Anything that was once living vegetation can be composted.
How do you compost it?
If you throw it all in a heap, it will compost.
How long will it take?
If you do exactly as stated above, it can take 2-4 years for your heap to turn to compost.
How do I speed up the process?
There’s a right way to compost and there’s a better way to compost.
Like anything else, composting requires action. If you don’t get your composting started, you will never have compost. Composting is a very simple process that happens in nature without any human intervention. You don’t have to be a scientist to compost.
No doubt, you want to be able to utilize your compost later this year, or sometime next year. You don’t have to wait several years for your compost to be ready for the garden.
Tips and Techniques Available for Speeding up the Composting Process
1. Use the right materials.
Try to maintain a one to one ratio (by weight) of equal portions of carbon materials and nitrogen materials. Carbon materials consist of browns, such as dry leaves, shredded paper and wood products and hay or straw. Nitrogen materials are the greens, such as kitchen food scraps, lawn clippings, and manure.
2. Your compost needs air.
Providing adequate ventilation or regular turning will prevent your compost from being overcome by foul odors.
3. Watch the temperature.
There is an optimal temperature that encourages bacterial activity required for quick decomposition. That falls between about 90 and 135 degrees F. In colder climates, you should maximize solar temperature by placing your pile in a location that is exposed to sunlight, or by storing the compost in black colored bins.
4. Maximize the surface area.
Chipping and shredding the clippings into smaller pieces provides more surface area for micro-organisms to feed. That will promote quicker decomposition.
5. Provide proper moisture content.
Compost that is too dry is slow to decompose. Compost that is too wet can become overly smelly. Regulate the compost to a level of about 50 percent which, as a general rule, is about like a damp sponge.
If you are considering getting into composting on any scale, there are many tools at your disposal for you to simplify your project. Keep in mind that there is no wrong way to compost, just the right way and a better way.
Helping Nature to Run its Course
Purchasing a good compost tumbler is the easiest method of creating the proper environment for creating compost. Just drop in a few shovels full of a good mix of greens and browns, add the proper amount of moisture, and turn the compost to mix it up regularly. I’ve seen the composting happening in as little as 2 to 3 weeks with this method.
I’m always interested in ways to accomplish my goals in the shortest amount of time and with the least possible effort. For me, that means the use of a compost tumbler.
Keep lawns and play areas clean and sanitary with the Deluxe Doggie Dooley Toilet. Simply install in the ground, drop in dog waste, and occasionally add Digester Powder and water for continuous break down of waste. The environmentally friendly Doggie Dooley Toilet is harmless to lawns, pets and shrubs and has the capacity to handle the waste of 2 large or 4 small dogs. Works like a home septic system by using Enzyme and Bacteria action to turn waste into a ground absorbed liquid. Ideal for most soil conditions except hard clay (works well in sandy soil too). Molded of durable plastic, features an open-bottom to create a waste leach field. Excellent outdoor life, will not rust or corrode. Each unit comes with a 6 month supply of Digester Powder and has a step on lid opener. Individually boxed, suitable for shipping. Requires some easy assembly. Our largest unit!
Doggie Dooley Waste Terminator Powder
Doggie Dooley Waste Terminator Powder contain the stool digester enzymes for Doggie Dooley waste systems. This is a live enzyme digester that dissolves stools into a liquid.
Directions:for the 3500 and 3800 to start up a new or dormant toilet, mix 2 Tbs with 5 gallons of water and pour over the stools. Thereafter add 1 Tbs per week per dog. For model numbers 2000 and 3000 to start up a new or dormant unit, fill the unit with water and mix in 2 Tbs of digester powder. Thereafter add 1 Tbs per week. For the old 900 Doggie Dooley follow the directions for the 3500 Doggie Dooley Toilet. 180 g size. For best results with all units, mix the digester powder with water before pouring into the unit.
Red Wiggler Composting Worms
Red Wigglers are tough and hardy. Adaptable to many environments, Redworms have been breaking down organic waste to make natural fertilizer for millions of years. They also aid in the breaking down of pathogens. These worms are prolific breeders, laying one egg capsule as often as every seven days. Each worm capsule will hatch an average of 3 to 4 earthworms. The hatched earthworms will grow into breeders in about three months. They are very popular live bait for fish that prefer small baits, such as trout, bluegill, perch or crappie. Red Wigglers are easy to use as bait, easily surviving in temperatures between 38 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
With “everything you need to know” about composting in one small, easy to read volume emphasizes my philosophy that composting is so easy. In his book, Stu Campbell takes the scientific mumbo jumbo and simplifies it into terms that anyone can understand.
Don’t just take my word for it, though. Here’s what others have to say about Let it Rot!
