Composting the Easy Way

Discussion in 'Organic Gardening' started by Frank, Jan 30, 2005.

  1. Frank

    Frank GardenStew Founder Staff Member Administrator

    Jan 25, 2005
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    Galway, Ireland
    Here is a nice article:

    Composting the Easy Way

    by Michael J. McGroarty

    Having an ample supply of good rich compost is the
    gardeners dream. It has many uses, and all of those uses will
    result in nicer plants. However, composting can be time
    consuming and hard work. I place a reasonable value on my
    time, so spending hours and hours turning compost piles doesn't
    qualify as a worthwhile exercise, at least in my book.
    Nonetheless, I do compost, but I do so on my terms.

    I built two composting bins. Each bin is five feet
    wide, five feet deep, and four feet high. I built the bins by
    sinking 4" by 4" posts in the ground for the corners, and then
    nailed 2 by 4's and 1 by 4's, alternating on the sides. I left
    2" gaps between the boards for air circulation. The 2 by 4's
    are rigid enough to keep the sides from bowing out, and in
    between each 2 by 4 I used 1 by 4's to save a little money.
    The bins are only 3 sided, I left the front of the bins open so
    they can be filled and emptied easily.

    Photos of my compost bins are on this page:

    I started by filling just one of the bins. I put grass
    clippings, dried leaves, and shrub clippings in the bins. I
    try not to put more than 6" of each material on a layer. You
    don't want 24" of grass clippings in the bin, you should
    alternate layers of green and brown material. If necessary,
    keep a few bags of dry leaves around so you can alternate
    layers of brown waste and green waste. When we root cuttings
    we use coarse sand in the flats, so when it's time to pull the
    rooted cuttings out of the flats, the old sand goes on the
    compost pile. In or little backyard nursery we also have some
    plants in containers that do not survive. Rather than pulling
    the dead plant and the weeds out of the container, and then
    dumping the potting soil back on the soil pile, we just dump
    the whole container in the compost bin, this adds more brown
    material to the mix, and is a lot easier than separating the
    soil and the weeds.

    Once the bin is full, the rules of composting say that
    you should turn the material in the bin every few weeks. There
    is no way that I have time to do that, so this is what I do. I
    pack as much material in the bin as I can, before I start
    filling the second bin. I pile the material as high as I
    possibly can, and even let it spill out in front of the bin.
    Then I cover all the fresh material with mulch or potting soil,
    whatever brown material I can find. Then when I'm out working
    in the garden I set a small sprinkler on top of the pile and
    turn it on very low, so a small spray of water runs on the
    material. Since I have a good water well, this doesn't cost me
    anything, so I let it run for at least two hours as often as I
    can. This keeps the material damp, and the moisture will cause
    the pile to heat up, which is what makes the composting action
    take place.

    Once I have the first bin completely full, I start
    using the second bin. As the material in the first bin starts
    to break down, it will settle, and the bin is no longer heaped
    up, so I just keep shoveling the material that I piled in front
    of the bin, up on top of the pile, until all the material is
    either in the bin, or piled on top of the heap. Then I just
    leave it alone, except to water it once in a while. The
    watering isn't necessary, it just speeds the process.

    Because I don't turn the pile, I can't expect all of
    the material to rot completely. The material in the center is
    going to break down more than the material on the edges, but
    most of it does breakdown quite well.

    The next step works great for me because I've got a
    small nursery, so I keep a pile of potting soil on hand at all
    times. But you can really do the same thing by just buying two
    or three yards of shredded mulch to get started, and piling it
    up near your compost bins. If you do this, you will always
    have a supply of good compost to work with.

    Shredded bark, left in a pile will eventually breakdown
    and become great compost. The potting soil that I use is about
    80% rotted bark. I make potting soil by purchasing fine
    textured, and dark hardwood bark mulch, and I just put it in a
    pile and let it rot. The secret is to keep the pile low and
    flat, so that it does not shed the rain water away, you want
    the mulch to stay as wet as possible, this will cause it to
    breakdown fairly quick.

    So I keep a pile of rotted bark mulch near my compost
    bins. When both bins are completely full, I empty the bin
    containing the oldest material by piling it on top of my rotted
    bark mulch. I make sure the pile of rotted mulch is wide and
    flat on top so that when I put the material from the compost
    bin on top of the pile, the compost material is only 5 to 10
    inches thick. My mulch pile might be 12' wide, but it may only
    be 24 to 30 inches high. Once I have all the compost on top of
    the pile, then I go around the edge of the pile with a shovel,
    and take some of the material from the edges of the pile and
    toss it up on top of the pile, covering the compost with at
    least 6" of rotted bark. This will cause the compost material
    to decompose the rest of the way.

    Once you get this system started, you never want to use
    all of the material in the pile. Always keep at least 2 to 3
    cubic yards on hand so you've got something to mix with your
    compost. If you use a lot of compost material like I do, then
    you should buy more material and add to your pile in the late
    summer or fall, once you are done using it for the season.
    Around here many of the supply companies sell a compost
    material that is already broken down quite well. This is what
    I buy to add to my stock pile. But I try to make sure that I
    have at least 3 yards of old material on hand, then I'll add
    another 3 yards of fresh material to that. Then in the spring
    I'll empty one of the compost bins and add the compost to the
    top of the pile.

    The pile of usable compost will be layers of material,
    some more composted than others. Kind of like a sandwich. So
    what I do is chip off a section of the pile from the edge,
    spread it out on the ground so it's only about 8" deep, then
    run over it with my small rototiller. This mixes it together
    perfectly, and I shovel it onto the potting bench.

    Having a pile of rotted compost near your compost bins
    is great because if you have a lot of leaves or grass
    clippings, you can throw some rotted compost in the bin in
    order to maintain that layered effect that is necessary in
    order for the composting process to work well.

    Sure this process is a little work, but it sure is nice
    to have a place to get rid of organic waste anytime I like.
    Then down the road when I have beautiful compost to add to my
    potting soil, I am grateful to have done the right thing
    earlier, and I know that I have wasted nothing.

    Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most interesting website, and sign up for his excellent gardening newsletter, and grab a FREE copy of his E-book, "Easy Plant Propagation"
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  3. dezzie

    dezzie New Seed

    Jan 26, 2005
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    Great find GardenStew! Always important to have a supply of compost near. It will alway come in useful :)
  4. eileen

    eileen Resident Taxonomist Staff Member Moderator Plants Contributor

    Feb 7, 2005
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    Wow, what a great site that is Frank. :D It's already in my favourites file - right below this site. :) Just KNEW I was gonna love it here.
  5. Frank

    Frank GardenStew Founder Staff Member Administrator

    Jan 25, 2005
    Likes Received:
    Galway, Ireland
    Thanks Eileen, you are very kind. Garden Stew is in my Favourites as well lol :)
  6. flowerofshona

    flowerofshona New Seed

    Feb 9, 2005
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    nice site !! very interesting read :)

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