Re(al)view: Naturemill's Composter

Re(al)view: Naturemill's Composter

Sonia Zjawinski
Jul 28, 2008

I haven't been this excited about a product since my parents bought me the original NES in the fifth grade. I've been wanting to compost for a few years now, but the idea of breaking down organic material inside has been intimidating (the cold New York winters and stifling summers don't make composting very viable outside). I've done some reading on the matter and I just didn't know if I could handle balancing the ratios of soil to worm to green and brown items properly. I envisioned coming home and my house smelling like, well, a New York City street in the middle of summer.

That's why when I read about NatureMill's tech solution to composting I immediately wanted to try it.

The fine folks at the San Francisco-based company were kind enough to overnight a testing unit last week. I was warned and warned again by their PR rep that when I got the item I needed to read the starter instructions before I did anything in order to ensure a positive composting experience. Here's what I found out.

Like a saltwater fish tank, before you can really get started making your own nutritious compost, you have to slowly create the proper cultures to your composter. This involves adding two cups of natural soil, two cups of sawdust pellets, which NatureMill provides, and two tablespoons of baking soda, along with a starter amount of food scraps into the Plus Edition composter.

Then you turn it on and let it do its thing, uninterrupted, for a week. The NatureMill Plus has a motor-powered mixer in it that occasionally mixes and grinds the items together. An air pump brings in a continuous flow of oxygen to the cultures, while a powerful carbon filter removes odors.

Over the past few days I've been like a kid who has figured out where the Christmas presents are stashed but knows she can't get away with opening the wrapping without being caught. I so wanted to open the lid to the composter to see how things were moving along. Every time I walked into the kitchen and heard the low hum of the air pump I wanted the thing to be composted already!!! Every time I had leftovers from cooking I wanted to just throw them in, but knew I couldn't just yet. It was torturous, but I also knew that it was well worth the wait.

Some of you may already know that I'm a novice, but very enthusiastic gardener. You can see some of my gardening ideas in The Kitchn. The fact that, soon, I'll have my own compost to add to my many planted friends just makes me giggly with anticipation.

Everything was going smoothly until yesterday. I woke up, walked into the kitchen, and the glowing green light I'm so used to seeing from the composter was red. I bent down and it indicated that there was a jam. Shoot. What do I do? I was terrified of opening it, assuming if I did it would be like moving a souffle before it's fully set. I didn't want my inflated garden dreams to deflate.

I skimmed through the instruction book and found out that if a jam occurs to first wait 24 hours, as organic material softens as its composting and the mixer could eventually be able to get through the jam. This morning, when I went to press OK, so that the mixer could do its thing I heard it try, try, and then give up. Still jammed.

Next up, via the instruction manual was to *gasp* open the container and manually remove what's causing the jam. I held my breath and slowly opened the lid, unsure of what I'd find. Poof, a wave of hot air hit me in the face and then I saw beautiful, brown, compost!!! Sure, there were a few things still mushing, but everything else I had thrown in had already broken down. The culprit of my jam was a hard twig from my plant clippings that was splitting and creating a tough rope-like material. I cleared it all out, first noticing how nice and toasting my compost was, and closed the lid. Whirrrrrrr... the mixer started up again and hasn't stopped since. I'm going to wait another day or so before I begin adding organic materials on a regular basis.

I've moved my trashcan into the backyard in the hopes that I can minimize my trash footprint to just a few items a week -- recycling, reusing, and composting the rest. Updates along the way.

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