Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More Compost Therbligs: I love a good, homegrown...


Now that I am having fun with compost again, I was looking for an easier way to turn the pile to aerate it and speed up the process. I have been using just a standard spading fork, but the ergonomics of leaning over the compost wall and lifting a heavy forkful of black gold leaves much to be desired.

Many years ago, I used one of those pokey sticks with the little flip down thingys, but it didn't work all that well. It was hard to push through leaves that hadn't broken down yet, and if I did manage to do so, it didn't "lift and fluff" very well when I pulled it back up. I worked at it for awhile, though, trying my best to be a good sport about its lackluster effectiveness. Eventually one of the little flip down thingys broke off, which was enough finally to discourage me, and I threw it away.

Nevertheless, now that I am back in the composting biz, I thought I'd look for another and was shocked to discover that they cost around $30, plus shipping. This seemed rather exorbitant to me, especially now that I am trying to travel the Righteous Path of the Frugal, so I started to consider how to fashion one together myself. Plus, I like to make things.

One day this past week, while doing some garden cleanup, I was simultaneously trying to work out in my head how to best make the little flip down thingy part when I happen to notice two auger-type ground anchors lying next to the fence. I had used them to hold down a portable bird blind I built two or three years ago. I've since taken down the blind (and plan to recycle it as a potting bench cum bird blind I'm going to build this winter), and had pulled the anchors out of the ground and tossed them aside.

Something made me stop and give those augers the eyeball. And I started thinking...

I took one of them, stuck a weeding fork through the top, walked over to the compost heap and gave it a few easy twists. Holy cow. The thing dove like a loon down to the bottom of the pile. When I pulled it back up, the disc on the end of the auger brought a big, fat, fluffy wad of compost with it, thus aerating the bejeebers out of the pile.

Easy. As. Pie. No frustrated grunting as I tried to shove it past the leaves. No back strain from dicey ergonomics. Lots of fresh air to get those microbes busy working.

So I made a little prototype and used it for a day or two, and found I loved how user-friendly and effective it was to use--much more so than the pokey stick ever was. Here is a pic of the prototype, next to its sister anchor:

And here is the finished product:

I gave the handle a couple of coats of my canoe paddle recipe (1:1:1 boiled linseed oil, turpentine, and spar varnish) to protect it. I had the dowels and brackets left over from another project, so total cost to me for my Extraordinarily Effective Auger Compost Tool was $0, thus keeping me on the Righteous Path.

I'm not crazy about the orange color, but I guess that's quibbling.

You can get these anchors at any hardware store. I don't remember how much I paid for mine, but a cursory search online turned up one for $6.99. The 1" hardwood dowel probably cost me a couple of dollars or so. The bracket on top of the dowel probably costs less than a buck. Those are two smaller dowels in the side to keep the larger dowel from slipping out (the bracket could probably do that, too, but I worried about the screws eventually working their way out as a result of all the torquing).

All you need, really, is the auger and a sawed-off broom handle for twisting. Attaching the dowel permanently is convenient but not necessary .

So for less than $10 or so, you too could have an Extraordinarily Effective Auger Compost Tool.

And no flip down thingy to break off one day...


  1. That is very cool. Except that I've never seen one of the auger thingys around here (Bozeman, Montana.) I'll have to look for them.

    I have one of the aeraters with the flip-items you describe, and it's certainly an improvement over nothing, but only one of the flippy-things works most of the time, so it's something less than satisfactory.

  2. Well please do let me know if you find one. I'm sold on the superiority of the auger over the flip down thingy.

    I think they are pretty easy to find online if you don't find one in Bozeman.

    I've never been to Bozeman, BTW. Missoula, yes. Very pretty.

    I do happen to be reading, coincidentally, a book by somoen who grew up in Bozeman, Sarah Vowel...


  3. Great idea,and a lot cheaper and more sturdy! I am thinking of trying a paint stirer,myself scince my husband is a painter and has a rusty one lying around. It might work.

  4. Just curious to know if this tool is long enough to get down into the deeper compost?


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