Monday, May 9, 2011

Compost Pile

What is composting?
The art of composting has been part of our global culture since ancient times. The basic principles are quite simple, and adhering to them will result in an efficient and successful outcome. Studies have shown that home composting can divert an average of 700 lbs. of material per household per year from the waste stream. Municipal composting carries a greater environmental cost, but not nearly as high as if leaf and yard waste are disposed of by conventional means. Composting is an excellent way to avoid both wasting useful, natural resources and creating environmental problems, while at the same time producing a high quality and inexpensive soil amendment.

Composting is the transformation of organic material (plant matter) through decomposition into a soil-like material called compost. Invertebrates (insects and earthworms), and microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) help in transforming the material into compost. Composting is a natural form of recycling, which continually occurs in nature.

We decided to start our own compost pile! We've been reading all over the internet on different ideas, materials, and different tip and tricks.

I'll start with the "bones" of the operation. We used a 50 gallon bin that we got from a hardware store and drill 1/4 inch holes all over. Then placed it on a few wood blocks so air can circulate all around.

We set it by the woods, in case it "smells" (its not really suppose to though, its just in case). We are worried about animals, so we kept the holes small, and the lid locks tightly to the container. We'll add bungee cords as well once we start adding to it.

Here are a few bits of information that we found and will be using.

  1. Obtain a plastic storage bin. Plastic storage bins are available just about everywhere, and most of us have at least one of them in our basement or garage. The bigger the storage bin is, the better. The bin you decide to use for composting should be no smaller than 18 gallons. The bin must have a lid. If you are able to obtain a second lid, this would be perfect to catch the liquid that leaches out of the bin. Otherwise, this nutrient-filled liquid will just be wasted.
  2. Prepare the bin. You need to have air circulating around your compost to help it decompose faster. To manage this in a plastic bin, you will have to drill holes in the bin. It really doesn't matter what size drill bit you use, as long as you drill plenty of holes. Space them one to two inches apart, on all sides, bottom, and lid. If you use a large spade or hole-cutting drill bit, you may want to line the interior of the bin with wire mesh or hardware cloth to keep rodents out.
  3. Place your bin in a convenient spot. Because this bin is so small, it will fit just about anywhere. If you are a yardless gardener, a patio, porch, or balcony will work just fine. If you have plenty of space, consider putting it outside the kitchen door so that you can compost kitchen scraps easily, or near your vegetable garden so that you can toss weeds or trimmings into it. It can also go inside a garage or storage shed if you'd rather not look at it.
  4. Filling the bin. Anything you would throw in a normal compost pile, you can throw into your storage container composter: leaves, weeds, fruit and vegetable peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, and grass clippings all work well. Anything you put into the storage bin composter should be chopped fairly small so it will break down quicker in the small space. Fruit and vegetable trimmings can be chopped small with a knife, or run through a blender or food processor to break them down. Chop leaves by running a lawn mower over them a few times. Crush eggshells finely so they will break down faster.

  1. Gather all grass clippings and green yard waste but be sure to mix with the "brown" materials like leaves and shredded paper to add carbon. You will need both, but if you only add grass clippings your pile will compact and start to stink.
  2. Do not compost meats or pet droppings. Stick with food scraps and yard waste only.
  3. Avoid all pesticides and/or herbicide treated material.
  4. If you add weeds to your pile make sure your pile is good and hot. It should be steaming hot, not just warm otherwise it may not kill the seeds.
  5. Turn your pile as often as you can. Each time you turn it will speed up the process.
  6. Keep your compost damp but not wet. As you add material to your pile make sure that each layer is moist as it is added. During the summer your pile will dry out and the composting process will slow down.
  7. Got too much material to compost? Make a second or third pile. Stop adding material to a pile that is underway and start a new pile. This will insure you get a chance to use the compost this season.
  8. Add compost to your garden a few weeks before you plant. Let the compost have a chance to work into the soil. Try to mix it in and let it sit before you plant.
  9. Bugs, worms and most bugs are ok. No need to go crazy trying to keep bugs out of your compost.
  10. Since the compost process works best at temperature between 120 and 150 degrees composting in the warmer months is easier to do, if this is your first attempt at composting best to try in the summer.

Making the Compost Pile
Start with a 4 inch layer of brush, twigs, hay or straw at the bottom of the compost bin. If you don't have these materials, dry leaves will do. This first layer should be as coarse as possible to allow air to be drawn up into the pile from the bottom of the bin.

Then add a 4 inch layer of brown material, then a thin covering of finished compost or good garden soil. That's one layer. The addition of compost or soil is to provide the necessary bacteria to get the compost to start breaking down. If we don't add this layer the compost will still work, the addition just helps to speed things along.

Then add a 4 inch layer of green material topped with a thin layer of an activator. Activators are a source of both nitrogen and protein, ingredients that assist the organisms to break down the material. There are a number of good activators. Alfalfa meal works amazingly well. You can also use fresh manure, bone meal, blood meal, cottonseed meal, or even high-protein dry dog food (yes, that's right, dog food!).
Continue adding materials in alternating layers of greens and browns until the compost bin is full.

Turning the Compost Pile
If the pile has been made correctly the internal temperature should reach about 140° F within 7-10 days. Ideally, the pile should heat up to 160° F so that any weed seeds and pathogens will be destroyed. A compost thermometer is a helpful tool to use at this stage. Since the bacteria need air to survive they will start to die off after a week or so as they start to use up the available air in the pile. This drop in the amount of bacteria will result in the compost pile cooling off a bit from it's peak temperature. When this happens it's time to turn the pile to get more air into it.

When turning your compost pile, move the drier material from the outer edges into the center of the pile and break up any clumps of leaves or grass clippings to ensure that you get as much air into the pile as you can. Moisten any of the materials as you go, if they seem too dry.

From this point on you should turn the pile every 14 days or so, or when you see the temperature fall from the next peak in temperature of about 110° - 120° F. In general, the more you turn the pile the faster you will have finished compost. If you're using a plastic compost bin, an aerator tool will make the job of turning much easier. A garden fork is often the best tool for turning compost in an open style bin.

I got this information from these site:
Compost Info Guide
How to Compost
Organic Composting

Each time I add to the compost, I'll post it on the blog. That way I have record of what we did and if something goes "wrong" its more likely to be pointed out. Also, for all my wonderful readers, in case someone else is inspired to do one as well! 

I will say its so much better and easier when my husband wants to as much as me--and that way I can get HIM to stir it =)

Happy Composting!


ropcorn said...

Great descriptive post about how to compost. I don't have a garden but I've always wondered how it works. And I like the way you have set it up. So now I know a bit more about how it can be done for my future garden. :p

Kristin Eldridge said...

Thanks for this post! I want to make compost now that I will be in a house!

Joy @ Joy Of Desserts said...

Great post. Very nicely detailed, and your bin is a great idea.

Unknown said...

Great job on the composter! They are so crazy-easy to make, that I really wonder why someone would spend a fortune to buy one. Before our PCS, I had one that was made out of a pickle barrel, and it worked beautifully! You didn't even have to stir, you just rolled it around the yard :-)


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