From Library Journal
A readable, quietly humorous introduction to composting, this covers reasons to compost; differing approaches; how decomposition works; various methods, ingredients, and containers; how to speed decomposition; and how to use the end result. Campbell is an experienced gardener, and the book goes into great detail, but the text remains clear and interesting. The simple black-and-white illustrations vary between decorative sketches and straightforward diagrams; they could have been more frequent and more informative. The bibliography lists 14 other books on composting; a list of sources of composting supplies is also given. An interesting treatment of a basic subject for general readers, this is recommended for all gardening collections needing material on compost heaps. - Sharon Levin, Univ. of Vermont Medical Lib., Burlington
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
And here’s more…
“…the composter’s bible…Let It Rot will change the way you look at your garbage.” – Horticulture Review
“A good general book for setting up a composting system.” — Natural Health
“This is the book we most often use in our composting classes at the Garden. The content is excellent, easy, and entertaining to read.” – Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Plants & Gardens News
“The little classic that introduced thousands to composting.” – The Boston Globe
“An excellent paperback book … an easy read with plenty of clear advice.” –The Cincinnati Enquirer
“The best book on composting I’ve found.” — Howard Garrett in The Dallas Morning News
“…perhaps the most comprehensive book available on composting …from a publisher that all serious gardeners should know about.” – Marke Andrews in the Vancouver Sun
“Campbell is an experienced gardener and the book goes in to great detail but the text remains clear and interesting.” – Library Journal
“This paperback thoroughly covers the subject, touching on various composting methods, types of containers, where to locate the compost heap, procedures and what to do with the finished product.” –Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“…the composting stand-by…” – Salt Lake City Tribune
The Tumbleweed Pet Poo Converter consists of two sturdy nesting boxes with a lid, which form a neat, compact portable unit. The worms eat and breed in the top box.
The top box has a perforated base to allow any liquid waste to drain through to the bottom (collector) box. The “worm poo” or worm castings remain in the top box and can be harvested as desired. The bottom or catcher box collects the valuable liquid waste which can be diluted and used as a fertilizer on your (ornamental flower) garden.
There is no difficulty in getting the worms to eat dog droppings. Commercial worm farmers rear their worms on manure.
Please note, however, that it is not possible to mix diets. They must be fed exclusively on pet poo.
If you want to recycle vegetable scraps you must set up a separate farm.
# Constructed of UV treated High Impact Polypropylene Hardened Plastic
Just after my wife and I moved into our new house, my college aged daughter, who continued living with us while attending the local community college, decided she wanted a Siberian Husky.
I voiced my opposition to that idea. It’s not that I dislike pets….I love them. My main concern – and I made myself abundantly clear – was that I will not pick up poop. I do not do that. And further more, when I’m ready to mow the lawn, someone will have the lawn picked up clean so I don’t end up mowing through the stuff.
Of course, that was no problem for her. She promised that she would pay all the expenses – food, veterinary, etc. She assured us that she would take care of the dog, walk it, feed it, clean up after it……
Finally, she swore that when she moved out of the house, the dog would definitely go with her. There would be no way that she would leave without her pet.
We believed her. She got the dog.
Three years later, she lives in a small town an hour from us….with her husband…. in a small apartment that doesn’t allow pets….and we take care of her dog. In fact, we got another dog, a beagle, because we felt that the husky needed companionship during the day while we are away from the house.
I don’t mind taking care of my daughters husky, but it’s quite a guilt trip I endure when I have to force my wife to go pick up the dog poo every time I need to mow the lawn.
Worse yet, it just adds to the load of garbage that we have to take to the landfill.
I had never considered composting the poo. For all too long, I had been cautioned about composting pet manure, so we’ve been throwing it into plastic bags and hauling it to the landfill with all the rest of our trash.
Not only is that a lot of work, but it’s unnecessary.
After digging into the topic and doing a little research, I’ve discovered that composting pet poo is not such a problem. It is o.k. to compost pet poo.
Pet manure composting must be done with caution, though. It is advised that you do not use the compost anywhere near vegetable gardens. Harmful bacteria can be transferred to your veggies from the compost. It is, however, perfectly alright to use the compost in decorative flower gardens, lawns, and ornamental trees.
Here’s how you compost pet poop:
Find an old plastic garbage container. (mine is the 30 gallon variety)
Cut out the bottom and drill a few holes up and down the sides.
Dig a hole in the ground (somewhere away from your vegetable garden) big enough to fit the garbage container inside
Set the container inside the hole with enough of it sticking out of the ground a couple inches so that you can put a lid on the container
Put some rock or gravel inside the container for drainage, about 6 to 8 inches deep
Backfill around the sides of the container, put the lid on it, and you have yourself a dog poop composter.
