Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How To Start A Compost Pile

Being frugal means nothing goes to waste. When you use something up you stop to re-evaluate if there is some other creative way to use it. Can the container be used for something else? Would it make a fun craft project for the kids? Can that bone be boiled down for soup,? Does it have another use? And when you finally think you’ve got every inch of life squeezed out of it, then you toss it. Often times the last stop at our house is the compost bin.

Starting a compost bin is simple to do, doesn’t cost much money and takes very little space but some people may be wondering why bother? For us there are two reasons; it cuts down on our weekly amount of garbage and provides nutrient rich soil for our yard and garden. Did you know that roughly 40% off our garbage could actually be composted? It’s possible to put that waste to good use instead of sending it to the landfill and consuming all that energy to get it there.

So here’s how you can create simple and cost efficient compost for your own home.

First you need something to create your compost in. There are lots of different things you could construct, but to keep it simple a plastic garbage can with a lid will do. Not only is it reasonably inexpensive but it has a handy lid to keep critters out and is easily transportable around your yard when you’re ready to spread your nutrient rich soil around.

you need to make several holes in the sides and top of your bin. You can use a drill or even a knife to cut these. This will help air and moisture get in but will keep the neighborhood animals from getting at your garbage goodies. The holes need to be roughly ¼ to ½ inch in diameter and about a foot apart all the way around.

pick a place to keep it. You want to choose a place close to your house for easy access but also not too far from where you want to dump your finished compost. You’ll also want your bin to get some sun and rain when it’s available to aid in the decomposition, so don’t keep it in a covered area.

Now you’re ready to start adding to it. You’ll want to put a shallow layer of dirt in the bottom to get it started and then the fun begins. Here are some common everyday things that you can toss into your pile…

Paper napkins
vegetable or fruit peelings
Burlap coffee bags
Pet hair
Wood chips
dryer lint
Old spices
Pine needles
Matches (paper or wood)
Bird cage cleanings
Paper towels
Grass clippings
rabbit or chicken manure
Hair clippings
Stale bread
coffee grounds
Wood ashes
Tea bags and grounds
Shredded newspapers
Paper shreds from your office shredder
Egg shells
Houseplant trimmings
Aquarium plants
Kleenex tissues
Tree bark
Q-tips (cotton swabs: cardboard, not plastic sticks)
Expired flower arrangements
Tobacco wastes
Guinea pig cage cleanings
Shredded cardboard
Peanut shells
Bread crusts
Cooked rice
Wooden toothpicks
Moss from last year's hanging baskets
Stale breakfast cereal
Pencil shavings
Brown paper bags

It’s helpful to keep a container in your house to hold your raw materials. I use a recycled Costco dishwasher soap bucket under my sink to collect our kitchen scraps. The smaller the scraps that go in, the quicker the decomposition will happen so chop or crush them before putting them in the bucket. Also, you want to be sure to keep a balance between your brown ingredients (paper scraps, dirt) and your green ingredients (kitchen scraps, grass clippings). Make sure that your compost is damp. Most of they year my wonderfully wet climate takes care of this for me, but during the hotter summer months you want to make sure it is moist. You’ll also need to turn it periodically to keep air flowing and to speed up the decomposition process. The handy thing about the garbage can is that all you have to do is secure the lid and then tip it over and roll it around a couple of times. The other option is to use a pitch fork or shovel and stir it up a bit.

You can expect your pile to give off a little heat. That means it’s doing it’s job to break down into soil. Also you’ll probably see a few bugs and generally that’s not a problem. There shouldn’t be much more than a sweet dirt smell coming from your bin. If it starts to smell strong than your balance of green, brown, and wet ingredients may be off or it’s possible that you’ve thrown something you shouldn’t have into the bins. Never throw meat products in there.

So don’t be afraid to jump right in. Now is as great a time as any to start reducing your landfill waste and nourishing your yard.

For more WFMW ideas, go HERE.


Chels said...

Very helpful list!! Thanks so much! I'm new to this and a little hesitant too.
My big questions are- When do you stop adding to a bin and how long before it's ready? I started a small one last August. I stopped adding to it in November. Will it be ready for spring?

Anonymous said...

What should it look like when it's decomposing? I tried to compost once and everything got all moldy. Is it supposed to do that or did I do something wrong?

Quin said...

I grew up with compost piles. My grandfather years ago constructed about 3 stations out of pallets. It took longer to break down since it was out in the open, but there was always a pile of compost soil, one in the middle of breaking down, and the newer one we dumped scraps on.
Its hard for me to throw all that stuff away but until I get out of apartment living, I really have no choice.

Lindsey said...

I have heard you aren't really supposed to compost pet waste, especially if you plan to use it on a vegetable garden, because of possible disease.

Candi said...

Thanks so posting this! My husband picked up some FREE horse manure last weekend but it's not composted has much as the farmer had declared, so now I need to compost it. This will come in handy and I hope it doesn't take too long to break down.

Gayle said...

Your compost is ready depending on how much you work with it. If you stir it alot and continually add to it, it's possible for it to be ready in a few months. If you throw and just let it set and do it's thing it could take a year and a half. It just depends on how much time you give it.

Mold is just a part of the rotting process.

Pet poop (not dog!) is debatable. Some do it, some don't. But consider this. We put chicken and cow manure on healthy gardens. It's even recommended as an excellent fertilizer.

The Saved Quarter said...

We've been talking about vermicomposting - composting with worms. My 4 year old loves the idea!

'Becca said...

Nice article! Composting works for me, too!

Mold does happen sometimes, but I find that if I put the moldy part on top and spread it out, the sun will kill it.

About pet waste, what I've heard is that carnivorous pets may have dangerous bacteria, but healthy vegetarian pets usually don't.

Anonymous said...

I only shred and use black and white paper in the compost and garden. The colorws inks were not good as they have chemicals etc. Has anyone else heard otherwise? Rodale books years ago said all their papers from their ads had rice ink and were safe,I assume they ment colored and black and white. Comics and colored pictures in the newspaper and junk mail and such I don't know about. We have composted for years and have put old worn out linen napkins, black and white books that were so old they fell apart when we read them in the compost and many other things like letters in our compost. It is kind of fun knowing all thes things we also used and loved are now nourishing our gardens! :)

Anonymous said...

This is a big help. Thanks!

Duckygirl said...

This was such a timely post...our garbage man somehow missed our street this week. So starting a compost bin will help me reduce the garbage that's piling up in my garage! :P


Michelle said...

Gayle...you've probably given me the ultimate bravery to start this for our garden. I've totally been procrastinating. thanks!

Minda said...

Great post! I so want to try this but keep getting scared and putting it off. I'm going to bookmark this and maybe I'll get brave and try it this year.

Kate said...

I have been wanting to compost FOREVER. Been on my mind over and over and over again. You know what's stopping me? The bin. I wanted one of those fancy ones that you can turn with a handle so everything gets mixed. But they are expensive. So I have been putting off the composting. Now I read your post with the idea of the plastic garbage bin with the secure lid...LIGHTBULB. When we moved to the city we got a curbside bin...which meant that our smaller household bin was no longer needed. It has been sitting beside the bigger bin doing nothing but collecting dust. I have even bugged my husband to get it out of the way. Bless his soul he wouldn't get rid of it incase we needed it. Well now it's for the compost! Thanks SO much. I looove your blog!