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I want to start a compost bin, but not exactly sure on what is the right way to go about it. I've searched the web and still haven't found anything with simple instructions that take you through the whole process of building the thing and how to keep it going. Any suggestions?

Also, how do you know how much to use when it's ready. I'm afraid of overdoing it and killing the plants. I have a lot of clay in the soil (ok, all clay).

Re: Compost?

I'm surprised some gardening websites don't have decent instructions.
What I did was build a box. I used pressure treated fence posts & boards(I know all about the chemicals). I've seen people stack concrete block with one side open to allow access and even just make a big pile.
Then throw in any garden waste leaves, grass, vegetable kitchen waste, coffee grounds, fireplace ashes(not a lot). Don't throw in weeds.
Add a little organic fertilizer if you want to kick start it, but it isn't essential
Try to add layers if possible. Green material, brown, etc.
Then mix it together & let it set. It needs a little water & sunlight helps to keep it hot. Fork it on a regular basis to keep it mixed.
It takes a while at least a couple of months, possibly a year to get enough material in it & cooking.
On mine I remove a bottom board to get at the compost that is ready to use. I can get at the good stuff while the top is still cooking. Or just dig down to the bottom to get at the composted material.
Making compost is basically a wait and see project. It's not high tech. Just throw stuff in, mix it a bit and wait until it rots. It's a good way to get rid of garden waste & add something back to the soil. It's also nice not to pay the $5 or $6 for a bag of compost at the garden center and plus you know what's in it.
As long as the compost is good & cooked, you can add whatever looks right. Mix it well with your native soil. If you think it's too much, it probably is. You can always add more next year & the year after and probably should.

A. Spruce
Re: Compost?

Composting is super super easy and requires no "recipe" or container to do. The keys are that it have the right moisture content so that it creates a nice hot environment. Too dry and it can't heat up, too wet and you get a gloppy mess that is prone to odor. There are nuances that will need attention, such as the use of acidic leaves, fire place ash, and things of that nature, however there's nothing that should cause worry, as long as you only use organic wastes.

You do not need manure to compost, however the nitrogen and other goodies in it do help with decomposition and cultivating the optimal heat levels. The greater variety of organic matter the better, but you can compost a pile of leaves just as well as a mix of ingredients.

You do not need a container to house the compost. Bins make for neater piles and organized spaces, but are not a necessity. I use large perferated plastic rings that I received from the city green waste reduction office for my primary composters for all household green wastes (any organic matter except proteins and fats i.e., meats and fats ). These also get grass during grass season, leaves in the fall, and other green wastes generated on from our yard. During the winter months we have need for more capacity than any container can hold, so we create a pile that is 6' wide, 3' tall, and 10' to 20' in length. This pile generally consists of leaves from our yard, post harvest garden wastes, and manure that we get from a local stable.

All our composts get turned on a regular/semi-regular basis which helps to break up the decomposing wastes and aerate the pile which helps the decomposition process. At this time, moisture is added if necessary. Come spring, we sift the completed compost piles and use the material to fertilize the lawn, raised garden beds and planting the spring garden. Any excess is kept under a plastic tarp to use on the lawn later. The screened debris is returned to the compost heap to continue breaking down. There is no limit to the amount of compost you can use to fertilize. What's important is that you tailor the nutrient and pH levels of the finished soil blend to the needs of the things you're planting in it.

Last November I bought a MacKissic chipper to break down the leaves, twigs, and other larger organics to smaller components that decompose faster as well as take up less room. Be forewarned, composting can become a bit addicting. ;):D If you'd like to know more about chippers, I'd be happy to share.

Re: Compost?

Don't know what State you live in, but in PA, Pennsylvania State University offers several compost workshops in the spring and fall through their cooperative extension program/College of Agricultural Sciences. I don't know if this is State-wide, or just in several counties, but fortunately my county offers them. One of the major perks is that, for only a $5 registration fee, you get an easy-to-assemble compost bin.....it's large (known as the Earth Machine) and I've seen something very similar in high-priced garden catalogues for almost $100! (Ridiculous price!) Anyway, I mention this in case you want to check with the State university in your State.....or in case you happen to be from PA.