Now you are ready to start shoveling in all the pet waste. Each time you shovel in a layer of poop, you should sprinkle in some septic starter to be sure the proper bacterial activity is happening.
This lightweight, portable composter is the perfect choice for people who don’t have a lot of room for a super duty composter. The Back Porch ComposTumbler is 37 inches high x 31 inches wide x 26 inches deep. It stands on a frame that rests on 6 inch wheels which makes it very portable.
It will hold up to 37 gallons of compost material. It has four mixing fins mounted on the inside of the tank which help the unit to break up large pieces of compost.
The combination of an aerator/drainage unit on the bottom of the composter and screened side vents makes sure your compost gets the proper amount of oxygen while at the same time, it prevents rodents and other animals from getting into it.
This model comes with a full 5 year manufacturer warranty.
The Tumbleweed Compost Maker was member tested and recommended by the National Home Gardening Club.
The Tumbleweed makes compost faster and easier. There is no need to fork or lift when you use the Tumbleweed. You can make rich compost in as little as 21 days. It’s great for composting grass clippings and kitchen waste. Tumbleweed’s unique bin rotates around the stainless steel rod which runs through the middle.
During tumbling, the patent pending breaker bar breaks up tumbling contents. This creates an aerobic action that offers a quicker and odorless form of composting.
Why spend money on expensive fertilizers when you can create your own composting and reduce landfill waste as well?
With a Lifetime Composter you can easily reduce, reuse, and recycle kitchen and garden waste into a rich organic soil conditioner. Compost helps retain the moisture in your soil and adds rich nutrients for healthy plants.
The Lifetime Composter is designed with black, double-walled panels to absorb and retain the heat that decomposes the material. An internal bar mixes the compost and allows the flow of oxygen that is necessary to break down the material into a rich, black organic fertilizer for your garden.
The lightweight 75 gallon tumbler easily turns on its axis for balanced rotation—saving you the time and effort of turning a compost heap with a pitchfork! You’ll also appreciate the extra large removable lid for easy filling and dumping.
The environmentally friendly Achla Spinning Horizontal Composter lets you steer those table scraps and garden waste away from the local landfill and put it to work feeding the microorganisms in your garden. Inside ridges help break up big clumps.
The composter is made from 100-percent recycled plastic and resists pesky rodents. A sliding door provides easy access. The compster holds 7 cubic feet and rests on an included stand. It measures 33 x 39 x 36 inches and weighs 36 pounds.
The RotoComposter Compost Tumbler takes the backbreaking effort out of turning your compost.
You won’t need to struggle with forks or shovels trying to tear apart a packed, root bound brick of material. With our compost bin you can make rich, high quality compost from your garden, yard, and kitchen waste in just weeks.
The large capacity compost drum rotates on a stable base providing quick and easy mixing. Just turn it about once a week to keep oxygen, nutrients, microorganisms, and moisture evenly distributed throughout the developing batch.
Our composter arrives fully assembled so you won’t spend frustrating hours putting it together, and it’s low profile (on ground) means you won’t need to lift materials high in the air to fill it. With this simple design, you can begin turning your garden and kitchen waste into valuable organic material in just weeks.
Molded from recycled polyethylene plastic, it measures 36 inches x 28 inches x 31 inches and holds 12 cubic feet of material. The rotating drum can be removed from its base and rolled to your desired area for filling or dispensing. A 16 inch wide twist-on lid provides easy loading and unloading of small and large material. The vented lid and 72 end vents circulate air within the batch to accelerate composting, and three recessed handles on the side of the drum make turning a manageable task.
RotoComposter Compost Tumbler arrives fully assembled and is backed by a 1 year manufacturing defect warranty. Fully assembled for one minute setup. Made in U.S.A.
New Urban Compost Tumbler Makes Compost in Weeks Not Months with Revolutionary Central Aeration. System; Works 90% Faster Requires 75% Less Effort.
Lack of space and time to maintain a traditional compost pile neighbor complaints and unwanted pests… the UCT is the perfect fit.
