When it comes to being healthy, fresh garden produce is an important key. When it comes to growing garden vegetables, healthy soil is an important key. And when Benicia resident Marilyn Bardet strives to create healthy soil, she starts with a couple of bowls.


There’s nothing fancy or special about those bowls, Bardet said with a laugh. “They look like old stainless-steel salad bowls or mixing bowls,” she said. But for years, she’s put them to a different use entirely. They’re where she puts kitchen vegetable scraps. “No meat—just veggies.”


That’s the beginning of a fairly easy process she uses to create compost she’ll use to enrich her garden soil. “In 1990, I built a three-bin composter using the Rodale method,” she said. The Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pa., is a strong advocate in the organic movement, from the consumer level to research and farmer training, saying organic gardening and farming improve both the health of people as well as the planet.


She made her bin simply, of 2 by 12 fir lumber. “I was learning at the time,” she said. Some of her education came from surprising sources, such as at a Massachusetts open house given by members of the Rockefeller family who were showing off their environmental practices. Bardet learned she should set aside a cubic yard of space for a compost pile of both dried things, such as dead leaves and old garden clippings, and green things. “Most kitchen waste is green things, such as peelings,” Bardet said.


If the compost bin is high enough, the pile will have the air it needs for the materials to break down. Once the three-part bin was built, Bardet simply placed a thick plastic tarp over it and lets nature handle the rest. “It heats up. I don’t do anything. It composts up,” she said. She may wet down the materials if they’re too dry, but that’s about it.


Lisa Duncan Photography

Marilyn Bardet’s 3-stage composting bins


“It’s a lazy way to get compost,” she said. “This is not anything new. I am sure there are a lot of people composting in their own way. I didn’t buy anything special. I just put a bowl out, and as I peel things and cut things, I take it out to the bin, pull the plastic cover, toss it in. That’s it!”


Her three-stage bin has portions for the beginning of the breakdown of fresh things. The second part continues the breakdown, and the third section contains the soft, crumbly finished product that enriches the soil. Although some composting can be done without bins, “I prefer to have mine contained,” Bardet said, explaining that bins can discourage animals from dining on those discarded kitchen scraps. And even if she doesn’t garden as much as she once did, she still uses the compost she makes.


Composting doesn’t even have to be as complex as Bardet’s simple method. “I have friends who build a pile of leaves.” They may add scraps to those piles or let the leaves gradually transform to soil food. The results will be considered organic, so long as the plant matter hadn’t been sprayed.


“You can make a pile of leaves and green and dry things, tarp it over and it’ll break down and you get nice humus,” she said. “And everybody could be composting leaves in Benicia.”