I wrote this in 2007, but it seems current enough to make, well, a current entry.
I have a couple of compost heaps. One was made by my parents out of spare cedar redwood, and is quite nice as compost bins go. It’s a couple years old. But when I decided a second pile would make it easier to turn the contents, I tacked another onto the side of that. It was made mostly by me with palettes and old fence boards. I think I used spare angle brackets from some other construction. And lots of drywall / deck screws.
Some things that really seem to make it a successful compost heap are:
- Compost everything. Eggshells, dead flower arrangements, news print circulars (non-glossy), paper egg carton and drink caddies, corrugated cardboard, coffee grounds, paper coffee filters, all vegetable and fruit scraps (take off the non-degradable stickers), wine corks (obviously not the plastic ones). I’m even experimenting with composting #7 PLA plastic, which is supposedly made with corn and science. Catch your mowed grass and compost it. A science teacher I met recently said it makes no sense to send organic material out of your yard if you’d obviously go out and buy organic material to put back in it.
- When starting the pile for the first time, put some chopped log pieces in the bottom so that there’s a little open space at the bottom of the pile as the logs rot. They probably don’t have to be long pieces… firewood would work… but if they run to the edge of the pile, air can enter from the bottom and help aerate the pile.
- Layer brown stuff (leaves, twigs, paper bags, other paper) with green stuff (grass clippings, newly-cut leaves or other landscape trimmings. To do this through the summer months when there is more green stuff than brown leaves, I save landscape bags full of leaves I picked up last fall from curbside collection. Last fall I scavenged about 30 bags.
- If at all possible, grind up leaves before adding to the compost. To do this, when mowing the grass, I take one of the bags I saved from the fall and dump its contents in the grass and then run the mulching mower over it, catching the grass and leaves back into the bag.
- Compost needs to be turned for aeration. Find a pitchfork on Freecycle or at a pawn shop that you can leave by the heap. Give it a few good scoops and turns every week. No need to do the whole pile, though every few months turning the entire contents would help.
- Wet weather helps compost work. The pile needs to stay moist. In Texas summers, sometimes that’s not all that easy. I’m planning on installing a sprinkler head just to water my compost heap, possibly a bubbler-style head. If that’s not possible, it helps to have a hose or spigot nearby. Better yet, use collected rainwater. Not only do you save water, but the non-chlorinated water doesn’t kill the essential bacteria in the compost heap. Another option… I purchased a $60 chlorine filter for my spigot at EcoWise for use with the compost heap.
- Most “experts” agree that you probably don’t want to put meat or bone scraps in compost heaps, but I’m not sure you can’t. I think the main objections are the smell, flies and attracted scavengers.