This unit is the only sealed compost tumbler that allows appropriate amounts of oxygen to enter the chamber and mix with materials vastly increasing the speed and efficiency of composting and inspiring more people to take advantage of the benefits of composting than ever before. Wagon not included. Tumble end over end. Suspended on a pivot rod that allows the barrel to tumble freely. The UCT9 is black in color to maximize heat absorption and further speed the process of turning refuse into useable compost . 9.5 cubic foot 71 gallon barrel. 5 Year Warranty
Composting is one of the best and easiest ways to feed your landscape plants and recycle the lawn and garden debris we all have. There are basically two ways of composting; the “hard” way and the “easy” way. First, lets look at the easy way:
The Easy Way:
Simply find a spot that is out of the way on your property and make a pile of leaves, grass clippings, dead plant material, and vegetative food scraps. You can even toss in a few small sticks if you want to. Just keep adding to the pile. You can turn it over occasionally if you would like, but this is the easy way remember, don’t get too carried away! Think about it….what does Mother nature do with all the leaves and other dead plant materials? She composts it! Does she worry about getting the right green to brown ratio? Does she turn it over every week? No, everything just breaks down at it’s own pace. Does this sound like something you can do? Of course. The only downside to composting the easy way is the length of time your pile will actually become compost. It will take much longer because you are not tending it. By tending, I mean being conscious of the brown to green ratio, being sure it is constantly moist, and turning it regularly. In a year or two, the pile will be reduced to what is called “Black Gold”, or compost. Simply remove the dark stuff that looks like dirt, and spread it around your plants.
Don’t want to wait a few years for the compost? Well, maybe you should try…
The Hard Way:
OK, I didn’t mean to scare you with the term the hard way. The hard way just takes a little more pre-planning and work throughout the composting process. Planning where to put a compost pile if you are going to tend it requires nothing more than this: locating a spot that will be in the sun, near enough to a hose to be able to water it occasionally. Then all that is left is turning or mixing the pile approximately once a week, adding materials to the pile, and paying attention to what the pile is doing while you turn it over. That’s it, that is all the planning and the required “hard” work! Well, you could complicate it a little more by actually making an square enclosure with old shipping pallets or even by making a 4 foot circle out of chicken wire, but that is making things way too complicated isn’t it?
Once you have located a good spot, simply start your pile by adding your material this way: A layer of green material, a layer of brown (dead) material, another green layer, etc… you get the point. Some folks get wrapped up in getting just the right carbon (brown) to nitrogen (green) ratio, which is 30:1 by the way, but lets not make the “hard” way of composting too hard huh? Just try to have more brown than green. Just keep adding green and brown materials, including table scraps, to the pile. Never add meat or milk to your pile, it will not break down, and will contaminate the pile. Also, NEVER add dog waste to your compost! Dog waste contains bacteria, viruses and other nasty stuff that will not be eliminated during the composting process. If you use dog waste and spread it around your plants, you risk spreading these diseases to other animals.
Be sure to moisten the layers as you place them. Moisture is extremely important in the composting process. Don’t get them too wet, just moist. Too much moisture will cool down the materials and slow down the natural decomposition of the materials, compact the pile, and make the compost pile smell. The microbes that are breaking down the materials cannot perform well under too wet conditions. If you have a pile that is too wet and smells, turn it. This will help evaporate some moisture, and allow air to penetrate the pile. Occasionally, the pile will need to have moisture added while turning to replenish the moisture lost while composting.
Turning the pile serves a few purposes. It mixes the materials, distributes the moisture and microbes throughout the pile, and enables oxygen to be distributed throughout the pile. The microbes need this oxygen to survive, and frequent turning of the pile keeps them happy. One other thing turning does is allows the materials that are decomposing to come in contact with materials that may not be decomposing. The materials that are actively breaking down are creating heat, and our little friends the microbes need the heat to survive, multiply, and just plain be happy.
The last thing needed to compost the “hard” way is to pay attention to the heat the pile is giving off while you turn it. That heat is one of the big keys to a successful compost heap. The optimal temperature of a compost pile is 131° F. That is quite warm! A cold pile will break down, but a hot pile will break down much faster, and kill any weed seeds that may be present. I have had compost piles that broke down a full pickup truck load of grass clipping in just 3 weeks. Now those piles where HOT!
That’s it, that is the “hard” way. Not so hard huh? Just adding a few steps to the “easy” way of composting will allow you to have compost much sooner, and your plants will love you for it.
A word of caution: Many composting authorities will tell you it is ok to use horse manure in your compost, and I am sure there are thousands, if not millions of folks who have used it and got great results, but personally I suggest that you stay away from it. Horses don’t digest their food anywhere near efficiently as cows do. This means that there will be some weed seeds present in the manure. If the compost pile doesn’t get to temperature and stay at the optimum temperature, the seeds won’t be killed. These seeds CAN and WILL germinate in the compost pile, and anywhere you use the compost. Your gardens, potted plants, flower beds, anywhere!
