Friday, May 22, 2015

Compost Happens

That's my philosophy about compost, it happens, eventually, sometimes more quickly.

More often than not, it's the "eventually" method that I employ. I typically just toss whatever spent plants are coming out of the vegetable garden into a bin. Sometimes I'll cut it up a bit, other times it just gets tossed in. When the bin fills up I'll start filling another one. The contents will shrink and sink so I'll add more on top. I just keep adding more until I need some "finished" compost.

This is what the contents eventually look like. The stuff around the edges and on the top tend to dry out.

Dig down a bit deeper though, and I usually find worms and sowbugs at work.

I sift the contents through a riddle and end up with some nice stuff.

This is what I'll dig into the beds, complete with worms, and sow bugs.

The chunky stuff gets tossed into another bin that's in process.

The biggest problem I have is that the contents tend to dry out and oftentimes stay dry. I dug into this bin last week and found dry material that I had tossed in last spring, spring of 2014, it's been a year and most of the contents are as dry as a bone with nary a worm in sight. I had even been watering the bin to keep it moist (or so I thought) to keep the worms happy. But obviously the water wasn't getting very far. When this happens I shift the contents into a new bin, watering the layers as I go. 

And that tends to speed things up. If you can't read the thermometer, it shows that it's about 150ºF (65ºC) after a couple of days. After it cools, if I can keep it moist, the worms and sowbugs will move in and finish the work. I really avoid turning compost unless it is absolutely necessary, it's just too much work, so it usually happens only when I need to get an old bin sifted or restarted.

Around this time of year I have to trim the oak trees around the house. You may have noticed the dry grass that covers the hillside above the garden, it's the same situation behind our house. If a wildfire sweeps through the area it could easily jump into the trees making it difficult to protect the house from a fire. We have to keep the trees near the house trimmed up 6 feet from the ground to reduce the fire hazard.  It produces a lot of brush that I can't let sit around. I could pay someone to do the trimming and haul it off, but I would rather use it, so I do what trimming I can and I invested in a chipper shredder that makes short work of the trimmings. It doesn't take long to process enough trimmings to fill one of my bins.

And it doesn't take long for the contents to heat up. The oak trimmings make the best compost.

There's one more bin that I keep going, this is the one that gets old veggies, coffee filters, and kitchen scraps, even the occasional fish skeleton which always seems to just disappear. This is definitely in the "eventually" category of compost making.

I just keep adding layers of scraps and shredded newspapers. When it eventually gets too full I start emptying it out. The stuff on top starts a new bin and the stuff on the bottom gets sifted.

So those are my methods of composting. Not very scientific, but they work for me.


  1. This is very interesting because it is real, what really happens. I went to a compost demonstration at a famous garden where the speaker was from the east coast and demonstrated all sorts of expensive above ground tumbling devices. Bah! The only thing that works down here is that I've seen is a hole in the ground covered with an old door. It is difficult to keep things moist above ground.

    I just pruned my oak yesterday; I think I'll retrieve it from the trash bin and add it to the pile at the bottom of the steps.

    Thanks for inspiration and assurance that it'll work with time enough. The "eventually" method. Grin.

    Do you have any problems with rats? What are you using for sides of bins?

    1. I have on occasion had rat problems, which is why the kitchen bin is lined ith cardboard and wrapped with hardware cloth. The drought really seems to be keeping the rodent population down for the last couple of years so it hasn't been an issue lately. The kitchen bin is an old stacking bin that was supposed to make it easy to turn the compost, but I found it to be pretty useless and it lets the contents dry out too quickly.

      The rest of the bins are cheap but sturdy poly-something plastic that comes in a roll and can be adjusted to different sizes, it just depends on where you screw it together. They also tend to let things dry out and don't allow for easy turning, but since I rarely turn my compost it's not a problem. The don't come with lids but I just use empty plastic bags that potting soil comes in, a couple of bags fit over the top of the compost and can be tucked in around the edges.They are cheap, light but sturdy enough, and easy to store when not in use, and they last a long time, mine are I don't know how many years old and they are outside 100% of the time. I got them at OSH, but I think they don't carry them anymore.

      BTW, the oak trimmings will never rot unless they are chipped and shredded, I know for sure because I've tried, that's why I bought a chipper-shredder.

  2. At the community garden we have a set of pallet bins. Stuff just gets thrown in there, no chipping or watering, and the bins are usually full after fall cleanup. Every spring they get turned over. It is amazing to find the bottom half of the bin full of finished compost. Compost just happens. At home I use a plastic covered bin because of the raccoons and opossums. Nothing like getting hissed at during a nighttime trip to dump the kitchen scraps.

    1. My biggest problem is the deer, they treat my bins lika a smorgasbord. I have to put hardware cloth on top of the bags that cover the bins otherwise the deer just nose in and pull things out. Raccoons, opossums, and skunks are surprisingly rare around my house, perhaps they are wary of the coyote that I've seen traipsing across the hillside.

    2. I have part of my compost like David has indicated (and you) - pile everything together and let it happen. I've found piles of discarded plants left by the previous owner which were very close to perfect compost. So many options!

  3. My compost is just like yours. Dry stuff on the outside and the good stuff inside. And I also turn my beds when I need the new compost in the fall or spring. It is why my last bin got turned. And like you I have a separate one for the kitchen scraps. Mine is covered to keep any rats or other rodents out. Though the mice chewed through the side so they can get in now. Luckily we have a lot of cats around and Molly our townhousemates' cat is a decent mouser.

  4. My method of making compost is very similar to yours. I find that it takes the best part of a year to produce good stuff, which is normally about 50% of the bin. I just remove the top bit first, before forking out the useable bit. I guess it never gets very hot here, so I seldom have a problem with dry compost - or cooked worms!

  5. I am in the "eventually" camp when it comes to compost as well, but so far, I only have one of those black bins for kitchen scraps. I plan to make a proper, large compost area this year and already have the pallets set aside. In the meantime, plant trimmings are thrown into a hollow on the hilltop that I need filled. I figure that everything will break down and make that area more level...eventually ;)

  6. While I love to build a pile and make a batch of 'hot' compost, most of mine is the 'eventual' method too. I think the reality is that for most gardeners the raw material comes in fairly small batches that aren't enough to make a big batch. The groundhogs and possums get in my pile,but I like to think it keeps them out of the garden!


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