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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How To: Make a Compost Bin

I've been wanting to make a compost bin at my house for well over a year and I finally got around to it! Building a Compost Bin for your backyard takes about 15 minutes. I used instructions from wikiHow and also referenced my gardening book, You Grow Girl, to make my very own compost bin. Before getting started I made sure I had a nice mix of dry browns and wet greens.
  • Browns (dry, carbon-rich): dry leaves, dry grass, newspaper, dead plant clippings, wood branches, hay, straw, nut shells
  • Greens (wet, nitrogen-rich): grass clippings, veggie and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, manure, tea bags, fresh leaves, seaweed

Making Compost:

  1. Recycle or buy a plastic pail/bin with a tight fitting lid about 24 inches tall or taller. Your pail needs a lid to keep critters out and to keep soil moist. I bought a tan Rubbermaid bin with a lid from Lowe's so that it matches my siding and won't stick out like a sore thumb in my backyard (other colors are bright green, blue or purple...no thank you!).

  2. With a drill, drill 8 to 10 small holes in the bottom of your container for aeration purposes. If necessary, drill a few holes on the sides/walls of the bin.

  3. Place some shredded newspaper or dry leaves on the bottom of your compost bin, fill about 1/8 - 1/4 full. I used newspaper since I didn't have any leaves lying around and newspaper is plentiful in my house right now.

  4. Place your compost bin in a shady area away from your home in the back yard. If you live in an apartment or have no backyard you can place your bin on the patio. Be sure your compost is not in full sun or your compost will dry out. I put mine next to my garage as far away from my house as I could get. The only people who will see my bin are my neighbors behind me (red brick house) and the neighbor to the right of me. Fruit flies can become a nuisance with compost bins but if your compost is far enough away from your house you won't have a problem. If the compost is close or next to your home just cover the top of you compost with a small scrap of carpet or some plastic with a small rock on top.

  5. Place dirt from your garden on top of the newspaper, until your compost is 1/2 full. It is best to have more dry material to balance out the wet (green).

  6. Now, place any food scraps or paper products into compost such as fruit, vegetables, crushed egg shells, paper towels, etc. (Note: another option is to put a 6-inch layer of browns in the pile followed by a 2-4-inch layer of greens and repeat. ) I put some wilted lettuce, lint, grass clippings and a banana peel in there. (After I took the pic I cut them up into smaller pieces so they break down more easily) Don't put meat or fats in a compost bin or it will attract raccoons and rats!

  7. Give your compost a little stir with a shovel or stick, making sure to cover your food scraps with dirt.

  8. Spray with lukewarm water until moist, but not soaking wet. Compost ingredients should be on the damp side like a sponge.

  9. With a drill make 8 to 10 small holes on bin lid.

  10. Place lid on compost, every day that you add food scraps to the bin you should give it a stir. Mixing the compost will help breakdown the scraps faster. You should never just place the food scraps on top where they won't get much microbial action.

  11. For a bin this size it will likely take 2 - 3 months before you can use your compost. Compost can be used as mulch to cover flower beds, as potting soil and sprinkled over your grass as a lawn conditioner. Don't use it all though, save at least 1/3 of your original compost and then you can start all over again. The time it takes depends on what you put in your bin, how hot the bin gets, and how large of a compost bin you have. When the scraps are fully decomposed, from top to bottom, do not use it yet.

Troubleshooting:

  • Newly decomposed compost still contains heat that may kill the plants. To avoid this, make sure the scraps are well decomposed. Remove the lid of the bin and place the bin on a sheltered area away from direct sun and rain. Leave the bin on its position for 2 days or until the compost is cool enough to touch. This time, the compost is ready to be applied
  • If your compost begins to smell very strong it could be due to too much water in your bin or too many scraps. To ease this problem, do not add any extra scraps for a few days, stir the compost to aerate and drill a few more small holes if necessary. You could also try adding more dry browns to the pile, mix it in, and fluff it up.
  • For faster decomposition, chop the materials into smaller pieces rather than big pieces. Smaller pieces decompose faster and decomposition time is reduced. Make sure the bin is moist all the time, but not soaking wet as this may result in slow and untidy compost.
  • If there is no action, your compost could be too dry and/or overfilled with browns. Add a bit of water, fluff it up to promote good air circulation. If your brown to green ratio seems off, add more green scraps or lawn clippings.
  • For easier mixing, tip the bin on its side and roll it a few times, everyday.
  • Don't freak out if there are bugs in the pile. Good, healthy compost should attract bugs such as worms, slugs, earwigs, and other creepy crawlies. Let them get in there and do their thing.
  • If you are worried about rats (as are common in larger cities and especially in SE Michigan) you can place a brick or two on top of the bin.

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