Gardening Basics

How to Make Compost II

Compost Bin

Here are some additional tips on how to prepare and use your own compost for your garden.

Making a Compost Bin: Fence

The best bins for this purpose are circular fence or silo bins. You can find them in feed and seed stores, home improvement stores, agricultural supply stores and other similar places. These stores sell various types of wire fence in rolls of different lengths. You should look for agricultural livestock fence here, not chain link fence. There is lot of it you can use to make your bins, and you can even share it with friends – several people can make compost bins out of the same roll of fence. If you share the expenses, it is not pricey and it becomes a very effective and even affordable way to make your compost bins. One word of advice: don’t use chicken wire. It is too flexible and small so the compost will bulge the wire and get stuck.

To make the bin, start by cutting a 10 foot piece and make sure to leave the wire sticking out on the end so you can make a hoop with it. Carefully crimp the loose wires or use something (such as tie wraps) to bind the ends together. By doing this, you will get a 3 foot diameter hoop ideal for making your compost.

Making a Compost Bin: Pallets

Another way to go when making your compost bin is to use pallets. They are cheap, even free in many cases. They are excellent for your first bin, when you’re only testing to see what composting is like and if you seriously want to do it. Pallets will rot and attract termites eventually, and they don’t look great, but they give you a good chance to experience composting without too much investment and they will help you see if composting is for you or not.

If using pallet bins, have at least two of them, side by side. To make them, use a total of five pallets. Make a three-wall structure and then finally add a back and side walls using one pallet as a center dividing wall. Why do you need two bins side by side? Because you’ll make the pile in one bin and when it’s time to turn it, you will toss it into the other bin. If you are really serious about this, you may even add a third bin to help you with turning the pile.

Making a Compost Bin: Barrels

If your yard is very small and if all you want is to make a little compost without much time and effort, use barrels and tumblers as your compost bins. The most expensive option is to use commercial products specially made for composting, such as ComposTumbler. If you want to save some money, any old barrel with a plastic or a metal cap will do. Simply drill a bunch of 0.5 inch holes in the barrel and stand it on its end. Fill it and cap it. Once per day or so, knock it over and push it around, and water it once in a while. Your compost will be finished in a few weeks or months.

You can make a good barrel from a trashcan. If you take one on wheels, it’s even better – this way, you will be able to wheel the finished compost to the garden or potting shed quickly and without much effort.

Is a Bin Truly Necessary?

No, a bin is not necessary: you can make compost without it. It’s a matter of a personal preference, and people who use bins feel it’s more practical this way. Bins will keep all the contents together even when the wind blows. Also, bins look nicer than piles of dead leaves and grass. Depending on the type, bins can help you keep rodents and other animals out. However, if you have enough room in your yard and you don’t mind some loose leaves blowing, it’s not really necessary to use a bin.

Compost Bin

Where to Place the Compost?

It depends on your property. You wish to keep your compost bin near your house and garden to be easily reachable and that you will actually use it. On the other hand, you don’t want it to be too close to your house to be an eyesore or that you have to smell it all the time.

Whatever you choose as the best spot, keep in mind that you can compost either in full sun or full shade. Full sun will dry the pile out faster, so you need to make sure it’s watered regularly. If you choose to compost in full shade, it will not dry out easily, but you’ll need to ensure a better air circulation, which means you will have to turn the pile more often.

How to Use Compost

Compost can be used in many different ways. Here are some of the popular ideas:

  • Soil amendment. Soils can benefit from extra organic matter. This is why you should add compost to it. You can either fill it in or use compost as a top dressing. It will provide nutrients and tilth to the soil. If the compost is not properly finished it will provide more drainage to compacted soils: bigger particles ensure better drainage. Remember: any compost is better than no compost at all.
  • Mulch. You can use compost to mulch around the plants. This is particularly useful if you don’t have much compost to begin with. You may use incomplete compost as mulch and it will work great that way.
  • Compost tea. You can use compost to make tea for your plants. Take a handful of finished compost, put it in a leg of panty hose or in a sock and soak it in a bucket of water. Leave overnight or for a couple of days. Use this water for your house plants or other potted plants. This compost tea is also good for watering special garden plants. The stronger you make it, the more nutritive value it will have, but you don’t have to worry about proportions.

Basic Lingo

Finally, here is the basic terminology you should know if you want to make your own compost. Believe it or not, compost has its own lingo, so here are some basic definitions to help you:

  • Brown: Brown materials are those rich in carbon and they provide great food for microorganisms. The most common examples of brown materials are hay, straw or fallen leaves.
  • Green: Green materials are rich in nitrogen and they provide food for microorganisms that break down the materials. Some of the most popular green materials are grass clippings and chicken manure.
  • Heap: Pile of contents you’re composting, in or out of the bin.
  • Finished: state of compost when none of the original contents of the pile are recognizable. It will resemble a bunch of soft, brown dirt, resembling coffee grounds.
  • Cold Temperature: a method of slow composting. With this method, you pile your materials and simply let them set until you’re ready to use them. There is no turning needed. The method is called “cold” because the pile is not made to routinely heat up much. This method may seem simple, but it usually takes years before the compost is finished. This is why most cold piles are used in an unfinished state.
  • Hot: a compost pile will heat and cool as microorganisms break down the materials. As they eat, the pile may get as hot as 160 degrees F. The more nitrogen there is in the materials, the hotter the pile can get. The hottest manure out there is chicken manure.
  • Tilth: workability of the soil. More tilth is better, so this is one of the main reasons why it’s advisable to use more organic matter.

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