What Not to Compost

The latest five-gallon bucket of compost trash.

Compost has four ingredients: oxygen, water, carbon, and nitrogen. Unfortunately for us, the previous occupants of our house had other ideas.

The chicken coop is built and our last remaining task is making it safe for the chickens. For the past week we have put aside time each day to dig through the top six inches of soil in the chicken run and remove trash.

We have been absolutely shocked by the amount and variety of trash buried in the soil. Each shovelful yields broken glass, nails, wire, plastic mesh, and a myriad of more unusual items. At this point, you may be asking yourself where on earth we live and why our garden is a veritable trash heap. Here’s the story.

Our house was a board and care home for people with mental illness for 35 years before we moved in. The caregiver was an avid gardener who loved to compost. We aren’t sure whether her residents used the compost piles as their trash bins, or if the caregiver herself mistakenly thought that plastic, glass, and metal were appropriate ingredients for compost. Either way, we find a strange and eclectic assortment of trash just about everywhere we sink a shovel in the garden.

But nowhere has been as bad as the orchard turned chicken coop where most of the original compost piles were situated. It’s sad and overwhelming, and it makes us very concerned for the chickens’ welfare. Incidentally, we are also both in dire need of chiropractic adjustments after hours spent kneeling in the dirt squinting at shards of glass and tinsel.

A partial list of the not-to-be-composted items unearthed thus far (alphabetized for your reading pleasure):

  • Band-Aids
  • Buttons
  • CDs
  • Ceramic pieces
  • Charcoal
  • Cigarettes
  • Coat hangers
  • Fake ivy
  • Glass
  • Legos
  • Nails, staples, stakes, screws, and other hardware
  • Pantyhose
  • Pill bottles
  • Plant tags
  • Plastic bags
  • Plastic soda bottles
  • Plastic netting
  • Shaving razor handles
  • Tin can lids
  • Tinsel
  • Plastic and metal bits of unidentifiable origins
  • A wrench

Needless to say, we’re bummed. It’s a good reminder that trash doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t turn into rich soil, and whether or not we have to look at it every day, it’s still sitting around somewhere. We only hope we’ve removed enough of it that our chickens won’t kill themselves eating a shard of glass or a nail. After we finish excavating, we will compact the soil as much as possible and then add layers of leaves and straw in hopes that they won’t dig too deeply into the dirt.

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