Gardening

Compost Part II

This week I’m all about gardening so here’s another gardening related post.

Back in November I posted Compost Part I where I talked about how I wanted to start a compost in my backyard in anticipation of gardening this year. Well back then I honestly wasn’t sure if my compost would ever come to fruition but here it is about 4 ½ months later and I am happy to report that I HAVE A COMPOST BIN!!!!!!

Not only do I have a compost bin, but I have THE compost bin that I originally wanted: the Wood 3-Bin Compost Unit.

Not only do I have THE compost bin but as of last Sunday I started a compost pile inside the bin.

And now here is the whole story of the compost bin. Back in November I found the plans for the Wood 3-Bin Compost Unit and presented them to FIL. “You know FIL if you ever get bored or don’t have anything to do or need a new project you could sort of uh, build me this compost bin…”

Several months passed and although I mentioned it a few times, a compost bin did not materialize in my back yard. I couldn’t exactly pester FIL about it since the man did install an entire new wood floor in my living room, saving me thousands of dollars in installation fees.

Then one day a couple of weeks ago FIL came over and we staked out the plot for the garden in the backyard (more about the garden plan in another post). About a week later I came home and a compost bin had magically appeared on my deck! He must of been inspired from all the talk about the garden. The bin looked like this:


FIL ended up building the entire bin in one day! He poked his head in the house and said “It’s done come and see.” I popped out on the deck to take a look at the finished product and realized that it had started drizzling! The man was so determined to finish building the bin that he kept at it even in the rain. Well I was equally as excited about the finished compost bin that I wanted to put it in action right away.

Now let me break for a minute here and explain a little bit about this compost unit. It has three sections and is approximately nine feet long and four feet wide and tall. It is very large and very heavy. I specifically wanted a three bin unit so that I can have two compost piles going at once in different stages of decomposition. One bin will be left empty so that the compost piles can be completely turned out from one bin into the empty bin.

I live on an acre of property with 15-20 large trees. While this compost unit will use up a nice chunk of my yard waste, I don’t think it will use up all of it. It’s a start though. Let me also remind you that I have never had a compost bin before so this is all an experiment to me.

Back to the story. FIL and I loaded the nine foot long, very heavy compost bin into the back of his truck and he drove it out to the back of my property where the garden will be planted in about a month. We unloaded it managed to maneuver it to the right location. We argued about the exact positioning of the compost (what does it matter really, it’s a compost bin for Pete’s sake!), pushing it this way and that until we were both happy. Mind you this entire time it is still drizzling.

Seeing the compost bin that I had been waiting months and months for got me all excited so I of course wanted to fill it up with leaves right away. FIL drove his truck back around to the front of the yard and we loaded up the ten bags of leaves I had previously raked and then drove them back out to the compost bin. We dumped all ten bags of leaves into two bins. Then we stared at it. “Well I guess that’s the compost” we said and then went back in the house to get out of the rain.

Now the thing about compost is that it’s a very long process. The leaves that I threw in the bin on Sunday did not magically turn into compost by Monday. Nevertheless I’ve still been very excited about it all week. Just ask my friend Kelly who has to endure my ramblings about composting and gardening all day long on instant messenger. “Kel did you know you can compost tea bags? Cool!” “Hey Kel – last night I was turning my compost and I found a huge worm in the bottom – how exciting!” Pretty much I’m a huge nerd.

So what exactly do you put in a compost bin in order to make compost? There are two types of material that go into a compost bin. First there are the “browns” which are carbon-rich materials such as dried leaves and dried grass. Second there are the “greens” which are nitrogen-rich materials such as kitchen scraps and grass clippings. Compost Guide says that the optimal ratio is 25 parts browns to 1 part greens.

I’ve started saving my kitchen scraps in a bucket under my sink. Egg shells, orange peels, banana peels, apple cores, strawberry tops, some old slimy carrots, old lettuce, etc. I also keep my scraps from my lunch at work and bring them home with me. Every day this week I’ve taken my few little scraps out to the bin and thrown them in and stirred it up. I’ve determined that composting makes me a healthier eater because I want the peels to throw in my bin. I’ve eaten an orange everyday this week just for that purpose.

With a small family we currently have a low volume of “green” materials to throw in the bin with all the “brown” leaves. I want to get this compost going as soon as possible so I’ve enlisted the help of MIL and FIL by asking them to save their scraps and bring them over. I also confess that I…took the coffee grounds from the coffee pot at work and brought them home to throw in my bin. I would be mortified if someone caught me actually taking the coffee grounds from the coffee pot and putting them into a tupperware container to take home. What would they think? They would think I was a complete weirdo. Luckily no one has caught me yet and I’ve done it three times this week. And I plan to keep on doing it!

Here is the finished compost bin including leaves:


The slats in the front slide out for easier access to the contents. The other three sides are wire mesh to allow air circulation.

Honestly I can’t say much about the actual construction of this bin as I did not participate in that process. I can tell you that the materials cost approximately $120 at the local home improvement store. I can also tell you that FIL did not use cedar as the plans suggest. He used CGA treated wood because it was about half the price of cedar. There is also a lid to the bin that he has not made yet which will add to the cost. I don’t mind spending the money to construct a sturdy, dependable bin like this because it should last for many, many years.

From what I’ve read about compost, I could just leave those leaves in there and do nothing to them and they would eventually decompose. It would take a couple of years though for them to completely break down. I definitely want my compost sooner than that. What I’ve read says that the more you actively maintain your compost, the faster it will decompose. That means turning it often to allow air to circulate, keeping it wet but not soaking, and keeping the right proportion of materials in the bin. Also the smaller the materials are in the bin the faster they will break down.


Here are some other interesting things you can throw in the compost bin, according to Compost Guide:

Dryer lint
Tea bags
Coffee grounds and filters
Sawdust
Newspaper – shred first
Cardboard – tear into small pieces first
Hair

You should not put the following in your compost pile:

Cat litter & droppings
Dog droppings
Meat or fish scraps
Bones
Oil, fat or grease

I feel like this is a giant science experiment in my backyard. I really hope it goes well so I can post pictures of the finished product.

Go to Compost Guide for more information on composting. It’s been a great resource for me.

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