Tag Archives: compost bins

Food for the Soil: Compost Update

A few years ago I blogged about compost…and the DIY project that went along with it. If you missed those posts, or if you never had the opportunity to read them the first go-round, here are the links:

DIY Compost Bins
Composting 101

After a few years of composting I wasn’t sure how enchanted I was with the dang thing. I got everything set up, and made sure to keep the balance of brown and green just right so as to avoid having my backyard smell like a landfill on a hot summer day. I turned the compost every so often to keep it all mixed up and jivin’ in the way that it does to break down into something delicious for my soil. And it just seemed to take forever. Some things didn’t break down all that well, there didn’t seem to be much in the end result and maybe it was my general lack of patience but this project felt like a whole lotta work for not a whole lotta reward.

This winter I resolved to re-purpose the barrels for growing potatoes and just be done with it…until something magical happened.

Okay, magical might be a stretch, but it was mind changing and turns out, I am enchanted with making my own compost. Who knew?

When J dumped the barrels this spring, for what I thought was the very last time, I spied something quite pleasing to the eye. I raced from the deck to the garden to get a better look…that compost was so rich and wonderful I was actually quite beside myself. I only regret that I didn’t get a picture snapped before he tilled it in. Rats!

And so, I’m back to composting.

Turns out, what seemed like not very much compost in those barrels once it had broken down is in reality more once it’s been dumped out. Funny how looks can be deceiving. I can get on board with that.

And here are some lessons learned — because why go through the pain of it yourself if you can just learn from someone else??

  • The plan I had for ‘turning’ the compost in my original “DIY Compost Bins” post didn’t work as efficiently as I had hoped. I found it was just as easy to turn the compost with a pitch fork right in the barrel.
  • I didn’t follow my own advice about keeping the compost wet. While you don’t want it sopping wet, moisture is part of the compost making equation. Mine was too dry, I’m sure, which is likely the reason it took eons to do its compost thing. I’m leaving the lids off the barrels going forward and will let Mother Nature have at it. As long as there’s ample drainage opportunity, which mine have, it should be fine.
  • A few foods didn’t seem to break down all that well for me so I’m no longer adding them to my compost as part of the ‘green’ mix. Those are: corn cobs, & avocado skins and pits. Even egg shells didn’t break down quite like I thought they would but I’m still adding them, I just crush them up before tossing them in the barrel. And in some instances, coffee filters, but because I know the benefits of coffee grounds in compost, I’ll continue to add them and those that don’t break all the way down are easy to pick out once the barrels are dumped and the compost is spread out with a rake.

For more information on what not to add, what to add and how much, etc. visit my Composting 101 link above. And if you have any other bits of wisdom about composting DIY, please share in the comments section below! I am clearly not the expert on this – heck, I just had to talk myself back in to continuing!

H

 


Composting 101

Barrel

During my undergraduate studies I had an instructor who said something in class that has forever stuck with me. A pile of compost gets so hot, one could cook a turkey in the middle of it. I can’t remember what course that was, or the instructors name, or even what he looks like. It’s odd, the things that stick in our brains. This tid-bit probably stuck because I was horrified at the thought of cooking a turkey in the middle of a pile of trash. I never intend to try, but there you have it.

About a week ago, I finally got things started in my compost bins.

You can read about my DIY compost bins here.

Today I am going to share with you what I’ve learned through hours of internet research on the topic. I’m not the expert, not even close, but decomposition of organic materials is a process that occurs without instigation in nature, so I figure I can’t mess this up too badly.

Speeding up the process, from that which occurs in nature, requires a simple recipe:
Air + Water + Green Material + Brown Material = Compost

Air and water are easy and require no explanation, but here’s the low down on “green” & “brown” material:

Green: these materials are high in nitrogen and provide protein for the micro bugs that ultimately turn this waste into amazing nutrition for the garden.
Typical green materials include:
fresh grass clippings (green)
kitchen scraps (fruit, veggies, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc)
green leaves
leftovers from the garden

Brown: these materials are high in carbon and provide the micro bugs energy to do their job.
Typical brown materials typically include:
brown, dry leaves
brown, dry grass clippings
straw
sawdust
shredded cardboard and paper

It’s important to keep the mixture damp (not wet), and the ratio should be about 3 parts brown to 1 part green.

People often think “yuck, compost piles have got to be stinky, and messy, and gross”. When done right, there is little to no odor. I can see where this thought process comes from though – have you smelled a barrel of fresh grass clippings that sat for a week through hot temperatures, and 3 rain storms? It’s putrid!

