01 June 2009

Homemade Composter

I finally got my composter made. Not that it was a lot of work, but actually getting to the store by myself (so I'd have room in the car for the can) to get the garbage can took a bit longer than expected. I picked up a Rubbermaid Toughneck garbage can. It cost under $15 from Home Depot.

Tonight I pressed Ben into service and had him drill evenly spaced 1/4" holes all over it - the lid, the bottom, and all around the sides, for good air flow, drainage, and to let a little rain water in. After it was all drilled, I took it out back and layered some organic potting soil into the bottom, followed by kitchen scraps collected over the last few days, and then put some dried leaves on top. Luckily I didn't get a chance to rake the leaves up last fall before snow covered them, so they are all still there for me to use as my "brown" item! I plan on getting another (cheap) garbage can in which to store the dried leaves, and then each time I add a layer of kitchen scraps I will throw a handful of the leaves on top. This does two things: it keeps the proper ratio of "green" to "brown" in the compost bin, and keeps down the smell.

For those not familiar with compost rules, there are two types of compostable materials, green and brown. There should be an equal amount (by weight) of browns and greens.

"Green" items are nitrogen-rich materials:
~kitchen scraps such as vegetables and fruit scraps, paper towels, coffee grinds and filters, crushed egg shells
~yard waste
~grass clippings

"Brown" items are carbon-rich materials and include:
~shredded newspaper and paper
~finely ground sawdust
~dried leaves
~bread, pasta and rice
~shredded egg cartons and cardboard

Things that are NOT compostable include:
~diseased plants
~oils or fats (butter, peanut butter, cooking oil, etc)
~meat and animal bones
~pet waste or litter
~ash, sawdust, or shavings from painted or chemically-treated wood

Here is some info about composting rules, taken from the City of London's website on composting:

  1. Locate the composting bin in an area with good drainage and one that is accessible year round (partial shade is preferred).
  2. Loosen the soil over the area on which you are going to place your backyard composter. This will allow soil organisms (insects and worms) to move up the pile.
  3. Put down a thick layer (4 cm/10 in) of browns, such as dry leaves or shredded paper.
  4. Add a layer of greens, such as kitchen scraps, garden trimmings or grass clippings and spread evenly (6 cm/2 in).
  5. Cover green material with browns (10 cm/4 in). This reduces fruit flies and odours. A layer of soil or compost will work in place of the browns. Soil and compost has the added benefit of supplying "starter" micro-organisms to accelerate the process.
  6. Continue to alternate layers of green & brown until your compost bin is full. Tip!! Save some bags of dry leaves every fall.
  7. Turning: When the backyard composter is full, mix and add air to the pile by turning with a garden fork or turning tool. Alternatively, lift compost bin off pile and place in a new location. Fork material back into bin, mixing it well.
  8. Monitor moisture: it should be like a wrung out sponge - damp but not soaking. Add water if pile is dry. If too wet, add some browns.
  9. Continue to mix the pile every 10-14 days. Note: Pile may heat up and shrink after being turned.
  10. After 3-4 turnings, the compost should be ready. It should be crumbly, moist, dark coloured and have an earthy smell. Allow this material to mature for a couple of months before using.

During the winter months, continue with Steps 4 and 5 (save fall leaves for step 5). Click here for more details on winter composting.

Controlled and speedy decomposition is all about balance. If your compost pile is too full of browns, then your pile will be slow to decompose. On the other hand, if the pile is too full of greens, it will turn slimy and smell bad. The goal is to have roughly equal amounts, by weight, of browns and greens.

I encourage EVERYONE to have a composter. Reduce the garbage that goes to the dump, decrease greenhouse emissions from the breakdown of compostable materials (they need oxygen to compost, and the dump doesn't give them that-hence they produce methane), and create wonderful, rich, dark compost for your gardens and lawn! You will find that you will reduce your garbage output by up to 75% if you compost diligently!!!

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