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A friend of mine is redoing her kitchen and instead of installing an in-sink garbage disposal, she decided to use the NatureMill composter to help her dispose of food waste. I hadn’t heard of the NatureMill but it sounded interesting so I contacted the company to ask them a few questions about it and whether there were any dealers in Canada. They asked if they could send me one to try out.

NatureMill with compost
NatureMill with compost

Being able to test out the NatureMill was a great opportunity, and while I was a little skeptical given my lack of success with traditional composting in the past, the machine produces wonderful fresh compost without a lot of work. I have been testing the NatureMill Pro XE for about three weeks. The Pro XE is the heavy duty version of the NatureMill Plus XE. It accepts more waste, has a foot pedal so you don’t need to fiddle with the lid while scraping plates into it, it has a “vacation setting” that powers it down for when you’re away, a “heavy duty” setting that you can use when you’re adding more waste than usual, and a lifetime filter.

How to use: Adding food to the composter isn’t difficult but it takes some effort. All pieces should be no more than 4″ in length and anything fibrous, like banana skins should be even small for faster breaking down. While the system accepts meat and fish, it doesn’t accept bones, hard fruit pits and stones or corn cobs.

Add the food waste to the composter in a specific ratio of five parts “green” waste (fruit and veggie waste) to one part “brown” waste. Brown is defined as carbohydrates, such as pasta, bread, coffee grounds, pet waste and biodegradable litter, as well as sawdust and sawdust pellets (a box arrives with your system). You also need to add some baking soda to help control the acidity and smell.

When the upper bin is almost full and the food is unrecognizeable brown mush it’s ready to be transferred to the tray in the bottom of the bin. There you have fresh compost ready for use on your outdoor plants. For indoor use, it needs to be cured for several weeks to several months.

NatureMill Compost
NatureMill Compost

 The Pros:

The NatureMill is an accelerated composter. It keeps the temperature even and every four hours two mixers churn the contents to make sure they’re properly mixed and the compost is ready in about two weeks.

It is suitable to keep outdoors as it is made of styrofoam, which also acts as a bit of an insulator in the winter. While the system will work in the winter, because of the outdoor cold, waste will take slightly longer to break down. It can also be kept indoors.

It uses very little electricity, about 5 kwh of electricity/month, has a charcoal air filter to filter out decomposing waste smell, and a 1 to 3 year warranty depending on the model, while producing a constant supply of compost for your garden.

It produces fresh compost every two weeks which is incredibly powerful (not odour-wise, but garden-wise). FRESH compost, as opposed to “cured” compost, cannot be mixed in with soil. It is so strong that it only needs to be spread in a thin layer on top of the soil for it to be effective. In fact, one full container of compost will cover up to 10-40 square feet, and is only needed as an additive about once to four times per year. This leads me to a few “cons.”

The Cons:

Volume: What the heck am I supposed to do with all this compost? In the house we live in now, we have no backyard to speak of. Once I’ve used one bin full of compost (that our family easily produces in two weeks), I have to come up with other uses for this compost — in theory, 20-25 bins per year. They suggest that you lay it out and cure it which can take several months, before it is ready to use as a mixer with soil. We don’t have the space to do that and I doubt any apartment dwellers would either. I suppose if you have a community garden or a garden club or avid gardening neighbours, they would be more than happy to take it, but it might involve some reasearch.

The sound: the “gentle whirring and clicking sounds” that the composter make are fairly significant, even if they are only every four hours. It also maintains a constant light hum which you do get used to. To be honest, we have enough noise in the kitchen as it is homework central, computer central and a very noisy kitchen fan.  I am happy with it outside my back door, or if I kept it indoors I’d put it in the basement.

The smell: It takes a few kicks at the can to get the balance of green and brown right, along with baking soda, so for the first few days the smell was significant whenever we opened the lid to add something. However, once I figured out the balance of sawdust pellets and baking soda to green, the smell subsided. Another note is that we have a family of racoons living in our backyard, and I was sure that they’d smell it and plunder the NatureMill over night, but they have yet to notice it — another sign that we must be doing something right.

Sawdust Pellets:If you can’t supply enough “brown” compost, NatureMill has sawdust pellets, but they will only ship them within the US. If you live outside the US, they suggest you find them at your local hardware store.

Green bin programs: Here in Toronto, we have a green bin program in which 510,000 homes participate and is currenly being rolled out to apartments and condos . The green bin program takes our “green” waste (fruit, veggies, etc.) and  “brown” waste (leaves, grass clippings, other food leftovers,  pet waste and diapers) and turns it into electricity and compost. If you have access to a green bin program, it is the best system to use for disposing of your food and pet waste.  It diverts approximately 30% of all waste from landfill as well preventing methane gas production, which is even a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

But not all communities have access to a green bin program, and given that 30% of all waste is food waste, the Nature Mill can put a significant dent into waste diversion.

Overall: If you’re an avid gardener and want to control what’s going in to your compost, or if you use enough compost in a year that you can absorb the amount you generate, this really is a top quality system. Also, if you are concerned about how much food and pet waste goes into landfill, NatureMill provides an excellent way to help you divert it from landfill. Finally, my landscaper was very interested in the NatureMill because it would allow her to cure her own compost to use to promote seed growth indoors in the winter.

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