Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Are Snails And Slugs In Compost Bad?

Of all of the pests which frequent my garden, snails and slugs are among my least favorite. By following some practices I first learned about through permaculture, I have managed to achieve a balance between predators and pests for most of the wildlife in my backyard. However, slimy pests don't seem to be kept in control by any natural predators. So when I see snails and slugs hiding out in the compost heap, I get angry.

But Are They Bad For The Compost?

Based on my research it seems that snails and slugs are actually beneficial for the decomposition process.

According to the University of Illinois ( they're actually a natural part of the composting process. They are macro-organisms and make the work of the microorganisms which follow that much easier.

"They are considered to be physical decomposers because they grind, bite, suck, tear, and chew materials into smaller pieces."

This page at Cornell also describes the place of snails and slugs in the decomposition process.

Will They Decimate My Vegetables?

So we have established that snails and slugs are not a problem in a compost pile - in fact they are beneficial. But the next question is whether having the little critters hiding out in your compost puts the rest of your garden at risk.

After some further research, opinions are divided on this point. Some people say that the compost heap is such a haven that they wont want to leave, so your tender vegetable seedlings will be safe. However, those in the opposing camp say that these marauding molluscs wont stay put and will in fact use your bin as a safe base from which to conduct there nightly raids.

So if you're in the second camp and are worried about damage to your precious plants, then here are some ideas for you to try:

  • Locate your compost bin as far as possible from your at risk plants. This will obviously depend on the size and layout of your garden, but it is definitely worth considering.
  • Try sacrificial planting or "trap crops". This involves planting a barrier of something which will distract the snails and slugs from your veges. I've read that nasturtiums and French marigolds work well in this regard.
  • You could upgrade your bin to a compost tumbler type of system. These units are normally well sealed and are difficult for snails and slugs to get into.
  • Introduce predators into your back yard. Ducks or chickens are a favorite among permaculturalists. Again, this is not for everyone - it's not something practical for my set up.
Hopefully, if you're worried, you can try one or more of those ideas. I haven't mentioned the use of chemical pesticides, as I'd prefer not to go down that path.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Do You Need A Lid On Your Compost Bin?

Most of the composting systems available on the market come with a lid of some sort. So this begs the question - does my compost bin really need a lid?

There are a number of reasons why you may choose not to have a lid. You may be building your own bin or enclosure and not be in a position to include a cover in the design. You may even just be composting in a pile somewhere in a back corner of your garden.

The reality is that the microorganisms which decompose the organic matter in your bin, heap or pile have been at work since long before compost bin lids were invented. So strictly speaking, no, a lid is not a necessity.

Having said that however, there are some good reasons why you may want to stick a cover on your bin.

It will keep animals out. Most places in the world have some local wildlife which will be attracted to the fruit and vegetable scraps in your compost. Having a lid on your bin will deter most scavengers from raiding your bin.

A lid will reduce the smell. Although a well-functioning compost pile should not produce odours which are too offensive, it is still possible to get a waft of something unpleasant. A well fitted cover should help to minimise these unwelcome "fragrances".

Retention of heat and moisture. Along with the right levels of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, water is crucial to the decomposition process. So by having a cover or lid over your compost, you will be able to retain moisture and stop your pile from drying out. Also, to get the decomposition working really fast you need to retain heat within the pile. The microorganisms at work will generate their own heat but by having a cover you can help retain more heat.

So the TLDR is - no, you don't need a lid on your compost bin. But it will help.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Making Compost At Home - Day 1

My first real attempt at making compost at home.

In How To Make A Compost Bin I described how I'd finally built a decent sized free (almost) compost container. I built it out of the timber from an old fence we'd pulled down. The enclosure comprised two bins. My intention is to use one as an active heap will I will use the other to accumulate new material for use in the next compost heap.

While I've made compost at home before, it's only ever been in small plastic bins. It's taken a long time to break down and become useful for the garden. For those who don't know, it's a great soil conditioner. It's a great way of recycling organic matter from around the home and garden and if you're into organic gardening, it's the bee's knees.

Anyway, I built my backyard composting bins out of old timber and today I filled up one of the two bins. I used a combination of brown and green waste. The composition is not terribly scientific - just what I had lying around the yard mixed together in a ratio which I thought might be roughly right.

The materials I used were roughly as follows:

  • 50 percent dry leaves (maple, oak and gum leaves) and some broken up bark and twigs
  • 30 percent lawn clippings
  • 15 percent kitchen scraps - vegetable and fruit peelings, tea bags, egg shells, etc
  • 5 percent partly composted material from my old compost bin.
I also added some chicken manure just as a compost starter although I suspect the dregs from by old bin would have done the job.

The material filled the bin to about one cubic meter. I mixed it all quite well and watered it enough to be damp but not wet. It's in a shady, sheltered spot in an out-of-the-way corner of the backyard.

So now we wait. I'll turn it over with a garden fork in a few days. I'll write an update about how I'm progressing in my latest attempts at making compost at home.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

How To Make A Compost Bin

I finally made myself a larger compost bin today.

