Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fertilizer Friday-- Composting Part II - Getting Started

It's Friday, and that means a visit to Fertilizer Friday over at Tootsie Time.
Check out her blog party and see what other people have blooming in their gardens.

This is the second in a series I am doing about Composting. You can read Part I Here.

So you have convinced yourself that you want to start composting? Good! Getting a good start now will mean that you have nice rich compost all ready next year when it is time to plant your garden.

Just for what it’s worth, the local garden center here will deliver compost for about $55 a square yard, so if you have more money than you know what to do with, and don’t really care about what you put into the landfill, composting is probably not for you, just call them up and order a truckload or two, and Voila! Trash trucked out, compost trucked in. Problem solved.

But for the rest of us, composting is a way to reduce our carbon footprint, and save money all at the same time. It’s the ultimate Green!

OK, so now it’s time to get started. The first thing you want to do is evaluate how much room you have. Do you live in a one room apartment, or on 1000 acres of ranchland? Or somewhere in between? Almost anyone can compost. There are methods for apartment dwellers and methods for ranchers. But, to save myself a lot of headache, I am going to act as if everyone has about the same amount of space as we do.

If you have less, or more, you will need to make adjustments accordingly.

Although we live in a townhouse, we have been generously allowed quite a bit of space to “play” at Diann’s parents house. For brevity, I will refer to this as “Our” yard.

Our garden is roughly 30’x30’ and our current compost area is about 4’x8’.

Once you know how much room you have to work with, the next step is deciding if you will be using “Hot” composting methods or “Cold” composting methods. I’ll talk about each. Cold composting is easier, and slower. Hot composting is faster and requires a little more work. Both methods will produce good rich compost.

Let me address Cold composting real quick, then I’ll come back to it a bit later.

In cold composting everything is just piled somewhere and ignored. Nature does it’s thing and eventually, next year, or the next, you have compost. This is great if you have lots and lots of space, lots and lots of patience, and lots and lots of material to compost, but for people like me with limited space and limited patience, it doesn’t quite do want I want to do, so I am going to deal with Hot Composting frst.

Unless you are fortunate enough to have one of those fancy compost spinners that looks like a barrel on stilts, you need to designate an area to be used as a compost pit. Use the space you have. It should be small enough to be manageable, but big enough to hold your “stuff”. A space needs to be at least one cubic foot to give organisms room to grow. Last year, I made compost in a five gallon bucket, outside our apartment and it worked. I was so geeked!

If your pile gets much bigger than about 1.5 cubic yards, it will get harder and harder to work with. Picture a pile 3’ x 5’, 3” high. That’s about 1.5 yards, give or take a foot or two.

Unless you have lots of space you are going to want to keep it contained somehow. There are many different ways to do this, pick one that works best for you.

Your next step is location. You want your compost pile close to your garden, but also close to your house. You don’t want to have to haul compost too far, but you don’t want to fun the 200 yard dash every time you peel a potato.

You won’t want to be too far from a source of water. Some cities and towns have ordinances regarding how close you can have a compost pile to property lines. Finally, the best spot will be a spot in partial shade, not full sun ,as it will dry it out, not full shade as it will cool it off.

Once you have picked a spot the fun part begins. Building your pit.

A compost pit can be as simple as a pile in the corner, or as elaborate as you want to make it. But there a few things to remember.

Air, water, and drainage.

Compost needs air in order to break down, and it needs to be moist, but not waterlogged.

A compost bin does not need to be enclosed, but most people find that enclosing it, at least on three sides helps keep it contained. Others find that if the don’t enclose it they are actually putting out a bait pile for varmints critters and other various wildlife. Of course, a garden often serves the same purpose, so, go with what fits your lifestyle and your personal needs.

Compost bins may be made out of plastic, wood metal, concrete, bricks or anything else your imagination drums up.

Remember that compost bins made out of untreated wood will eventually become compost themselves, as any wood that is on contact with the compost is subject to the same microbial and biological process as the stuff inside them. But don't let doomsayers scare you. This process will take several years. A good sturdy wooden bin does not need to be made from treated lumber to last 5-10 years at least.

A very simple portable bin, made from a piece of Hardware cloth or heavy duty chicken wire, can be moved around as you want, with the added benefit that the ground under it will have been enriched with nutroients while the composting was going on.

If you prefer to keep your bin in the same place, something a little heavier and sturdier will mean that you aren’t rebuilding it every year.

Perhaps one of the simplest, and certainly one of the least expensive methods of building a stationary compost bin involves the use of discarded pallets.

One on the back and two on the sides creates a bin, A couple more gives you a double bin, this is handy when turning compost. (More on that later)

You can put a board or half pallet across the front to help contain the compost, but it isn’t necessary, and you can put a top on it, if you want, but again, it isn’t necessary. Remember you need water and sunshine but not too much of either one, so decide for yourself if you need a cover.

This is the method I am using, I got some thrown away pallets, put a 3’x8’ pallet down for a back, and three 3’x4’ pallets made the ends and the center divider. No top, no front, and voila, I am in the composting business.

Now I have a compost bin though, what do I do with it?

Next up in my composting series I will discuss what goes into the bin, and why, and reveal the recipe for compost.

And in keeping with the theme of flaunting my flowers, I want to ask all the Friday Fertilizers to help me identify some more mystery plants.

These came from a recent plant swap and the people who gave them to me had no idea what they were.

Any ideas?

Someone told me that #4 is Pink Coreopsis. I had never heard of it before, but I Googled it and the picture looked right.







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Be sure and join me each Tuesday for Tuesday Trivia Tie-in, where readers are invited to share trivia and show off their treasures.
Read all about it here


  1. Wonderful series. I had compost last year. I had lots of green matter, but didn't have enough of brown. I will read your farther posts on composting, and maybe you'll give me an idea of where to get more brown matter for composting.

  2. I am learning from this series of posts. Very interesting. I would like to try composting and I might try to do a small one first.

  3. My grandfather composted! He always had a beautiful yard with garden to match!

    I am so bummed,our weather has gone from frigid, rainy cold to high temps!

    I love Spring, but it ends too quickly!

    Happy weekend to you and your family! Anne

  4. I thought 4 looked like dianthus, 5 lamium, and 6 phlox. I am enjoying your series on composting, Troy. Like how you did your bin, too.
    p.s. It is WAY COOL that you and Diann both are bloggers. I'm trying to get my hsb to blog...he used to love to write - he was a journalism major in college - but he tells me until he retires, he doesn't have time!
    Happy Memorial Day to you, Diann and the little princess!!!