Myth #2: You Need a Fancy-Pants Compost Bin
Some people think they need a pre-fabbed bin to start making compost. There are even loads of composters that are significantly cheaper than the tumble-type bins. I still say do NOT put off making the best soil amendment EVER by waiting on a specially made structure.
Great home-made compost is the most important thing you can do for your plants. It should be an absolute priority for you. Compost can completely eliminate the need to buy expensive fertilizers and amendments for your garden. After several years of adding two or three inches of compost per year to planting beds, their health will improve dramatically. You'll see a reduction in both pests and diseases, because healthy soils grow healthy plants. Healthy plants are much less susceptible to both pests and diseases.
You can start a simple compost pile tomorrow in a corner of your yard with no tools whatsover and no container. Just start alternating shallow layers of brown and green waste. That's carbon (brown) and nitrogen (green). If you want to make a simple structure, then do what we do here at Love Apple Farm. Our piles are merely wire fencing material formed into a circle. Here's a schematic of this type of ultra-simple compost bin:
We use concrete reinforcing wire for our piles, but I would prefer to make them with the 2 x 4 wire fencing, like the diagram. The reason we don't is that we have an overstock of the concrete wire, and we try to use what we have.
Our circle bins are about five feet in diameter. We start with circles of wire about two and half feet high, and then as the pile builds, we'll add another level of wire to get the pile higher. We'll stop after three levels, or about 6 feet. We don't build the piles all in one day, but rather over a period of a month or two, then stop when the pile is high enough. At that point, we'll insert our biodynamic preps, cover it, and let the decomposition process happen. Let's go through it step by step:
After you've got your circle in place, the first layer in contact with the ground ideally should be some twiggy material, like corn stalks, dahlia stalks, or small branches. This layer aids in air circulation, and helps airflow to the interior of the pile, which aids in the break down of the plant materials.
After this first layer, all you need to do is alternate your green and brown layers. Kitchen waste, fresh manures, weeds, and green plant trimmings are all high in nitrogen and considered "green." Most things that are dry, such as fallen leaves, straw, paper towels, and coffee grounds, are considered carbon, or "brown." We make each layer quite thin, about two or three inches. This layering is essential to cause the heat generation required for decomposition. Here are our major layers, clockwise from the top left: fallen leaves, Manresa kitchen trimmings, end-of-season tomato vines, and handfuls of wood ash from our fireplace:
After every few layers, we water the pile for a good 5 minutes, then leave it be until we have more fodder for the layering. You can take a few months continuing to build your pile, but at some point, just cover it up and leave it alone. After that, start another one next to it while you're waiting for the first one to finish composting.
Next post in this series: Myth #3: You Need to Turn Your Compost Piles