Composting 101


Composting is one of the integral components of my new micro-farm attempt using raised beds. Since I am starting off following the methods of Square Foot Gardening, I will initially fill my beds with the special mix of vermiculite, peat moss and finished compost as instructed in the book. However, the author is adamant that the gardener must maintain a compost pile or bin on site so that the growing medium can be replenished as necessary.

So what is compost? It is a mix of thoroughly decayed organic matter that, when finished, looks and smells just like top quality, loamy earth. The organic matter is a combination of plant based kitchen scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, yard clippings, straw or hay and even shredded paper. The basic idea is that you layer the “green” compost items like veggie peels and yard clippings and the “brown” compost items like shredded paper, straw or hay. As you go along building layers, you need to make sure that the pile is slightly wet but not soaking and that the temperature in the pile is rising. The heat and moisture along with beneficial microbes encourage all of the stuff in your pile to decompose over time until you end up with the final product of rich, dark, nutrient rich “soil”.

How long does it take to make compost? The length of time required to get to the finished product is highly variable. If you were to use one of those new compost tumblers and very finely chop all of the items that go into it and turn it often, you could expect compost in a matter of weeks. However, if you use the more traditional pile or aerated bin system it could be a matter of months. Hot weather can help speed up composting, as cold weather can slow it to a crawl.

Another method of composting is called vermiculture, which is the use of red worms to digest the organic matter. Plans and tutorials for setting up a worm farm are widely available online and many books have been written on the subject as well. Obviously, the care and keeping of worms is not for everyone, but with a minimal amount of care they reward the gardener with what is widely considered one of the best types of compost available.

I am going to skip the worm farm and go for the more traditional backyard compost setup. I happen to have an old toy chest with a lid that was about to be sent to the dump, so I cut out the bottom and drilled air holes around the sides with my electric drill. The reason I cut out the bottom is so that I can give access to the worms who already live in my dirt. I don’t want to have a worm farm, but I definitely want to encourage the worms that live in the dirt to come in for a free meal and leave their deposits .  The air holes are important because oxygen is part of the compost recipe, without sufficient aeration composting cannot continue.  Once I add a latch to the lid to keep out raccoons and opossums, I will have a very serviceable, recycled compost bin.

I have been saving my kitchen scraps to toss in the bin and I must admit to being very surprised at the volume of peels and scraps that I accumulate every day. I am using a locking type food container to collect my scraps inside the kitchen which I can then dump out into the compost bin every few days as needed. The tight fitting lid is to prevent bad smells from bothering us or attracting bugs.

I already have the new bin half full and I can’t wait to see what happens over the next few weeks!

This post is participating in Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways


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  1. I am one that have not been very familiar with composting, but living here in Denver where people are very much into planting in the spring and summer, or as soon as the weather permits, I have become a part of active in composting; at first I did not think much about it, other than using the been to throw in the vegetables and fruit scraps; but then a lady came by to buy one of the compost containers that was no longer in use and in the process of emptying the compost bin, she spilled some compost as she was filling in her plastic bags; well the whole process was nothing to write home about, but what woke me up to the wonders of composting was the fact that the leftover of that composting was swept into the part of the garden where it was used for storage of garbage cans etc.. nothing was growing in that particular small part of the otherwise huge garden, all of the sudden it became green and alive, it was amazing to watch this little dry flowers that the wind blew over, start to take root and become this green blanket. I knew compost was good but I never knew that it could work so fast and make such a huge difference, now I understand why there are such beautiful gardens all around Denver, people here compost and plant like crazy, they are very much into enjoying nature.

  2. Hi… I am really inspired to follow your footsteps I can’t wait to see the pics of your raised garden! I have mentally chosen the spot for my compost and I already have the area for the garden! I LOVED and miss your resourcefulness, the old toy bin. Can’t wait to see what u do next. Miss ya

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