I decided to try (one more time…) adding horse manure to my compost pile, and used very old horse manure. It was so old, it looked like muck. Stupid move! I had to remove hundreds of landscape plants from pots that were overgrown with a very aggressive grass because the seeds that were in the manure did not get killed either naturally, or in the compost pile. The roots of the grass were so large, that when I tried to remove the grass by pulling it out of the soil, the entire contents of the pot came with it! No soil left in the pot; it was so entwined in the grass root! These were fairly small clumps of grass. The larger clumps had grown throughout the entire pot, and out the bottom drainage holes and into the soil beneath. Those pots were pretty tough to just separate from the ground!
Save yourself some trouble by not using horse manure. Remember, you are making compost the easy way. It is not easy removing the aggressive grass from your gardens.
For more information on composting, try Florida’s Online Composting Center. They have a great chart showing the carbon and nitrogen ratios of some common composting materials for a quick reference when building your pile. OOPS! That may make our “hard” way of composting just unbearable.
Dwayne Haskell owns and operates Mistkits.com where complete misting kits, individual components, and advice can be found. After building his own misting system for his nursery, he realized he could design and build systems for small nurseries or home gardeners who are interested in starting their own plants from cuttings.
He has written an E-book titled Build an Arbor in Just One Weekend, and another on gardening, landscaping and plant propagation tips. He also enjoys teaching others how to grow their own landscape plants and owns and moderates the Mistkits blog, where you can find more articles, polls, and quizzes on landscape and gardening related topics.
Black gold. Oil? Naw, new soil. Garden Composter turns garden waste into rich, organic fertilizer. SAVE BIG! Jumbo size! Holds approx. 11 cu. ft. Green Thumb alert! Here’s the ticket for your plants to be real “gushers”… healthy, lush and productive! Create your own fertile gardening soil by recycling yard greenery such as lawn clippings, leaves, weeds and natural kitchen waste into rich compost. It’s what gardeners call “black gold.” Composting is environmentally friendly. And it greatly reduces “trash” that’s normally sent to your local landfill. Right now, you can cultivate BIG bucks in savings, due to our volume buy! Details: 100% recycled plastic holds approx. 11 cubic feet; Easy access lid opens from either side (closes tight to lock out critters); Adjustable air vents; Slide bottom door for easy compost access; Compact footprint allows for placement in tight spots; Works best in a sunny location; Easy, snap-together assembly; 23 x 23 x 40 1/4″h., weighs 28 lbs. Recycle greenery the easy way. Act now! Garden Composter
When gardening in a small backyard it is crucial that all the components be perfect, or as near to perfect as we can manage. With space at a premium we need to choose the best small garden composter suited to our needs. After reviewing both conventional small compost bins and backyard tumblers here are my top three garden compost bins for small gardens.
All of my top three compost bins for small spaces will give you great garden compost. All are ventilated, vermin proof and made of dark plastic. This gives all three the ability to produce fast, hot compost from your garden waste and kitchen scraps. Plus all should prove durable enough to last through the years of composting to come.
Your budget and just how small your small backyard is, will of course determine which is more suited to your needs. But all the top three small garden composters are a good place to start before making your decision.
The Envirocycle Compost Tumbler
This is a great little backyard tumbler. It comes in a choice of colours. In a small space black appears further away so that is the one I would choose. Also being black has the advantage of increasing the heat inside the drum, so helping to make your garden compost faster.
This is an ideal backyard tumbler for small gardens because it sits low to the ground so having much less impact in a small space. Because the design is low to the ground there also is less of an issue if you have a less than perfect place to site the bin. Whilst those on high metal frames will have to be placed somewhere completely level and out of the way to prevent knocks, this one isn’t going to go anywhere even if it does get the odd knock from running children or pets.
Being a relatively small drum which spins on its short axis, this is one compost tumbler which remains easy to spin no matter how full it gets. All that spinning means you never need to turn or mix the composting material in any other way.
One of the things I particularly like is that it comes with a decent warranty. Some of the more expensive tumbling compost bins come with far shorter guarantees which makes me worry about there more complicated designs. The Envirocycle compost tumbler has a manufacturer’s warranty of 5 years for the drum, 2 years for the base.
Another feature is that the material is 50% post consumer, recycled plastic which means buying the Envirocycle helps the environment that little bit.
Although creating compost in 4 to 6 weeks is extremely quick, I would emphasise that ideally (space permitting) you would need two of these bins to provide a year round home to all your organic waste.
The SoilSaver Compost Bin
This is as basic as manufactured garden compost bins tend to get. This is cheap but it is also durable, simple to install, and square which means it is even more suited to small spaces. Being a static bin, means this composter will not usually produce garden compost quite so quickly as the Envirocycle. But, it is well insulated and black so it will still produce quality compost within a few months.
