Despite our shade, I wanted to step up from making compost by mere neglect (See April 14 posting). And use what I already have, if possible. I want to see if worms will help. One of the odds and ends that moved with us from a more amenable locale is a brown plastic bin, bottomless with a clever door to spill the goods when fully baked. How would it work in the shade? I set it a suitable distance from the back door, put in some kitchen scraps and maple leaves and called softly to the ground, “Little red worms, come and get it.”

Soon there’s been excavation and rinds and husks have been pulled out from the bottom edges. Raccoons. Sometimes I fail to read the writing on the wall. And so I dug down and placed a sturdy wire screen barrier around, weighted down with bricks.

Next I bought worms, because the scraps the raccoons hadn’t eaten were just lying there stinking. Time passed while I noted the worms’ preferences–these seemed to be picky. Celery was lasting for the longest time. And then I realized I hadn’t seen an actual worm for awhile.

Had the ingrates fled the first fall chill? Naw, raccoons like worms–they had simply had themselves a worm spaghetti feed, compost guru Joyce says. Now she tells me. So they win this round. The cute brown bin is now just for coffee grounds and leaves. In 2011 it’ll be compost. You have to take the long view.

We’ll skip the story of my double decker blue plastic tub tower worm bin. (It got chewed on, and when I moved it into the garage, it leaked.) Raccoons score again.

But I had another composter. This is not so unbelievable if you know us and have seen our garage. If we can re-assemble it, this is your basic overkill German-engineered composter, and “Manfred” will escalate my defenses in the raccoon skirmishes. So I ask Bill to put it together–a steel hexagonal drum, elevated and rotatable like a turkey on a spit. We had used it once, maybe 20 years ago–too long ago to remember why we had quit on it. Or why we had kept Manfred, in pieces, all their years. The assembly instructions are long gone and a Web search turns up nothing.

This is exactly the kind of project Bill finds enticing. You may think I’m kidding. He was at it with skinned knuckles for four hours.

It has been fun taking our jaunt into the woods out to Manfred. With enough leaves, and maybe helped by the Biobags, it hasn’t given off much smell, and the raccoons gave up after only managing to pull one shred of corn husk through a dime-sized hole. Who know how long this load will take to decompose, but at least it needs no tending.

There was one problem. Because the drum can rotate, Bill rotated it. He did this just once. During a cold snap. Leaving the door facing down. Of course the half-full mess fell against the door, and it froze solid. Which I discovered next trip to add my bucket. I pulled on the handle to bring the door around to the top, then let go. Luckily my two mugs of strong English tea boosted my reflexes, though apparently didn’t have enough caffeine to make me smart. I jumped clear as the drum and it’s wicked handle whipped back on a date with gravity. Manfred sat that way for three weeks–lid down and useless–till the thaw.

Now that it’s getting full, I’m open to the next idea. I’m think of the sunken bucket strategy. What’s your idea?

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