“Earth knows no desolation.
She smells regeneration in the moist breath of decay.”
So you’ve decided be a composter…
Many people find the idea of composting overwhelming. There are a lot of ins and outs involved in the process but the reality is that composting is an easy way to complete or compliment an already outstanding organic garden. Although the process does demand a commitment to patience and an adherence to what to do and what not to do, the process, once started, is virtually hassle free and has innumerable benefits associated with it. The fact is that a well maintained composting bin in your yard is like a well-oiled engine in your garage, once they’re up and running they work perfectly and without oversight.
The magic of the compost heap
The reason that compost bins continue to process material once started is that the “magic” which breaks down organic material is a natural process that occurs without human interference. Worms and microbes that ignite this process seek out the proper conditions provided by your compost bin and therefore begin a cyclical process in which both parties involved benefit.
One of the most necessary components to creating an amazing compost bin is laying the proper foundation on which the compost can thrive. Once you have supplied the essential ingredients you can take a position of “over-seer,” adding and subtracting ingredients as you deem necessary, to cultivate the perfect mixture of compost needed to suit you and your garden.
Selecting the best location
The location of your compost is very important- For aesthetic reasons you may want it behind a shed or bushes.
The first step toward beginning any compost bin is possibly the toughest step in the entire process…Where to put it? The ONLY requisite for creating a successful composting bin is the location on which the compost is placed. As discussed earlier, the method used in composting is an already occurring process found in nature so the location for the composting bin must be placed directly on the Earth. Placing the compost bin on a patio or cement section or your yard, just won’t cut it. The worms and microbes must be able to access the ingredients you are placing in your composting bin in order to start the process and so placing the bin directly on the ground is necessary. Whether this is dirt or grass is up to you, just make sure the bin is built on some sort of Earth.
Other considerations for the placement of a composting bin must also be kept in mind. Although you need not worry if the bin is placed in the sun or the shade, the next most important factors for location of your bin, include accessibility and size. Size will depend purely on how much raw material and compost you wish to process, but accessibility is going to be the key to maintaining your ongoing compost. Adding, removing and turning the materials in the compost are paramount, so pick a size that will work best with what you have. Ok, lets move on to the actual composting bin construction.
Constructing a compost bin
Deside on a design that fits your needs and budget. Salvaging materials and building the bin can be a family project!
Compost bins are a relatively easy thing to construct and do not require that you be an expert carpenter to put together.
One simple method involves four wooden posts, old cardboard boxes and some chicken wire. Remember how much space and how much compost you will be processing and choose the height of your wooden poles based on that criteria. Space the posts out evenly and hammer them into the ground. Then wrap one layer of chicken wire around the outside of the poles, leaving one side open for accessibility. Then wrap another layer of chicken wire around the inside of the poles so that you create a space in between the two layers. Staple or nail the wire in place and then fill the gap with old cardboard boxes.
All composting bins need to be covered, but how they are covered is once again up to you. You can use a heavy tarp, an old piece of carpet, or any other construction you would like to use, as long as it is water resistant and it is heavy enough that it doesn’t blow away.
Other types of bins are easy as well but require slightly more materials to construct. Many compost bin plans and designs are available on the internet- look around and find one that will best suit your budget and needs. Another simple way around construction is to purchase plastic bins that fit together like Lego’s. Simply fit the bin pieces together, place on bare ground and add your ingredients.
Congratulations you now have a compost bin and all you need now are ingredients!
Creating the compost mixture
Microbes need a balanced diet "green" and "brown" foods
Now that you have chosen the location for your bin, how big it’s going to be, and what it is going to be made out of, you are ready to start choosing your ingredients. Understanding what you are going to use as fuel for your composting bin determines the type of compost that the bin will yield.
All ingredients used in composting can be classified as either “Green” or “Brown”.
Greens are just what you think they are; grass, yard trimmings, and the most common, fruit and vegetable waste from the kitchen.
Browns can be any fibrous organic material that is slow to rot. This can be tree prunings, dead leaves, old straw and even newspaper, cardboard and egg cartons. Basically any material that was once alive will compost so there are many choices.
Basically, the key is to gather an equal amount of Greens and Browns. Try to gather as much as possible, as it is not a bad idea to have extra of each to balance the type of compost you desire to produce. Fill the bottom of your compost bin with a good mixture of both Green and Browns and tamp it down gently. Spread it equally over the bottom and press it to the edges. Continue to add ingredients as they become available and now you can sit back and play the role of over-seer.
The mixture of greens and browns is found in virtually every composting bin and you will perfect your mixture to fit your needs. If your compost is too slimy and wet, add some dry browns to increase the overall structure of the mix. Conversely, if the mixture is too dry and slow to compost start mixing in some more greens. Pretty simple right?
Speeding up the compost process
The process can take up to 6-months to fully develop but from here on out the steps you need to take to maintain the compost bin are very minimal. Simply continue to add your ingredients in equal amounts and you should be set.
There are a number of tips for an accelerated compost bin, as well as composting with materials other than just Greens and Browns such as animal manure.
To accelerate your composting bin follow these steps:
- Fill your compost bin with as much material is allowable. If you can, fill the bin to the top or as much as you can while still being able to cover the bin with a lid. This will speed up the process as well as make the mixture’s overall temperature hot enough to kill all weed seeds that may have snuck into your bin.
- Turn your mixture. You can decide the frequency of turning your ingredients but the process and result is always the same. Take out the entire bin contents and mix it completely. This process of mixing will jump start the entire composting process and will make a bin that has cooled or slowed down, hot and active again. Another added benefit of turning is that you will be able to look at the mixture and determine whether you need more Greens or Browns.
- Chop up bulky items. This is especially important for Brown material like, shrubs, cardboard and other materials that are already slow to rot. This will integrate them into the compost more thoroughly and decrease the time it will take them to compost.
Composting with animal manure
Composting with animal manure is definitely a more advanced technique and requires more work and attention to detail. There a number of manures that can be used but for now, we will use bird manure as an example. Chicken, and other avian manures, are terrific for composting for seeds, flowers and fruits because they contain a high amount of phosphorus. However, the manure is usually heavy, wet and aromatic, and typically difficult to compost, so extra care must be placed on them before adding to your garden as it may damage or kill your plants.
When you are ready to move on to composting with bird manure follow these instructions.
- Shovel up the bird manure, including whatever Browns maybe being used as bedding, such as leaves or straw, and add it all to your compost bin.
- Add a specific ratio of Greens and Browns as we discussed earlier. The most common ratio is 1 part Greens to 1 part Browns, but some people prefer a 2:1 mix of Browns to Greens, including the Browns that may have been included in the manure. This is done to offset the already heavy and wet bird manure.
- Mix all ingredients together, lightly water the mixture and cover.
- The mixture will become and stay hot for about 3 days if the mixture is created properly.
- After 3 days, uncover and rotate the materials in the bin.
- Repeat this process 3 times, every 3 days adding the ratio of Greens and Browns with the manure as many times as you find necessary to fill your bin
- Let the compost sit undisturbed for 2-6 months. The time window will vary based on your mixture but should yield a compost that will be crumbly, dark and have a sweet,earthy scent, indicating that it is now ready for your garden.
Serve the Earth and your garden…ready, set compost!
Composting is part of the earth’s biological cycle of growth and decay. Now that you know the basic steps to getting started, you can start reeping the benefits of this biological process in your own backyard garden!
“However small your garden, you must provide for two of the serious gardener’s necessities, a tool shed and a compost heap.”