I've been meaning to make a compost bin for quite some time. I have a couple of smaller plastic ones, but I wanted something larger. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, a larger compost heap should work faster. It should be able to generate more heat and break down more quickly. And the extra mass helps to insulate it more, allowing the center to heat up more. I believe that if the compost heap gets hot enough, it'll kill the seeds of any weeds which have made it into the pile.

The second reason is simple - I want to make more compost. The small bins I have now are fine for a our kitchen scraps and a few leaves, but I have a lot more organic material I could be using. With the new bin set up I have, I can compost all of our kitchen scraps, lawn clippings and the masses of leaves all of our trees drop each year. Add to this some old newspaper and a helping of manure, and I should be rolling in it...

And the best thing of all - it only cost me a few dollars (for a box of nails) and half of a day of my time. You see, we recently have one of the fences on our property line replaced and I hung onto some of the old timber for this very purpose. So using the old fence posts, I built the frame of the compost bin, then lined it with the old fence palings.

My only concern is how long it will last. I'm worried that the wood (that has started to rot in places anyway) wont be able to handle too many cycles of composting. I suspect that all of the microbes which do all of that work to break down our organic waste wont know where to stop. But it wont be the end of the world - after all, as I said earlier, it only cost be a few dollars and a little of my time. And it was a great project for my son to help out on - a real father-son bonding experience with all of the measuring, sawing and hammering.

And I thought that recycling the word (apart from saving money) was quite fitting. I like the idea that the timber was recycled and put to use to recycle household and garden organic waste.

If anyone is interested in learning how to make a compost bin out of recycled timber, let me know and I will pass on what I've done.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

How To Store Compost

Once you've made it, how do you store compost?

Why would you want to store compost? There are a number of reasons. You might have made a large amount which you can't possibly use all at once. Or you might not be able able to compost on a regular basis and would like to store some for future use. As I said, there are any number of reasons.

In my case it was a timing issue. The current compost heap was finished and I was ready to make some more, but the garden bed I planned to use it on wasn't yet finished. So I set out to find the best way to store compost. My fall back position was to create a pile in the corner of the garden somewhere, but I was worried about it drying out and getting blown all over the place.

After doing some research, I found that one of the easiest methods for storing compost is to put it in plastic bags. Since I had a few spare bags in the garage, this was the method I chose. It had a few advantages. Firstly, it kept it moist and easy to work with. Secondly, it meant I could keep it for an indefinite period. I'm hoping to have my new garden bed finished soon, but you know how it is - best laid plans... And lastly, it meant I could store it out of the weather in a neat and compact way.

Other suggested compost storage methods I came across include the following:

One of the simplest methods is to simply leave it where it is. Although not really an option in my case, if you're not using your compost bin or enclosure again straight away, this is your best option.

Another convenient storage method is to form the compost into a pile then cover with a large sheet of plastic, then weighting the corners down with bricks or rocks. This simple method will protect he compost from the elements while still allowing worms and other organisms from the soil beneath to enter the pile and weave their magic.

If you have any other easy methods you can share, let me know. If I get enough new ideas, I will post them in another "How To Store Compost" article.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Why Learn How To Compost?

Before discussing how to compost I think we should talk about why composting is important. For those who haven't yet tried composting, it's a very rewarding pastime. Some organic matter - some manure, leaves, grass clippings or whatever else you have on hand - along with a little time and patience is all you need. The reasons for (and indeed the benefits of) composting are many. So here is a list of reasons why it's important to learn how to compost.

Organic Compost Is Great For The Garden

The most obvious reason for learning how to compost is that it's great for your garden. Compost is a great medium for growing plants. It retains water, it full of nutrients and helps to improve the structure of the soil.

Making Compost Is Good For The Environment

Another great reason for making compost is that it's a form of recycling. By putting all of your household fruit and vegetable scraps and garden waste into your compost bin, you're creating less garbage. Imagine cutting the amount of household waste you discard each week while at the same time creating a richer, more fertile environment for your plants to grow in. So cut the amount of needless landfill today.

Composting At Home Saves You Money!

Have I got your attention? By making your own compost, you can save money on fertilizers, chemical plant foods and other soil conditioners. This could be a compelling reason if you're a keen gardener and spend a small fortune on keeping your garden looking lush, green and healthy.

So if you're a gardener, want to help the environment and save money all at the same time, composting is definitely for you. Learn how to compost and achieve all this and more.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

About How To Compost

What is "How To Compost"?

"How To Compost" is a website dedicated to the noble art of composting. There is nothing more rewarding than turning household and garden waste into nutrient rich black compost. Your garden will love you for it.

On this website I will publish a series of articles about composting. While I'm not a horticulturist, I am a keen gardener and how been making compost for a number of years now. There are many methods and recipes out there and I will discuss many of these in upcoming articles.

And I'm always keen to learn more. If you have any suggestions or ideas, let know. If it's something I haven't covered before, I'll include it in a new post.

So lets get started and learn how to compost.