If your compost pile is smelling like a pile of rotting garbage, it means that your brown to green ratio is off and you need to add more brown, stat! It may also mean that your mixture is too wet. Check that you have adequate drainage  in the bottom of the barrel.

There are also some materials that should NEVER be added to your compost, those include:
meat, fish or animal fat
ashes from the BBQ grill (you can add ashes from a wood burning stove, but in very small amounts)
dog and cat feces (you can add manure from grass fed animals…cows, chickens, etc.)

I think a good rule of thumb is that anything that came from the garden can go back in via compost. Anything meat, or waste from meat eating animals is a no-no.

So…here’s what my plan of attack has been, and will be, for this first batch of compost in the making:

I collected a barrel of brown materials while doing yard work. I have read over and over that the best brown material is dried leaves. There were quite of few of those hung up in the planters around our new home so I took advantage and put them in a barrel that goes back in the shed (keeping it dry) to be used in this composting process.
I will collect green materials throughout the week as I prepare meals. There are always the parts of the fruits and veggies that end up in the trash…peels, skins, cores, etc. I will also keep used coffee grounds (filter included), tea bags, and egg shells. To prevent having to run outside to the compost bin after every meal preparation, I am keeping a large bowl with a lid in the fridge. Once full, I will run it out.

I started the bottom of my compost bin with a layer (about 3 inches) of brown. I lightly watered it down with the hose, then added a layer (about 1 inch) of green material. I will continue this process until the barrel is full.

The holes and brown material in the barrel will help with the flow of air. Additionally, you will need to ‘turn’ your compost every so often. I am going to wait until my barrel is nearly full before I get too crazy about this. While the barrel is filling I will give the mixture a stir with a pitch fork every month or so. Once it is full, and by full, I mean about ¾ of the way so there’s room for movement when stirring, I will knock that barrel over and roll it around the yard every 2-3 weeks. Keep in mind that once the barrel is “full’ you will still need to keep it moist so it will require a bit of watering down every so often.

Making compost takes time. How much? I’m not sure. It depends on a lot of things – weather (i.e. heat), how small/large the materials in the pile are, the right mix of brown/green, and the list goes on and on…

I’m not in a rush because I know this first batch won’t be ready in time for spring garden compost addition anyway. That needs to happen in the next few weeks. This first round is really an experiment.

Anyone inspired to try their hand at composting? I will continue to share my journey, but would love to know if anyone else is along for the ride in making their own! Composting is so good for your garden, potted plants, planters and it is also the environment. I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘tree hugger’ but I take a lot of pride in the fact that with our recycling and composting efforts we are sending only 1, not even full, bag of trash to the landfill, weekly. Impressive, huh?


DIY Compost Bins

Another project, that we happened to knock out over the weekend, and one I’ve been dreaming about for over a year, is the completion of two DIY compost bins.

I’ve done a lot of research on composting, the different methods and the ‘how to’, and have wanted to start some DIY compost of my own. The timing hasn’t always been right. The materials weren’t always available. There were always reasons to not get started…until NOW!

Barrel

Compost can be done in outside piles, or in containers. I have a large enough garden space to do an outside pile, but I want to wait and see how things all come together before going that route. Therefore, I decided on container compost for getting started. Maybe I’ll expand to the outside pile later…we shall see.

So…for this project, J was able to round up a couple of old barrels that previously had non-toxic materials in them so the barrels themselves are essentially recycled too…cool huh?

We cut the top of the barrels off using a sawzall. Then, I rinsed them out real good and let them dry. Next came the drilling of holes. If you want to compost using barrels, they need LOTS of holes so there’s adequate drainage and flow of oxygen. I drilled lots of holes up and down the sides, and the bottom, and a few on the lid.

Then, J ran some rubber around the cut edge, just so the cut edges would come together a tad better, and he added a hinge to one side and a clasp to the other.

ClaspHinge

That’s it! It’s a simple enough project to get started. If you have a couple of old yard waste trash cans with lids lying around you could have one of these put together in a snap!

The important thing is that the lid attaches well. The reason being is that the compost needs to be ‘turned’ every few weeks or so and the easiest way I can figure to accomplish this with the set-up I have is to kick the thing over and roll it around the yard a bit.

It’s amazing how the small things in life, like a DIY compost bin, totally excite me! I will blog another time about the ‘how to’ for composting – not that I’m the expert, I’ll just be sharing what I’ve learned in my research.

Do you compost? Why or why not?