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Posted by kevinwolz on June 3, 2010

What’s the best fertilizer/soil amendment/fungal & bacterial innoculant/worm food you can buy?? COMPOST, of course! Honestly, what isn’t compost good for?

All living things eventually decompose. Compost is created by taking advantage of this fact through the partially controlled breakdown of organic materials (living or once-living things). On smaller scales, this is typically done in a compost bin or pile. For the last few years, my family has used several plastic storage containers with holes drilled in them as our compost bins (0.3 cubic yards). This semi-sealed bin was a good match for the suburbs, but an upgrade was deemed necessary for WI. My friend recently helped me construct a 4.7 cubic yard (4′ x 4′ x 8′) compost “bin” using nothing but chicken wire, a few fence posts, and zip ties…all very cheap materials.

The bin is divided in half to form two 4′ cubes. A 4′ cube is approximately the smallest volume of material that will be able to sustain a hot breakdown reaction, thereby forming better compost more quickly. This design will allow me to completely fill up one side of the bin and then let that compost as I fill the other side. Once the second side is full, the first side should be done, which means it can be harvested and refilled as the second side breaks down…and so on. Harvested compost will be used in the garden, on landscaping, or fed to my worms to create castings. A 6″ base of wood chips was first added to the bins to promote proper drainage and aeration of the pile.

So what the heck to you put in these things? The simple, golden rule to go by is: If it came from a plant, put it in the pile. Do not add meat scraps, dairy products, or anything else that came from an animal, as these items are what attract other animals. The best mixture for composting is approximately 50% (by volume) carbon-rich materials to 50% nitrogen-rich materials. To put it simply, the carbon turns into the humus (soil-like organic matter), and the nitrogen is the fuel for the bacterial fire. Carbon-rich items include: newspaper, cardboard, woodchips, dried leaves/plants, and sawdust. Nitrogen-rich items include: kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, weeds, grass clippings, and manure. This optimal mixture will then heat up to 100-130 degrees F as the bacteria go to work making this miracle material. While turning compost piles isn’t absolutely necessary, regular aeration will speed up the breakdown process. Keeping the pile moist is also necessary since the bacteria need to drink as well!

The two most common problems:

1) The pile smells. Reason: The pile has gone anaerobic due to too much water or too much nitrogen. Solution: Add more carbon.

2) The pile isn’t getting hot enough. Reason: Not enough nitrogen to fuel the bacteria. Solution: Add more nitrogen.

Remember, if composting is done properly, your pile will not stink or attract animals. Stop sending your valuable organic wastes to the landfill and start creating your very own miracle material!

Rick Christening the Bin


3 Responses to “Composting!”

  1. Joan said

    You are going to have the best home garden from Chicago to Madison!

  2. declan said

    rick is having so much fun

  3. Nate said

    yes he is

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