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How to get started in Composting – Build a Compost Bin!

You’re probably here because you want to know how to compost but for those of you not sold on the reason to compost lets ask a few questions.

  1. Do you care about the environment?
  2. Do you want your garden to thrive?
  3. Do you want to stay away from pesticides and herbicides?
  4. Do you want to decrease the amount of household waste your house creates?

Composting is the answer to all of the above.

But how does a household get started in the wonderful world of composting? Here is a how-to guide to start basic composting, decreasing your waste and increasing your garden’s potential

Compost Bin

Compost Bin Type

First up, you need some place to compost outside. You can buy a composter but the best bins out there are made out of 1×6 slats between 3 and 4 feet square. Green Calgary sells basic bins for $40 (http://www.greencalgary.org/ecostore/product/garden-gourmet/)
But remember, you don’t need anything special or fancy to compost, it’s basically just a heap of materials stacked up. Ideal sizes are 3 feet cubed. There are plenty of plans online to create your own compost bin out of slats or even bricks. We just created one this year in addition to the one we bought from the city.

Compost Bin Location

First off, you’re going to need an area outside to compost. There are ways to compost inside like Vermiculture (worm composting) but we won’t get into that on this blog post.

Find an area in your yard that is easy to access. Don’t worry about smell, rodents or any of those other composting myths. You could put your compost bin right outside your window and wouldn’t smell it. They don’t smell as long as they are done properly. The key is easy access. You’ll still want to use your bin in the winter so someplace you don’t need to shovel too far.

Inside your kitchen

It helps to have a small bucket under the sink to decrease the amount of trips to your outside compost bin. An old ice cream pail works or you can buy a nice compost crock if you want it to look pretty. Keep it right beside your garbage so the whole family can get involved.

Remember that smaller pieces of compost are better. If you toss half of a rotting melon into the compost, chances are you’ll find that when you go to process your compost. Cut it up into some smaller pieces. Just throw it on your cutting board and hack it up, toss it in your compost catcher, and you’re steaming pile will thank you and reward you later. Another one that I’ve learned is to crush your egg shells inside your compost bucket. Shells are so good for your compost but if left in two halves, you’re pretty much guaranteed they won’t break down at the same pace as everything else.

What to compost

You may have heard about the greens and the browns with respect to composting. You need a nice mixture of both to get things decomposing quicker.

Greens are mostly kitchen waste. Veggie tops, apple cores, wilted lettuce, tea bags, tea leaves, egg shells but can also be garden waste, weeds, clippings, and grass cuttings (although these are much better just left on your lawn).

Browns are leaves, leaves, leaves and more leaves. Seriously though, you can also include things like peanut shells, dryer lint, coffee grounds. KEEP YOUR FALL LEAVES! Take your neighbors too!

Here’s what most avid composters do: collect a few garbage bags of leaves in the fall and keep them around in order to add to your compost bin each time you add kitchen waste.

Layering your compost

They key to good compost heaps is the layering technique. They say if you just have a pile of leaves that they will break down and create decent compost. But you want kitchen scraps in there too. So every time you add kitchen scraps or any other greens, you’re going to want to put a good layer of browns on top. That’s really all there is to layering.

Turning your compost

I don’t do this very often but I do make sure and aerate the compost pile by driving a stick right through almost every time I put some kitchen waste in.

How to build a Compost ScreenProcessing compost

I find I can usually do my compost bin, one of the Earth Machines from the City of Calgary, once in the spring, and once in the fall. Just open the bottom up and dig out all of the lovely black gold and use a compost screen to filter out some of the stuff that isn’t quite finished decomposing. If you are just going on top of your garden with the compost, you probably don’t even need to screen it. Remember that you can also put screened compost directly on your lawn for a boost. You can also make compost tea to water and spray your plants with. I’ll get into this on a later post.

And really, that’s about it. Once you get into the hang of composting it really isn’t that much effort. And you are doing the right thing by decreasing landfill and increasing your garden’s vitality.

One Comment

  • Bushywebb on Oct 27, 2012

    An obvious thing to say, is not to place the compost bin on concrete (!), it needs to stand on soil to allow bacteria, worms and insects up from the ground where they’ll really speed up the process of decomposition.

    The prospect of ants in my compost bin really worried me being generally something you wage war against, but as they were nowhere near our house I left them alone. I’m glad I did. They only really seem active in the summer but by tunnelling through the compost to build their colony they both chew up the matter in the bin and ventilate it. When the ants are there the compost breaks down twice as fast. I must point out that I’m writing this from northern England, where ants are benign creatures who munch leaves. For all I know north American species may eat your house…act accordingly.

    You can, if you make sure it’s wet enough, put shredded paper and cardboard in your compost bin. If you think about it they’re both pulped wood anyway. Of course just chucking this stuff in your compost will give you, well a soggy pile of paper. But as long as it’s added in moderation (like “brown stuff”) it’ll work fine. As with larger bits of vegetation, you could lie it down and run it over with a grass cutter, rake it up and put it in the heap.

    I compost anything I can. All garden waste goes in where possible, being careful not to put seed heads from weeds in (such as Dandelions) which just helps them grow more. We are lucky as any stuff I can’t manage myself is collected every two weeks by our local council. They then compost it and use it on their parks and gardens. While doing this they collect the heat given off in decomposition and use it to warm their large glass houses in which they grow tomatoes. They then sell to these to supermarkets = more money for the council to spend on local services.
    Like you say, once you get going it’s easy and ants will be your friends.