Making compost for your garden is easy.
If you read fancy gardening books, you could get scared off by talk of nitrogen-to-carbon ratio and temperature monitoring, or by online arguments about the best container.
Seriously though, the “science” of composting is one notch up from throwing garbage into your back yard.
To Box or Not to Box
You don’t need a container. A compost pile can be an open heap and do perfectly fine. Compost does not have a bad odor — if it does, there’s something wrong with the ingredients you’re adding (more about that later).
But if you have pets that spend time in the yard, or if there are raccoons and other critters who visit, you probably want some kind of barrier around your compost to keep it from getting scattered everywhere.
- You can make a compost bin by driving 4 poles into the ground and wrapping some chicken wire around it.
- You can make a compost bin by puncturing holes into a plastic garbage can.
- You can make a compost bin by collecting 4 wooden pallets (free from stores, Craigslist, asking around) and securing them together into a box shape with 14-gauge fencing wire.
Here’s me getting fancy with the pallets and fencing wire:
1. Set three pallets on edge.
2. Connect the pallets with a loop of wire, and tighten it with pliers.
Three loops per corner should be plenty.
3. The fourth panel goes on front. I didn’t attach mine because, when the snow melts I’m going to get REAL fancy and screw on hinges and a latch to make a swinging door. You could get away with just wiring the front to the other panels.
The purpose of putting a door on a compost pile is twofold: to give you access to turn the pile occasionally with a shovel, and to give you access to “the goods” when the pile is nice and rotten. You don’t have to turn the pile, but it speeds up decomposition. Either way, the best compost forms at the bottom, so you’ll want to harvest from the bottom up. That’s why having a door makes it easier. But if figuring out how to put a door on your bin is a deal-breaker for you, just make your bin a solid box. Make it wide enough (4 feet wide on each side) so you can dig around in it without removing the sides.
A Place to Throw Stuff
What goes into a compost pile?
- leftover/spoiled vegetables and fruits (except citrus — no limes, oranges, lemons, grapefruit)
- coffee grounds
- grass clippings
- flower stems and leaves, yard trimmings, chopped-up branches
- wood ash from your fireplace, wood stove or pellet stove
- newspaper (remember that stuff?)
What should NOT go into a compost pile?
- meat or dairy
- bread, cake, pasta, rice
- oil, grease, fat
A reader from California tells me she was so excited last year to hear about my sucess with straw bale gardening that she went and got a bale of something and added it to her compost. That “something” turned out to be hay instead of straw. This year she’s got a healthy crop of hay growing in her compost. Darned city kids … there is a difference between hay and straw.
Any plant products you add are going to have a measure of seeds in them (apple cores, yard clippings, etc) and you don’t need to strip them out. In fact, if you tried to, it would be so laborious you’d likely give up the idea of composting altogether. If something sprouts in your compost, it’s not the end of the world — it shows you’ve got some great growing medium going.
But it is wise to avoid mass dumping of seedy things like hay, flowered plants etc. to the point where they overpower your compost.
A Word About Coffee Grounds
Lots of folks enjoy Keurig coffee makers which use individual containers of coffee. If you have the patience for it, you can collect your used K-cups and slice them open to harvest the coffee grounds for your compost.
Sadly, K-cups are not recyclable, and for this reason some people refuse to use Keurig brewers, or use one of these refillable cups. This one was included with our brewer, and my attempts to use it only resulted in getting stabbed by the filter-puncture-thingy and getting coffee everywhere.
We’ve found a happy alternative for our Keurig brewer. San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee has come up with a 97% biodegradable cup for Keurigs. The price is much lower than the Green Mountain brand most widely available. The coffee is contained in a mesh filter which can easily be cut open to collect the used grounds. The remaining material can be recycled, AND the plastic bags the cups come in are compostable. I cut the bags into strips and include them in my bin.
My partner says I am weird for being so happy about this. But it does make me very happy. She gets her kicks out of burning the box in our fire pit, so we’re even.