The only point which needs ot be remembered about the SoilSaver compost bin is that it will only work correctly if sited on level ground. This is because it is square with sliding sides (making removing compost easy) and a locking lid (to keep out vermin). If you do not place this on level ground the corners will be under stress and the lid is unlikely to remain tightly fitted.
This is simple to put together and made from 75% post consumer, recycled plastic. So even though the name isn’t as ‘green’, this is actually the most environmentally friendly garden composter of the three.
This small composter is very cheap but strong and sturdy. So much so that it comes with a 25 year warranty, proving the faith the manufacturers have in their product. Again, space permitting you really would need two of these garden composters to ensure year round collection of your organic waste.
The Earthmaker Garden Composter
This looks like the ideal garden composter for a small garden because you should never need any additional compost bins. This system incorporates three bins into one. You add new organic waste to the top. Then once a month use a tool to slide the chamber base so that decomposing materials fall down into the lower chambers.
Once the system is set up, and you’ve been using it a while you should have a non-stop supply of finished garden compost in the bottom. At the same time you should also always have a space at the top in which to deposit more garden waste and kitchen scraps.
This is significantly more pricey than the two options above but if space is your paramount problem, it could provide an answer to your composting needs. This is a very efficient, hot, method of producing compost. Once established your waste should become garden compost within a month. The makers suggest you’ll be creating 10 gallons of compost every 4 weeks but obviously that depends very much on how much waste you have to put in it.
It is disappointing that there is no information available regarding any extended warranty either on amazon or other (more expensive) stockists. Though as it is made from sturdy plastic, without any complicated metal framework or wheels it at least looks very durable.
This continuous composting system is the one I would choose if I really could not accommodate two composters into my garden. However if your small garden isn’t quite that small I suggest the Envirocycle compost tumbler for easy use or the Soilsaver for no-nonsense, long lasting garden composting.
I have lots more articles on gardening. Please check out my page and go to my blog from there!
SUSTAINABLE SOIL building for organic gardening begins after the initial garden soil testing and the addition of fertilizers and conditioners. It is very important to maintain and improve the soil when trying to garden organically. Sustaining the soil means that you have a means of replenishing the garden soil with what you have at hand – compost, beneficial microbes, enzymes, and earthworms. Ideally, once your organic garden is established it could be sustained with garden compost alone – by removing garden soil and layering it in your compost. This method uses the microbes in your soil to inoculate your compost, which in turn will feed your soil. SHREDDED ALFALFA HAY is one of the secrets of great compost. It is worth it to rent a shredder for the weekend, and shred up a few bales of alfalfa hay. Worms thrive on it, and it provides the best mulch and soil additive for your garden soil.
BUILDING YOUR PILE
BUILD YOUR PILE about four feet in diameter, and four feet high, on a well-drained site. A ring of hog wire with a ring of chicken wire on the outside of it works well – providing air circulation, keeping the pile contained, is easily taken apart for turning or sifting, and, it is economical and very easy to maintain. We let our piles set for a year and then sift them in the spring when we are adding compost to our garden beds. No Turning! If you want to turn your pile, let it set 3-4 months, remove the wire and set it up next to your pile. Take the pile apart, mix it, and add it to the new pile, moistening it as you go. You may do this as often as you like. This will speed up your composting process.
FIRST LAYER on the bottom should be about three inches of roughage – corn stalks, brush, or other materials to provide air circulation.
SECOND LAYER is two to four inches of dry vegetation – carbon-rich “brown” materials, like fall leaves, straw, dead flowers shredded newspaper, shredded alfalfa hay or dry manure. Water well.
THIRD LAYER should be two to four inches of green vegetation – nitrogen-rich materials, like grass clippings, weeds, garden waste, vegetable peelings, tea leaves, coffee grounds, and crushed eggshells. Kitchen waste may be added but never use meat scraps, diseased plants, dog or cat manure, or poisonous plants, plant-based kitchen waste. Water until moistened. (Too much water will compact your pile and reduce available oxygen.)
FOURTH LAYER is garden soil, two inches thick. It is important to add garden soil because it contains a supply of microorganisms and nutrients, which will inoculate your compost pile. As microorganisms grow, they collect essential nutrients containing antibiotics, vitamins, and catalytic enzymes in their body tissues and release them slowly as they die and decompose.
REPEAT LAYERS of dry vegetation, green vegetation, and garden soil – moistening each layer – until the pile is three or four feet high. To insure enough green vegetation one can plant extra garden greens, or devote one of the garden beds to the growing of compost. Good composting greens are broccoli, cauliflower, kale, comfrey (grow it in an isolated spot, and do not disturb the roots, because it can be invasive), peas, beans, and all the rest of the garden weeds and greens.
