that two weeks in the top or total? Since we filled it up in a couple days and nothing was recognizable after a week, I am going to do one week in top and one in the bottom. I pushed the transfer button and everything went down below. Enough stuff sticks to the sides so you don't need to add new cultures after emptying.
Here is what the bottom tray looks like. The only recognizable pieces were the newspaper pieces and some of the stems from the flowers. So in the first week toilet paper rolls worked well as alternate brown, glossy newspaper ads did not. Real woody stuff like flower stems should probably just get thrown on the garden. Apple cores, banana peels, meat, and dairy weren't a problem at all. The white cup catches compost tea that drips down from the top chamber and can be put on the compost or used to water plants. I am going to let this hang on in the bottom, which is warm and humid, for a week to continue breaking down. Next week this will go outside and the process continues.
I have been pretty amazed at the amount of scraps we put into this thing, now that we consciously choose too. I have noticed that our garbage weighs lots less. If we continue to produce a batch in a week or two, it won't be a stretch to predict 8-10 cf of compost a year out of this thing. Since the composting process reduces the volume by 75%, that is a lot less garbage leaving our house.
Last night we accidental forgot to put a bunch of sweet and sour chicken in the refrigerator. Ever compost sweet and sour chicken, it went in this morning along with some old guacamole. Kind of cool.

1 comment:

Melody said...

I've seen those at the farmers market in Golden and thought seriously. Course I also thought seriously that it was a hippie invention too.