Hi.

My name is Mike.

And I’m a Compost-aholic.

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I never thought I had a problem.  Honestly.  It all started with a banana peel every now and then.  No big deal.

Then I tossed in a few egg shells on the weekend.  I eat cold cereal every weekday morning, then go off and work hard… so I deserve to live it up with scrambled eggs on the weekend…… right?  It wasn’t every day, so I was fine.

Then it progressed to coffee grounds.  And kitchen scraps.  And cardboard.

It didn’t seem weird to move the compost with us to our new house last November.  No, I’m not talking about the small plastic compost bin.  I mean, I moved *The Compost*.  Inside our SUV. Over twenty miles.

That felt normal……..

Before I knew it, I was yelling at the Wife if she didn’t peel the stickers off her empty avocado shells in our kitchen compost bowl… and I was asking new neighbors for their horses’ poo.

And building this monstrosity.

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Read on for details if you want to fall off the wagon yourself.

Why should we do it?

Compost is a necessity for any productive garden.  It provides much needed nutrients to your plants.  More important, it feeds the earthworms, beneficial insects, microbes, and other millions of organisms that are necessary for healthy soil.  It adds humus to dry compacted dirt, helping it to retain moisture. Composting also cuts down on what goes in your garbage can on the way to a landfill.

So there are some of the benefits.  Know what some cons are?

Buying the stuff is crazy expensive.  Especially if you have it delivered (along with mulch on the right) from a local garden center to prep the large garden area at our new house earlier this spring.

Midwestern Bite Ugly Food 4 Compost RW

With a little bit of one-time construction work, you can make it yourself.  Forever.  Easily.  For free.

Let’s start with the container.

On a small scale, you can get going by purchasing the black plastic compost bins for sale everywhere.  But I’m cheap and would rather build one from free materials.  Another pitch for going bigger than those small commercial bins is that composting is quicker and easier if you work a pile about 3 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft.  Most of the small bins you see go a lot slower because there isn’t enough stuff in there to really get the heat going that breaks everything down efficiently.

I assembled ours from pallets scrounged over a couple weeks.  They’re perfect for a simple structure and allow for plenty of air circulation.

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Not wanting the bins to be too far out of the way, yet still hidden from view, I decided to place them just behind the back shed at the entrance to our woods.

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After cleaning up the garbage the previous owners had collected in that spot over the years, (including all the chicken wire you might read about in another of my projects), it looked a lot better.

So let’s get building.

I did some quick measurements to make sure I could have two good sized bins in this space next to our future firewood off to the right.

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Then I assembled the back.

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You can nail or screw the pallets together, but I decided to use large zip ties instead.  This way it would be a little easier to disassemble if I ever move these elsewhere.  Plus I had a huge bag of ties laying around the garage.

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All done.

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I wanted multiple bins and will add a third when I get around to removing the downed tree.  That way I can have different piles going, all in varied stages of breakdown.  Add your fresh components on the left. Every six months or so move your piles from one bin to another, giving it a mix.  Keep it moist.  By the time it gets to the third and final bin it looks like the beautiful, moist, black soil pictured above in the pile I bought and had delivered.

So what do we put in compost?  Apparently there are people out there crazier than me with PhD’s or something in rotting garbage.  They break everything down to a science that hurts my head.  No joke, we have a book sitting on our shelf over 300 pages long entitled “The Art of Composting”. It looks 80 years old if it’s a day and we got it from the Library Book Sale for $0.50.

I haven’t read it. 🙂  Let’s keep things simple.

The ideal Carbon to Nitrogen mix for your compost is thirty parts Carbon to one part Nitrogen.  Or 30C:1N.

Think of Carbon-havers as Browns and Nitrogen-havers as Greens.  The percentage of Carbon in Browns and percentage of Nitrogen in Greens work out to an easy rule of thumb:

 

Compost = 50% Browns + 50% Greens

 

Browns

  • Leaves
  • Straw
  • Cardboard
  • Wood Chips
  • Sawdust
  • Pine Needles
  • Newspaper

Greens

  • Lawn Clippings (Don’t use if treated with herbicides!)
  • Non-Meat Kitchen Scraps
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Manure (Don’t use from carnivores like your pets! Only herbivores!)

It’s best if you can alternate layers of Browns and Greens, each about six inches thick.

Fill ‘er up.

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With all the kitchen scraps that come from a wife with a Food Blog, plus acres of leaf-dropping trees, plus a few horses living within easy walking distance, I hopefully won’t be hauling money to the garden center next spring.

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Now you know why I’m the crazy guy who is asking the older couple down the lane if I can fill up my lawn mower’s trailer with their horses’ manure.  And tractor it home.

