I have been composting for about 10 years and believe it’s an environmentally smart choice and that compost is the best soil around. It’s amazing to think that all the grass and leaf litter in the yard turns into this rich soil that is good for containers, indoor plants and the gardens.
photo credit: Port of San Diego
There are numerous ways to compost but I like the easy ways and will share with you several ways I have composted in the past.
Straw Bale Composting
Pick up 4 bales of straw. Straw has less seed so it will bring less weed seeds into the compost mix. Place the bales in a U shape and add your composting material into the shape. I use mowed leaves, grass clipping, semi-rotted sawdust from a local wood mill, old dirt from planters, dirt clods from winter plowing, rotted manure from local barns and old hay from the neighbor’s barns.
If you ask around you can find old piles of dirt, sawdust, barn cleanings, etc… Pine needles are okay to use in small amounts too. They tend to have a high acid content so I only use a small amount in a compost pile at a time.
What I like about the straw bale composting method is that when I feel the compost is just about ready I break the straw bales up and stir into the mix. I add yarrow, comfrey or a can of Pepsi to make the pile heat back up and break the new straw down. I have just doubled my compost with very little work
You can find old pallets behind stores. Ask and they can usually be yours for the hauling. Nail the pallets together and start filling with your composting materials. If you layer your composting materials in 4 to 6 inch layers the pile will break down faster. When its full and has settled a few times its usually ready to use.
Bushel Basket Composting
A bushel basket will make enough compost for flowerpots. Layer items in the basket and stir once in a while. You will need to add a little water once in a while too.
Any old box will make a fast and cheap compost bin. You can pick them up at stores, dumps and garage sales.
Trash Can Composting
A friend of mine lived in a small apartment with an equally small yard. She brought a trashcan into her spare bedroom in the fall and composted her table scraps and yard clippings. She made enough fresh compost to use in her flowerbeds and flowerpots.
Basically, if it can hold dirt you can use it for composting! You don’t even need a container if you don’t want one. Just make a pile. Its not quite as controllable but it doesn’t really matter.
One other item I have seen used, as compost bins are 55-gallon drums. Many people like these. They put a trap door on the side and load in yard scraps and table scraps. They close the door and roll the barrel once in a while to stir the mix. Stirring a pile keeps the pile active and it will break down faster.
Tips and thoughts
- I don’t stir my piles. I layer my materials and then ignore the pile. I add comfrey and add new compost materials to the pile by making holes in the pile and adding new items. A week before I need the pile I stir it up and ignore it for another week.
- My compost piles usually break down in two to four weeks.
Other valuable items for a compost pile are old fruit and vegetables.
I have over 200 apple trees on the land so I use a lot of apples in the compost piles. I mix a lot of straw in with the apples though. Apples are more acidic than some items so I add more straw and grass clipping to this mix.
The only bad things in compost piles are any meat products and oil products such as grease. These items will attract mice, rats and raccoons and the pile will smell meaning its not breaking down properly.
If a compost pile is breaking down or working as some people refer to it, it is slightly warm. You can help speed up a pile but covering it with black plastic once in a while. I don’t keep it covered. Compost piles need water and they need air to break down, but covering them on a sunny day with black plastic will heat the pile up and make it work harder that day.
I have about five compost piles working all the time. It’s great soil and it’s free!