Thursday, June 5, 2014

Get Your Compost Started!

Why Compost?

Compost fertilizes without using chemicals, is easy and inexpensive to start, and allows you to do use organic matter, that would otherwise be thrown away, to aid in your gardening endeavors. Your trash can won't fill as often, your garden will love you, and the materials are basically free. What more could you ask for?

Getting Started

Make a Pile, Find a Bin, Build a Tumbler

Our Compost Bin
You can make your compost setup as simple or sophisticated as you'd like. You can designate a corner of your yard and make a big heap, you can build or find a bin or container to heap it into, or you can build a tumbler for ease of turning and rotating. 
  • A simple compost pile is beneficial in that you don't need any money or building materials to start it, it is easy to access and turn your compost, and, if you have chickens, they will turn it for you. The downside is that it is a pile. It's a bit messy, difficult to contain, and might be an eyesore.
  • If a bin is what you're after, you can either build or buy, and it can be permanent or temporary. Currently we have a permanent bin in the corner of our garden, made out of railroad ties we found in our back yard when we moved in. It is nice because it is huge, and permanency means it won't blow away when it's empty and it's always in the same spot. The downside to a permanent bin, especially a big one, is that it is very difficult to turn, and difficult to access your finished compost. Last time I needed compost I had to dig all the fresh material off the top to access the finished compost on the bottom. Before the big bin there was a less-than-temporary system we made for use at our rental house. We used two plastic trash cans with locking lids, and wheels on the bottom, and drilled several drainage holes in the bottom and sides.You could use almost any container with a lid, as long as you've got plenty of drainage holes. The convenient part of this setup was that we could pick up the cans and shake, rattle and roll to mix the compost. Also, when the material in one can started to break down, we could move it to the other to finish, and add more fresh material to the first. The system was great! The only real drawback would be that the cans will eventually degrade in the sun and with damp material constantly hanging out in there. 
  • The last option I mentioned (and one that we will soon be switching over to) is a tumbler. A tumbler is a large bin, barrel, or container that is mounted on a frame and designed to allow you to rotate your containment device so you can better turn and mix your compost material. This is probably the best all-around option, but is also likely to be the most expensive to build or buy.
Whichever option you decide on will work fine, it's up to you how much you want to put into the project. The more simple the device, the more work will likely be required. The more complex the device is, the more money it will likely cost to put it into action. Remember if you are building your device, use as many free, or inexpensive used materials as you can. Keep your costs down so it won't be so daunting!

What is Compost Composed of?

Kitchen Scraps

Compost is made up of organic matter. You can find plenty of things around your house and in your yard to compost! Here are some good things for you to put in your compost bin:

  • Fruit and vegetable peelings, cores, and stems. 
  • Shredded junk mail or newspaper. (Avoid newspaper ads or postcards with shiny coatings.)
  • Lawn trimmings. (As long as they don't have any chemicals on them that should not be consumed or composted, check your labels.)
  • Leaves.
  • Weeds. (Try to avoid composting the seeds, they may not break down and you might end up with more weeds next year!)
  • Old produce. (Squishy, slimy, moldy or overripe. They are all fine)
  • Animal manure. (Think farm animal, not Fido or Fluffy.)
  • Used straw or moldy hay.
  • Used coffee filters and tea bags. (Including the contents)
Some other things you can add but will take a LONG time to break down:
  • Pine cones.
  • Tree branches/wood.
  • Corn cobs.
  • Cleaned egg shells.
  • Food containers labeled "compostable."
Here are some items that should be avoided:
  • Any non-organic materials. (Plastic, metal, etc.)
  • Meat. (It will be more likely to rot than to compost)
  • Starchy or greasy foods. (Corn chips, rice, bread, french fries, etc.)
  • Manure from animals other than livestock or poultry. (Dogs, cats, rodents, etc.)
  • Seeds or pits from weeds or produce. (Unless you want a pumpkin patch to grow out of your compost.)
  • Treated lumber.
  • Yard trimmings that contain chemicals. (Weed killer, fertilizer, etc.)
Experiment with the mixture of green (plants, vegetation, manure) and brown (paper, dried leaves, straw) to figure out what ratio works best for you. Or, just pile it on and see what happens! It's up to you how scientific you want to be. It will turn out fine, but one ratio or another might work faster or better for you depending upon your climate, setup, and level of involvement. And remember that if something doesn't break down into compost the first time, you can always put it back in to get your next batch jump-started!

Now What?

You've got your designated site and container, and you've started to collect things to compost, now what do you do? Put it all together! Water it weekly, turn or mix it often, and then just wait...