How to Compost at Home
The ability to compost at home is a very rewarding experience. I grew up on a farm property where composting was second nature. Everyone had a compost constructed of various materials that they had around the farm.
What is composting?
Composting is the decomposition of organic material, resulting in a rich environmentally sound topsoil or mulch. The organic material used in composting is created by the products associated with agriculture and farming. This does not mean that there are no products available in the average household that can be used as composting material, in fact there are several products that the normal, everyday household generates that can be utilized to produce compost material.
The method of composting is basically, the accumulation of organic material in an exterior environment, that will be subjected to the heat of the sun, the moisture of a rainstorm and the continuously changing temperatures created by nature. Composting requires no external or manmade compounds to create the decomposition which naturally occurs nature.
The best process for creating good compost is to construct several bins on the exterior of your property. These bins can be of any size, however bins of approximately 2 feet deep by the size of a piece of standard sheet of plywood, 4 feet by 8 feet, is a good size to start a composting area. These bins can be constructed in many different ways, such as;
1.) Excavation. Although this is the most difficult method for creating compost bins, it is the cheapest. There are no additional materials required, other than the hole in the ground. Once the holes are dug, a filter fabric material ( found at any landscaping store ) or some other type of material, that will drain, should be installed to line the excavation. In this manner, whatever is placed in the excavation will not mix with the surrounding soil. However, it is important that whatever produce is used, the product must allow the drainage of rain water through the material so that a simple mud bath is not created.
2.) Wood construction. Standard framing material such as 2X10’s or other large size material can be used to construct bins of the proper size, that will simply sit on the surface of the ground. This method is one of the most common methods of creating compost bins. Railroad ties or landscape ties can also be used to create the bins. If more capacity is required, the interior of the framed bin can be excavated down to allow additional material to be deposited within the bin. In many cases, if landscape ties are use, then iron rods or pipe are driven into drilled holes in the wood members to secure them, on top of the other.
3.) Field stone. The use of onsite fieldstone to construct the bins is also common. The material is readily available and the ability to stack the stone, one on top of the other is a sensible and creative method of constructing compost bins. In most cases the need to mortar the joints is unnecessary and the simple stacking of the stone allows drainage of any water that falls into the interior of the bin.
4.) Other masonry or any other weather compatible material. The use of block, brick, the combination of both, can be used to construct compost bins. Basically any type of material that will tolerate the weather can be used to create compost bins.
Once the bins are constructed side by side, they must be filled with organics, that will start to break down. Prior to identifying a list of organics that can be used in the composting process, let’s summarize the composting process.
Assuming that we have made ( 4 ) 2 foot deep by 4 X 8 foot bins
1.) Bin No. 1 is filled to approximately 1/2 its capacity with household items such as egg shells, vegetable and fruit cuttings, skins, corn husks, etc. Anything that is created within the kitchen and household that falls into the composting category. ( see this list of items further in this discussion )
2.) Bin No. 2 is left open and empty
3.) Bin No. 3 filled to 1/2 its capacity with an organic fertilizer, such as horse manure, cow manure or chicken manure, if available.
- ) Bin No. 4 is filled with leaves, grass clippings, and other organics.
5.) As Bin No. 1 starts to exceed 1/2 its capacity, the material is turned over with a pitch fork and deposited in bin No. 2
6.) Bin No. 1 is emptied into Bin No. 2 and Bin No. 1 again receives compost material.
7.) If available, Bin No. 3 is used to move the material from Bin No. 2 for further mixing.
8.) When Bin No. 4 is emptied, then that Bin is used to accept additional manure or natural fertilizer.
The entire process of composting, is meant to move and mix the original compost material with natural manure, grass clippings and leaves. The use of ( 4 ) bins has worked for the materials that we had available on the farm. In many cases with normal urban environments, only ( 2 ) bins are required to simply move the compost around and allow nature to decompose the compost material. The entire idea of composting is the decomposition of natural elements into a more usable nutrient. If natural fertilizers such as manure, is available, it is recommended that it be used, if hay, or grass clipping, or ground leaves are available, then this material should be used. The concept is to use what is available and mix the materials together to allow decomposition.
How long will the decomposition take is all a product of the environment. How much sun, heat, cold, rain, etc. occurs to enhance the decomposition of the compost, will influence the time that the composting will require. Normally the mixing of the material should be done on a bi monthly basis, sooner if the decomposition is obviously occurring more rapidly. Composting is a learning art, and this is all part of the fun of composing.
Materials that can be composted from the everyday household environment.
1.) Vegetable peelings such as carrots, corn, beets, beans, etc. Any peelings or cut offs from household vegetables.
2.) Egg shells
3.) Coffee grounds
4.) Decomposed vegetables and fruits that have not been used that are sitting on the countertop or in the refrigerator.
5.) Vegetables and fruits that are not used, even if they have not decomposed.
6.) Cooked vegetables that have not been used or are left over
7.) All items that are composted, will deteriorate and decompose much more quickly if they are cut up in smaller pieces. For example, an apple will decompose much quicker if it is cut up.
Basically anything that originates in the kitchen in terms of fruits and vegetables. Items that should not be composted are proteins such as meats, poultry, fish, etc. These items will cause rodents and insects to swarm and reproduce, they will also cause severe odors and byproducts that are not conducive to the composting process.
Composting is a wonderful process, and a great family hobby. Everyone can get into composting and it is a great example of nature and how we can recycle to produce a product that will enhance our own vegetable and flower gardens. No better way to understand nature’s method of creating topsoil, than to watch your own compost project produce valuable and rich material.