Thursday, March 7, 2013

Composting How To

I have to admit that the first time I attempted composting, I failed MISERABLY.  I even had my husband build me one out of wood scraps he had in the garage.  It was located in one of the corner's of the yard, which seemed like a half-a-day's walk to get to, and when it was in the 90's during the summer the only thing I wanted to do outside was jump into a pool, not trek it to the back of the yard to turn a compost pile.  Since then, I have also learned that we pretty much did everything wrong.  For example, our compost structure had no air circulation or drainage, fatal mistake number one.  Also, we threw weeds in it that had seeds, fatal mistake number two.  Next, we did not have the proper balance of organic materials, which is why it produced a HORRENDOUS smell, fatal mistake number three.  I even carelessly tossed in plants that had disease such as powdery mildew, fatal mistake number four!  (The list goes on, but I will spare you... UGH!)  Okay, I have completely turned this post into a gardener's confessional.  Anywho, since I am longing for spring and the upcoming growing season, I vowed to compost right this time and in a way that would be easy and practical for me to maintain.

First, I researched different DIY methods to compost.  There are some really, and I mean REALLY, unique ideas out there.  But I eventually stumbled upon one that was made out of a black, plastic trash can.  BINGO!  You can view the tutorial at P. Allen Smith Garden Home.  The reason why I like this method is because it's the cheap frugal person's version of an expensive composting drum. Actually, the DIY trashcan version is at LEAST 100 dollars cheaper than the cheapest drum I saw out there!  Talk about savings!

Photo from P. Allen Smith Garden

Next, I researched what I could actually put into compost and what NOT to put in it.  Some big no-no's were meat scraps and cooked veggies with butter and salt on them.  And as mentioned above, no weeds with seeds or diseased plants!  I have also read that avocado peels take forever to decompose because they are so fibrous, so you might want to avoid putting those in as well. Also, avoid twigs. A quality compost needs to have a proper balance of nitrogren and carbon materials like dry leaves or shredded black and white newspaper, veggie scraps.  It also has to have a proper amount of moisture and drainage.  One blogger said to pour in a glass of water every time you toss stuff into your compost.  (I will include a list of tips at the end of this post.) 

Anyway, I decided to purchase a plastic container to stow under the sink, but I wanted it to be tall and skinny so it wouldn't take up horizontal space.  I also purchased a little container from the Dollar Tree for my shredded paper so that every time I toss in some chopped up veggie scraps (nitrogen) I can also toss in a layer of paper (carbon) to maintain a healthy balance.  I also rinse my egg shells and crush them before tossing them in.  I am not sure if you have to rinse egg shells or not, but it seems like a good idea to me.  Crushing the shells helps them to break down faster.  Coffee grinds and filters also go in.  Once it's full, I take it to my super classy compost bin.  I bleach out my scraps container every other time I dump its contents into the composter.  (Is composter a word???  It is on my blog!)

Unfortunately, it is the middle of winter for us right now, and I know that anything I toss in the composter will just freeze, but I thought it would be a good idea to get a head start on filling it up.  Once it's full, we will just wait for the weather to start to warm things up and we will roll the trash can a few times every couple of weeks to stir things up.  Supposedly, it should take a couple of months to make usable compost. And because you can purchase a trash can for this use for $15 or less, why not have two and double the amount of compost?!

Happy to be composting!


Composting Tips from

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Composting Tips1. Grass clippings add necessary nitrogen to a compost pile, but be sure to mix with the "brown" materials that add carbon. Both are necessary for quick decomposition and rich compost. Piles made up of just grass will compact, slow down and start to stink.

2. Do not compost fats, pet droppings, or animal products. They will attract pests to the pile and can spread disease.

3. Newspaper or plain white paper from the computer is excellent for composting - just remember to shred it first to speed up the process.

4. Got compost? When finished it should look, feel and smell like rich, dark soil. You should not be able to recognize any of the items you put in there.

5. Worms love coffee grounds!

6. If adding ashes to your compost bin, do so sparingly. They are alkaline and affect the pH of the pile. In contrast, acidic materials include pine needles and oak leaves.

7. Plants that have been treated with pesticides and/or herbicides (weeds and lawn clippings) should be avoided.

8. The microbes responsible for breaking down your compost pile need a balanced diet of nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen comes from green materials such as food scraps, manure, and grass clippings. Carbon comes from brown materials such as dead leaves, hay, wood chips and shredded newspaper. A ratio that contains equal portions by weight (not volume) of both works best.

9. Algae and seaweed make excellent additions to your compost pile. Be sure to rinse off any salts before using.

10. Finished compost is usually less than half the volume of the materials you started with, but it's much denser.

11. Keep your compost pile in a black plastic bin and in direct sunlight to continue the composting process through the winter. Hay bales can be used to further insulate the pile.

12. Wooden pallets make excellent compost bins. Start with one pallet on the ground. Drive two metal stakes into each side. Slide additional pallets over each support and you have a bin ready for compost.

13. Straw is an excellent source of carbon for your compost pile. However, it may contain weed seeds, so make sure the pile is "cooking" properly.

14. Compost decomposes fastest between 120 and 160 degrees F. Decomposition will occur at lower temperatures, but it takes much longer.

15. The perfect size for a compost pile is one that is at least 3' x 3' x 3'. It's not only a manageable size to turn, but it's ideal for retaining heat while still allowing air flow.

16. For faster composting keep your pile or compost bin in direct sun.

17. Don't throw away your kitchen waste in the winter - try an indoor composter.

18. Compost piles should remain damp but not too wet. As you build your compost pile, make sure that each layer is moist as it is added. The surface should also remain damp (think of a wrung out sponge), especially during the summer months.

19. Does your compost pile smell? It's probably due to a large number of anaerobic microbes, which are working hard to break down your compost, but creating a smelly situation in the process. To cut down on the anaerobic process, aerate your pile regularly, creating air spaces and limiting the anaerobic microbes while stimulating the less stinky aerobic microbes.

20. Help start a new compost pile with aged manure, cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal, blood meal, or compost starter. They are rich in nitrogen and help jump-start the microbes responsible for breaking down organic matter into compost.

21. Anything that was living at one time is great for compost bins. Think of leaves, vegetables, and grass clippings.

22. Compost piles can either be layered - thin layers of alternating greens and browns, or they can all be thrown in together and mixed well. Either way works!

23. Soak finished compost in water to "brew" compost "tea," a nutrient-rich liquid that can be used for foliar feeding or for watering plants in your garden, backyard, or houseplants.

24. Apply finished compost to your garden about 2-4 weeks before you plant, giving the compost time to integrate and stabilize within the soil. Click here for a guide to vegetable gardening.

25. For faster results, use a compost turner every two weeks to aerate your pile.

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