COVER THE TOP of the pile with three to four inches of garden soil, making a ridge around the outside edge to prevent the water from running off. Use a broom handle or iron bar to make air holes from the top, deep into the pile every eight inches or so, for ventilation and water. Top off the pile with two inches of shredded alfalfa hay. Water regularly to keep moistened.
CURED COMPOST has almost all the nutrients the crops contained, and so many beneficial microbes that it is one of the best things you can do for your garden. It also contains enough humus to replenish your soil’s supply. Your compost is ready when it is dark, rich looking, broken down, crumbles in your hand and smells like clean earth. Parts of the compost pile along the outside edges that have not completely broken down will be removed when your pile is sifted and can be placed at the bottom, and between the layers of the next compost pile.
SIFTING COMPOST is easily done by placing a 4 x 4 foot square of ½ inch wire mesh over your wheelbarrow and bending the edges over the sides. Then a shovel full of compost may be placed on top of the wire mesh and rubbed. The siftings fall into the wheelbarrow and the lumps will remain on top. One side of the wire can be lifted from the wheelbarrow and these clumps will fall to the ground into a pile. When you are done, these can be shoveled into a new compost pile, and be layered accordingly.
PROBLEMS can occur if conditions are unfavorable. Some of the problems are:
BAD ODORS indicate that there is not enough air in your pile make more air holes in your pile, or turn the pile, or start a new one.
CENTER OF PILE IS DRY means there is not enough water in your pile. Make more air holes, and fill them with water, and the water will disperse throughout the pile.
PILE IS DAMP BUT ONLY WARM IN THE MIDDLE indicates that your pile is too small. Increase the size of your pile to at least four feet high and four feet wide.
PILE IS DAMP AND SWEET SMELLING, BUT REMAINS COOL indicates a lack of nitrogen, not enough green matter or manure. Cover the pile with black plastic for a few days, but be careful not to cook all your microbes. The pile also may need more water.
SPEEDING UP COMPOSTING
TO SPEED UP THE COMPOSTING PROCESS and increase the decomposition rate you can add extra nitrogen, fishmeal or blood meal, to your layers. Using a metal rod to make holes in your pile will increase the amount of oxygen and stimulate aerobic activity. You can also shred your components fine, which causes faster decomposition. Compost innoculants can also be used to add nitrogen fixing, decomposing, and other soil bacteria, enzymes and hormones.
VERMI-COMPOSTING is another organic gardening technique, which uses earthworms to make compost, which will be rich in organic matter and worm castings, and is one of the best soil builders available. Worms can eat their body weight daily in organic matter and convert it into dark, soil enriching castings full of live micro organisms, growth hormones, and nutrients, humic acids which condition the soil, and a neutral pH. Worm castings are free from disease pathogens, which are killed in the process. They prefer a temperature range of 60 to 70 degrees, but will tolerate 32 – 84 degrees. They require a moist, pesticide free environment with plenty of organic matter to eat. There are two types of Vermicomposting, indoor and outdoor.
OUTDOOR VERMI-COMPOSTING, ABOVE OR BELOW THE GROUND
ABOVE THE GROUND BIN: composting red worms are an excellent addition to a compost pile. The worms help to process the pile by eating the decayed matter and turn the waste into fine topsoil in approximately 2 to 3 months, depending on the quantity of worms introduced into the pile, the outside temperatures, and the time of year. A compost heap that is 4 x 4 x 4 should have a minimum of 3,000 to 10,000 worms introduced into the pile – about two pounds. Add them to your compost pile when it has broken down and is warm but not hot in the center. Dig down about a foot and add the worms. Keep the pile moistened, but not soggy wet. This pile will be your “breeding area”.
WHEN YOU WANT TO REMOVE some of the worms for next compost pile, begin feeding the worms at one spot near the edge, and when the worms move to this area after a few days, add some of the worms to your other compost pile. At this time you can also remove some of the soil and worm castings for your garden lowering your pile a foot or so. Keep feeding the worms in the breeding area by adding greens and shredded alfalfa hay to the top of the pile every few weeks. Be sure to add four or five inches of shredded alfalfa hay for winter protection, and keep the pile moistened, but not wet.
BELOW THE GROUND BIN: Dig a 2×8 foot trench two or three feet deep into the ground below frost level. Place a six-inch layer of peat moss and shredded newspaper or cardboard on the bottom, and water until evenly moistened, but not soggy wet.
