Thursday, February 11, 2010


I have been meaning to start composting since we moved to our Sicilian house with a garden. Living in NYC in cramped quarters and no outdoor space, this is one of those things I craved in my dreamy scenarios of a luscious backyard filled with sweet smelling flowers, juicy tomatos and potloads of fragrant herbs.

So what took me so long to finally get my act together (about a year and a half to be precise)??? To give myself a little credit, at least twice over the last year I did spend hours at a time doing on-line searches about making your own compost bin. I was even inspired to make a special trip to Bricocenter looking for the right things to build one with, yet still came home empty handed. I had this fantasy of an attractive container that would add something aesthetically pleasing to the yard, but really had no skills or vision to turn that fantasy into reality. And asking around my local circle I couldn't seem to find anyone who knew anything about composters, nor did I come up with any Italian on-line shops.

Then, two days ago, I recalled a distant memory of a friend of mine who had composted on the terrace of her apartment using nothing more than a plastic garbage can. I watched a video on-line about converting trash cans to composters. Nothing to it, really. I finally came to the realization that it wasn't the container that mattered, but the act of composting itself. And all that was stopping me was a simple garbage can. So the very next day I embraced this project with renewed enthusiasm, bypassed the usual Bricocenter, and used this errand as an opportunity to make a first visit to the new to me fai da te (do it yourself), Alfea, that I had heard about from a friend (LOVE this place!). Within a few minutes of stepping foot in the store, I had located the perfect trash can with tight fitting lid and all. And then as I dragged the garbage can through the aisles towards the check-out line, I stumbled through the gardening section and right into the happiest suprise yet--a not-too-pricey Italian-made compostiera, aka composter bin (I know, now that I know the terminology, I see how easy it would have been to purchase this on-line in Italy, maybe a year and half ago?!?!?). Without a second thought, I switched the trash can for this ready-made composter that fate finally seemed to have brought my way.

Now nestled in a corner by the vegetable patch, the new compster, containing its first mixture of leaves and fruit peels, feels like a long lost buddy who has found his way home. A symbol of an unnecessarily long personal struggle to turn good intentions into reality, when nothing was holding me back other than that extra little bit of oomph sometimes necessary when living in a foreign country.

Any composting tips to share to help keep me on track?
And look at our recently planted fava beans that are sprouting up so nicely!


  1. Hooray! I sincerely know how good this feels to accomplish something like this. I must say your bin contents are much "prettier" than ours! Congratulations Karen - and happy pre-spring gardening to you.

    Oh, and your fava beans remind me of my grandparents... have you heard it pronounced vow-ee? Strange Sicilian dielect in our family... :^)

  2. I admire your determination. Funnily enough, I was explaining composting to students the other day in a unit on recycling. None of them had the faintest idea what I was talking about! One tip is to tear up a newspaper every now and then and add it. It helps the stuff biodegrade or something.

  3. Knowing the right word sure does make life easier!

    Seattle gave away compost bins a few years ago. I love the idea, but am not overly fond of the annual process of separating the compost at the bottom level of the bin from the still organic stuff yet to decompose.

    Have fun!!

  4. Thank you Janis! I have to ask around about Sicilian words for fava. Now I am curious, how did your grandparents eat the fave?

    Dear W.L. I am not surprised by the lack of awareness about composting among your students. Even a few professional gardeners looked at me like I was crazy when I tried to explain what I was looking for. Hopefully your teaching will help spread some awareness, and thanks for the newspaper tip!

  5. I agree, Chuck, that part doesn't sound too appealing, but I am still naively enthusiastic. We'll see how long that lasts :)!

  6. Way to go!! I hope to follow in your footsteps soon... By the way, we LOVE fave!! Enjoy...

  7. Hi Jill, let me know how your composting goes! Yes, those fave are delicious!

  8. Ok - so I asked my mother about how my grandparents prepared the fava beans, and she said "like you would cook regular beans, only they cook much faster. They would add olive oil, onion, garlic, tomato, probably variations on that..."

    - mom just called and added that my grandparents would also cook fava with butter, or add them to soup too sometimes.

    xo, j.

  9. Looks great! My dream is to have one of those fancy tumbling composters and a nice worm bin...hard to justify investing in those with our current nomadic lifestyle but someday...

  10. Hi, glad to find you site! Wondering if you could help me with information on the cost of living in Aci Castello. Since this is my Fathers home town and I've been there a few time in the past and I am contemplating possible retirement for my wife and I. Would it be possible for your to pass on your email address so we can correspond.


  11. I've been meaning to start composting since forever, basically, and like you I've spent lots of time doing research. Just about a week ago I read about just using a trash bin with a tight-fitting lid, and I decided to pick one up ASAP. But now that you've done all the work and even translated compost bin for me, I'll be looking for a compostiera next time I find myself in a fai da te store. Thanks!

  12. Hi KC, glad to hear I am not the only one who has faced this challenge! Good luck in getting your compostiera....keep me posted on how it goes, too.


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