You probably already know that composting is the process of breaking down waste into a nutrient-rich topsoil. Rich soil can cure a host of maladies in your garden. If you have a problem with pests attacking your plants, compost can make the plants healthier so that they can fight off infestations more easily. If your soil structure is very sandy, composting can give it structure. It can also improve clay soil by breaking it down into smaller particles. Adding composted mulch can replace the nutrients that have been stripped from your soil by years of gardening. So, with all of these benefits, you can't wait to start composting, right?
Here's what you'll need to know when making a compost pile:
You will need to decide what kind of compost bin you would like. There are four basic types of bins--portable, stationary, multi-bin and rotating. Here's how to make all of them.
A portable compost bin can be moved, when empty. This allows you to keep it in an inconspicuous place. The disadvantage of this type of bin is that it's usually fairly small, which means it doesn't break down waste as quickly as a larger bin would. It can also be harder to aerate your compost pile, which is vital to maintaining high temperatures.
To build a portable compost bin:
- Purchase a 12' length of galvanized chicken wire, several wire ties and four metal stakes.
- Fold back each end of the chicken wire several inches so there's no rough edge. Wrap it into a circle and stand it on the ground.
- Tie the chicken wire together with the wire ties. If you would like your bin to be more stable, space the metal stakes around the inside of the circle, secure them to the wire and pound them into the ground.
- When you need to aerate your compost, unwrap the wire from the stakes, turn the pile, then replace the wire. Alternatively, you could make two separate bins and turn the pile from one into the other.
A stationary bin is designed to stay in one spot. The main advantage to this type of system is that it can be larger, so compost breaks down much more quickly, sometimes in as little as one year.
- A stationary compost bin can be made for almost nothing by using wood pallets. These are used mostly by manufacturing facilities and are usually discarded after they've been used. Many facilities will give them away if you ask. For this bin, you will need five or six wood pallets and a package of galvanized nails.
- Stand four of the pallets on their sides in a square. The square should be about three feet by three feet. Nail the pallets together. Nail another pallet to the top (flat side in). This will form the base of your compost bin. Flip the bin over. If you're really handy, you can attach two hinges to one side of the remaining pallet. Attach the other side of the hinges to one side of your compost bin. Now, you have a lid to keep out pests.
- To turn your compost, use a pitchfork and scoop from the bottom to the top and inside to outside.
If you have a lot of waste to compost or you just don't like trying to turn the pile, you may want to build a multi-bin system.
- Start just as before, with four pallets nailed together into a square, then attach a pallet to the bottom. Next, nail three more pallets to one side of the original square, then use another pallet for the base of this bin. You can continue to expand upon this theme, creating a multi-bin system as large as you wish.
- You could also create a multi-bin system with a removable door. Nail together three of the pallets, then screw a latch into two opposite sides of the remaining pallet and the front edge of your bin. If you use a base with this type of bin, be sure to nail it to the pallets only on the back and two sides, not the front.
A rotating bin eliminates the problem of turning the pile. This type of compost bin is basically a drum mounted on a stand with a crank on the side. Just toss in your scraps and lawn waste, then turn the crank once a month and you're set. This kind of bin is quite complex to make. Most people choose to purchase one, instead.
Now, you know how to build a compost bin and you're ready to start making compost. Remember to add equal parts of dried waste, such as leaves and lawn trimmings, and fresh waste, such as kitchen scraps. Sprinkle the pile with water every few layers to keep it moist. If your compost pile is well-balanced, it should be quite hot. In fact, you may see steam rising from it. It should not have an unpleasant odor. To avoid attracting unwanted animals, do not put meat scraps in your pile. When your compost is ready to use, it will be very dark brown and crumbly, much like potting soil. Add it to your garden or pots when putting in new plants and watch them grow!