FILL THE BIN ¾ full with a mixture of 2/3 corrugated cardboard and 1/3 sphagnum peat moss, shredded newspaper, shredded leaves, or shredded alfalfa hay, add a little crumbled aged or composted manure, and a cup or so of fine sand mixed with equal parts of wood ashes, and ground limestone. Mix well, moisten, and add two to three inches of a mix of finely chopped vegetal kitchen wastes, garden waste, and aged manure to one end of the pit.
ADD ONE POUND of red compost worms, which can be ordered through the mail. (When your worms first arrive they may be dehydrated, you can feed them a light dusting of corn meal before you cover them.)
LOOSELY COVER worms/waste with a 2-inch layer with shredded alfalfa hay. Water and feed two or three times a week – adding vegetable waste under the alfalfa layer to keep the process going. Each time you feed your worms place the waste mix next to the previous feeding area, working your way toward the opposite end of the pit. When you get to the end of the pit, feed back towards the beginning. As you continue these layers and reach the top, leave a four-inch space between the cover and the mixture for ventilation.
COVER THE TOP of the pit with a sheet of plywood to keep out the elements and critters, and weight down with rocks.
IN A FEW MONTHS and under the alfalfa layer you will have worm castings, which can be transferred to your garden beds. To harvest your worm castings wait until the worms are being fed are at one end of the pit. You can remove the castings from the opposite end of the pit. Replace the castings with the mix of 2/3 corrugated cardboard and 1/3 sphagnum peat moss, shredded newspaper, shredded leaves, a little crumbled aged or composted manure, and a cup or so of fine sand mixed with equal parts of wood ashes, and ground limestone. Cover with the 2-inch layer of damp shredded newspaper or cardboard mixed with straw.
INDOOR WORM BINS
COMPOST CAN BE MADE INDOORS by using wood, metal or plastic bins with lids. Special worm composting bins may be ordered through the mail, or you can easily make your own. Special worms are used in Vermicomposting: Eisenia foetida or Lumbricus rubellas, which can be ordered from worm farms, or some nurseries. Start with about a pound or worms, around 1000. They can multiply quickly, and the surplus can just be added to your summer garden, or given to friends.
BUILD OR BUY A BOX:
FOR TWO PEOPLE, a box 2′ x 2′ x 8″ deep, or so, wood, metal, or plastic, will suffice. For a larger family, make it 2′ x 3′ x 1′ deep. There should be some small ¼ ” holes in the bottom for drainage, and the box should be set on a tray with 1″ spacers between the tray and the box, for aeration and drainage. A garden shed would be a useful to hold all of your extra supplies and gardening tools.
LINE THE BOTTOM with shredded 1-inch strips of newspaper, inch wide strips of cardboard boxes, and peat moss. A mix of 2/3 corrugated cardboard and 1/3 sphagnum peat moss, or newspaper, is a good bedding mixture. You can also add shredded leaves and a little aged or composted manure, and a cup or so of fine sand, ashes, and limestone. Moisten the bedding, mix it well, and add the worms. Let it set for a few days before kitchen waste is added. Your worms will happily feed and make castings.
ADD KITCHEN WASTE every day or so, by burying it a few inches or so in the bedding mix in one end of the box. Kitchen waste can include: vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and the filters, tea bags, without the tags, any vegetable matter, bread scraps, dried and crushed eggshells, and small amounts of finely chopped meat scraps, garlic and onion.
COVER THE TOP of the compost bedding with a layer of damp newspapers, and a loosely fitting lid with holes for air. Every time you add waste, work your way to the other end of the box, so you will have about 8 or 9 different adding areas. When you get to the end of the box, start over at the other end. Worms will eat the bedding along with the scraps, and you may need to add more. Keep the bedding mix/scraps moistened, but not soggy wet. In a few months you will be ready to harvest your compost.
TO HARVEST COMPOST castings, follow the same procedures for gathering outdoor castings. Only add the castings to your garden beds, these special worms live indoors only.
“Worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation, which would proceed but lamely without them, by boring, perforating, and loosening the soil, and rendering it pervious to rains and the fibers of plants, by drawing straws and stalks of leaves and twigs into it, and, most of all, by throwing up such infinite numbers of lumps of earth called worm-casts, which, being their excrement, is a fine manure for grain or grass.” The Rev. Gilbert White of Selborne, 1777
Resources for compost supplies
Home of the Organic Gardener Planet Natural Peaceful Valley Farm Supply Fertile Garden Harmony Farm Supply All Natures Safeway Extremely Green Gardening Company
Frank and Vicky Giannangelo Copyright (c) 2008 Giannangelo Farms Southwest
Don't blow your money on useless materials or waste your time with back-breaking labor while trying to grow a healthy garden. You can easily create the mother of all plant nutrition right in your backyard, using less time, energy, or money than you ever imagined was possible.