May 4, 2009


I'm a little scared of composting. I have heard from countless places that it doesn't take that much work, that it doesn't really smell, but I'm still a little hesitant to get started. Well, that and I'm lazy.

I found this article today though on composting and it seems simple enough that even I might be able to try it!


Think small
Composters (including us) advise gardeners to use bins or boxes with a capacity of at least 10 cubic feet: that's equivalent to a 24x24-inch box 30" high, or a 24"-diameter tub 36" high.

These are too big for a household with no garden, and therefore no supply of garden wastes. So what is the minimum bulk?

We've made hot compost in a 10-gallon box rather than 10 cubic feet -- only one-sixth as much. Filled all at once, it got very hot, and was ready in two weeks. It's a bit different when the ingredients come in dribs and drabs instead of all at once, as they do from a kitchen, but you can make successful compost in a small container.

Actually you'll need two containers -- when the first one's full and processing, you start filling the second one, and by the time that's full, the compost in the first one's ready for use and can be emptied out.

A smallish (10-20 gallons) plastic or galvanized iron garbage can with a lid will do. Drill 10 or 12 holes in the bottom with a 3/8-inch bit, find a tray to stand it in, and put a couple of 1/2-inch slats under it for aeration.

A 15x15x15-inch wooden box made of 1/2-inch ply (untreated) will also do well. So will a 20x20x20-inch box. Again, drill holes in the bottom and stand it in a tray with slats under it to allow an air supply, and put a hinged lid on it. Treat it inside and out with vegetable oil.

Filling the bin
Use uncooked fruit and vegetables, no meat, fish, dairy, or oils -- at least at first. Once you're more experienced you can decide this for yourself.

By themselves, kitchen scraps are too wet to compost -- the moisture content averages 85%, and compost should be not more than 65%. So you need dry bedding to mix it with. This can be straw, dead leaves, strips of newspaper (avoid colored inks and glossy paper), cardboard or cartons, sphagnum peat moss, coconut coir, or a mixture. You can also use some sawdust (from non-treated wood) -- mix it with other bedding materials. Keep a bucket of bedding handy by your bin. Also keep a coffee-tin full of ordinary soil next to the bucket, and some wood ash is useful.

First, put a few inches of dry bedding in the bottom of the container. Scatter the daily supply of kitchen scraps on top, and cover the scraps with about the same amount of bedding, or a little more. Scatter some soil on top, and a little lime or wood ash. Keep going until it's full.

Mix the contents up every couple of weeks with a compost poker or compost aerator: buy one, or improvise.

If I did this, I would probably buy two garbage pails with lids about 10gal each. I'd shred my newspapers for help with the dry bedding and use leaves. Coffee-tin full of soil is no big deal. Then, I can take whatever scraps I have from cooking out to the bin, drop in some bedding, put the scraps in, add more bedding, top with soil. I probably won't be doing this inside, but I definately could do it on our back porch. It sounds easy enough!!!

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