With such a container, I just follow the same procedure the folks in the previous posts have already told you about. I've been composting for 3 years now (and have two containers, courtesy of the workshops). It does take awhile to accumulate any sizable amount of compost, but in the meantime, all those kitchen scraps and yard wastes are being put to good use rather than being tossed in the trash, which translates into less garbage in landfills (where, unlike in a compost bin, they don't break down because of being compacted and having no airflow).

All that being said....happy composting, whatever container method you end up using.

Re: Compost?

Give you a flavor from a newbie on composting. I was looking some years ago for what type of compost bin to build. Well, decided to with the KISS principle. There was an old ATOH episode where Roger just used a cylinder of chicken wire and such. It works very well and is extremely simple, a wire cylinder held together by zip ties works wonders.

Re: Compost?

I also saw the episode...My parents had one for awhile, and that is where they got the idea. Seemed to work out well

Re: Compost?

Thanks for the info guys.

Bean, how big around did you make it? How do you layer it? I've read that you should put layers of wet then layers of dry, but how thick are the layers? Do you ever turn yours?

Thanks again for the advice.

A. Spruce
Re: Compost?
morcolt wrote:

Thanks for the info guys.

Bean, how big around did you make it? How do you layer it? I've read that you should put layers of wet then layers of dry, but how thick are the layers? Do you ever turn yours?

Thanks again for the advice.

The size of your ring can be whatever suits your needs. I wouldn't go any smaller than 3 feet in diameter, however, or it's just too small to hold much material. Try to keep your layers between 3 and 6 inches thick, otherwise compaction occurs and you won't get good decomposition of the material. For the best results you want an even moisture content throughout the pile. As you build the pile you can add more moisture with a hose, as necessary. Dry leaves will require a lot of water, fresh mowed grass none at all. Kitchen green wastes won't require too much additional moisture either. There are differing thoughts on the necessity of turning the pile. In my experience, you need to turn the pile to have even moisture content as well as aerate for the fastest decomposition and odor free pile. There are die-hards who build it and leave it. If you've got lots of space and time for that, "no touch" piles are fine. If space is at a premium and you have a lot of material to feed through the pile, then turning is the way to go.

A couple tips:

  • Adding soil to the pile will add microbes and good things to help decomposition.
  • Adding manure increases the nitrogen content which is vital for decomposition.
  • Build your pile to fill your container, then leave it (other than weekly or bi-monthly turning ). If you've got more material, start a new pile. If you keep adding material, you'll never have finished material.
  • [*]Compost completes in about 2 to 6 months, depending on conditions. Completed compost can be used as is or screened. The screenings can be used for fertilizing lawns, gardens, and plants. Larger materials can be returned to the bin for further composting.

Re: Compost?

Certainly good ideas above, but first, what are your needs, what do you have access to, what tools do you have and how much time and physical effort do you want to put into this.

The most traditional method, and the one that is most visually appealing, that is the least eyesore to non composters is a series of three bins, usually 4' by 4' by 3' high. Basically a 12' long by 3' high wood fence with four 4' by 3' high wood fences jutting out. You start by putting in all your garden waste in one bin till it's full. The you fork it all into the middle bin and start filling the first bin again. When the first bin is full again, you fork it on top of the stuff in the middle bin as the stuff in the middle bin will have shrank down a lot. Repeat until the middle bin is full after settling. Then fork the middle bin to the last bin and start over with the first two. After the third bin has settled for a couple of weeks, you can use it as needed.

Personally, I pile up wastes and any circular fenced area I can make with left over wire fence material. They can be anywhere from 4 to 8' in diameter. I fill them up, add material as they settle and eventually let them just set as I start a new one. After a year or so, I use whatever is in there. I don't turn the piles, too much work and I don't have that much time. I don't have any neighbors to impress either.

I build my piles in the garden so I don't have to haul the compost around. Sometimes I plant directly into the compost piles, Sweet Potatoes like that.

Re: Compost?

you can buy a small plastic bin from home depot thats what my grandparnets use and it works great but if you are going to need somthing bigger you can build one from 2 by 3s and chicken wire

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