For some reason, Joanna says she refuses to take part in that type of conversation with strangers.  Or the transport operation.

She’s weird like that.

–Mike

Question of the Day: Have you been composting? Any good tips or success stories to share?

P.S. Oh yeah, after a friend cleared up some misinformation I had heard, I really want to start a Vermicomposting system in the cabinet under our kitchen sink. (Update: I did it!) Joanna isn’t crazy about the thought of hundreds of worms inside the house though.  Like I said — She’s a Weirdo.

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16 Comments

  1. Well . . . . . actually I “borrowed” that composting book from a co-worker and never returned it. I’m hoping one, he hasn’t noticed and two, he doesn’t read my blog.

    Love the post! We’ll talk about the worms in the house later.
    Joanna @ Midwestern Bite recently posted…Palatable Pallets – Making A Compost BinMy Profile

  2. I am SOO showing this to Scott! We just bought a house (today, actually!) and I know he’s going to want to make this.

    Now…if ONLY we had a sauna. (Sigh)
    Katrina recently posted…Sports bra jittersMy Profile

    • Hey! Congrats to you guys! Are you going to be posting some details?

      Tell Scott he can assemble a few pallets right outside the door so he won’t miss the little patio where he used to compost.

  3. Local folks can take a free class through the Metro Parks on composting. It talks about worm composting as well. If you complete all 3 classes you get a free compost bin. I’m glad we have (2) compost bins now as my first attempt at a homemade one was a big fail!
    Heather @ What Does She Do All Day? recently posted…Kids’ Reads: Ducks Don’t Wear SocksMy Profile

  4. Hi. My name is Doc, and I,too, am a Compost-aholic. It started as a simple leaf mold with the fall surplus, but then it grew to more.

    Before I knew it I was off to Lowes for rolls of hardware cloth that I unrolled to make 3 foot high cylinders. These were fastened closed with some reusable clips so that I could easily open them to turn the compost which I forked from the full cylinder into the empty cylinder next to it.

    My quest to find just the right combination of greens and browns for optimum thermophilic bacterial conditions (hot composting) became like an art form as I used my 2 foot long compost thermometer to gauge the internal temperature of the pile. Soon I was able to turn out “black gold” in record time.

    That lead to the rather disastrous experiment with the compost tumbler. “How could that be disastrous?”, I can hear you asking. Let’s just say that I found out too late that the handle on the tumbler I had was just about jaw-height for a middle school-aged child. Enuf said.

    The hardware cloth method has always served me well, and I don’t have the obsession anymore. No, really I don’t. Hold on a second, it’s time to turn the pile. I’ll be right back…

    • Hi Doc.

      Multiple systems? Tumbling? Insertion accesories? Man…That’s some kinky stuff. Seek help.

  5. When I was single and living in an apartment I kept worms in my closet. They didn’t smell at all and I felt highly important serving as their human overlord. My dad said in his speech at my wedding he was grateful my husband was willing to fall for someone with closet worms. I freed them when our city implemented a huge composting program (they pick up compost ea week and garbage ev 2 weeks). Congrats on finding a win/win for the environment and your gardens!

    • It seems like vermiculture is stupidly easy so long as one keeps the moisture right.

      … And I like the idea of having hundreds of invertebrate minions. Hopefully you used your worshippers for good and not evil.

      • Invertebrate minions are inherently evil, of course, but in a good way. You need some!

      • Just got a note from Uncle Jim this morning…2 pounds of red wriggling minions are on the way. My Worm Inn is setup outside just awaiting their arrival.

        • Let me know how it goes! You probably already know this, but you’ll need to bring them inside during the colder months, unless you have another way to keep them from freezing. Someday I plan to use a chicken coop for that purpose.

        • Cool! Take pics of your little vacation property! My daughter has been asking for a pet. Maybe she needs some minions too.
          Ann recently posted…Weird ice cream is still good ice creamMy Profile

          • Now I really want minions. Even if they were wormy minions. It’s very Gossip Girl. Except for the worm part of course . . .

  6. Oh no, I have been outed! At least I didn’t tell you about the black soldier fly composter I want to build to compost my protein waste. You know the one that uses maggot like larvae to eat your meat scraps. If Joanna knew about my plans to raise mealworms to feed chickens I might get banned from your homestead…
    Patrick recently posted…Apples Blossoms and Petroleum RodentsMy Profile

  7. My dad had a compost bin he made himself while I was growing up. At our new place, no composting allowed…too many bears. 🙂 But, still a great idea, especially when you guys have such a big yard!
    Aly recently posted…Pizza with Ricotta and Bacon or Mushrooms and SausageMy Profile

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