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.