Sunday, November 15, 2009

The "Show Yer Compost Bin" Challenge

One of the things I like about the blogosphere are the occasional calls for a community-wide response to a posting challenge. Dee at Red Dirt Ramblings and Carol at May Dreams Gardens are among the best at this, and together they've come up with another one: Show us your compost bins.

Now, while I always enjoy reading all the terrific postings in response to the calls, I've seldom participated, not because I'm anti-social (though a case could probably be made for that), but because I don't often have anything all that interesting to offer.  For example, the most famous of these challenges, Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, which was Carol's brilliant idea and occurs on the 15th of each month, always mysteriously falls right before or right after anything is actually blooming in my tiny, nearly flowerless garden. I swear, it's the truth. I mean, it's not that I don't like flowers; they just aren't the main emphasis in my xeric garden. Interesting foliage, yes. Rock, yes. Landscape design, yes. Veggies, yes.

Any flowers that actually appear are almost a side effect. Shocking, I know. Please don't hate me.

But with compost bins, we're talking garden structure, my friends, and if there's anything I can talk about ad infinitum, it's building stuff. Plus, this concerns issues of sustainability and self-sufficiency, both of which are also subjects near and dear to me. So Dee and Carol, here we go:

The two bins, awaiting instruction from the gardener.

A little shot showing part of the construction.

My homemade compost aerator. This is simply a ground auger, available at most hardware stores for a minimal amount of money. I've stuck a wooden handle to it to make it easy to turn, but all you really need is a stick to slip through the loop on top and you're in business. Here is an older post about it. All that said, you don't have to aerate compost bins in order to get compost. If you throw a bunch of leaves, grass clippings, kitchen waste, dryer lint--heck, just about anything that is organic--in a tall mound, compost will eventually happen, given enough time. The only thing you shouldn't throw in there is meat, cheese (or other dairy products), and pet waste. Aerating may speed up the process (as will keeping the matter a little damp and adding a bit of garden soil to introduce the decomposer microbes to the mix), but it's really just something gardeners do because they like poking sticks into big steaming piles of rot.

A shot of how the front of the bins work. Each of those boards has a largish hole drilled on either end. These holes slip over lag bolts screwed into the posts. The head of the lag bolt sits proud about one inch, and the holes fall behind the head, which holds the boards in place. Click on the photo for a close-up view. The design is loosely based on plans I read in some book somewhere, many, many years ago. Sorry, can't remember where--just want to acknowledge that someone else thought up the clever lag bolt thing first.

The wood is cedar (oh, and as an aside, this is definitely one place I wouldn't use pressure treated materials). I've had these going on a decade now, and given the excellent condition they're in, I'd say they're probably good for another score of years before they disintegrate completely. So I'd vote for cedar in the next election, too. And yes, I plan still to be gardening and building stuff then.

In the vignette above, I am preparing to dump two bags of horse manure into the pile. Again, manure is not necessary for composting, but it's kind of nifty to see what happens when you do add it, which is shown in the next photo:

Yes, that is steam, rising from the decomposing pile. Really, really cool. Or, um, hot.
Excuse me for just a minute, I need to go find a stick to poke in that.

This is the compost sieve I use--an old metal garden gate with some hardware wire stretched across it. As it happens, it fits perfectly over my wheelbarrow.

And the finished product.

It's as easy as pie--you don't even need fancy bins like mine, since a big ole' pile of leaves in a corner of the garden, left for a few months, will take care of the action all by itself. If you want to mix in kitchen scraps, then you might want more of a container. Even better would be to build a worm-bin, which is on my own next-to-do project list.

Truthfully, I just like building things. And poking sticks in things.

Anyway, if you aren't already composting, there's no good reason not to start. So get on out there, rake some leaves, toss in some kitchen scraps, season with a dash of local soil, and cook up some rot.


  1. Your compost is beautiful, just beautiful, and rich, and organic, and all good things. And your bins are quite inspirational! I need to go get a stick to poke in mine occasionally. I'm kind of lazy about that part.

    Thanks for joining in and showing us your compost bins.

  2. Like Carol I am lazy in the poking department - and truth be told - in the sieving of the finished compost. Admittedly I end up picking bits of twigs off the garden surface when planting seeds but I consider this as energy saving!

  3. Very, very nice. The repurposed garden gate screen is a great idea.

    One of my aesthetically displeasing but functional bins is here. Since I wrote about it we've added on another and I've been happy with them.

    Looking forward to seeing how other folks do their bins.

  4. I love your bins. They look great and so did the compost!

  5. Is it ok if I just throw chopped up sticks and pulled up sod and extra dirt under my deck? How long will that take? I do know the mice like it.

  6. Beautiful compost room. I really like the screen. My wife, our compost maintinance supervisor, would be jealous.

  7. Carol-Thank you, ma'am!

    e--I am all about energy saving. Very smart.

    Casey--Yes, I had that lying around from an earlier fence, cuz I just couldn't bring myself to throw it away. Worked out well to be a saver in that instance.


    Benjamin--I predict that if you move all that over to the compost bins, the mice will follow...

    David--What I really need is a greenhouse like yours!

  8. Once again, Garden Structure Envy strikes. But NEXT summer hopefully the landlord's plumbing project (which has had the back yard in shambles for two summers already) will be complete and I'll get to do all the fine things I wish to do back there. I shall tack images of your bins to the "wishing wall."

  9. That is one neat and tidy compost corner! Mine needs major overhaul next year. And your compost sifter is a great way to reuse an old gate!

  10. This just cracked me up. I love the part about how we like to stick sticks into steaming piles of rot. I am truly LOL! I guess we do. After all, I stuck my hand into mine to show it off. Thanks for joining in Susan. Those are some pretty bins just like your pretty rain barrels.~~Dee

  11. Sherrie--Just what _is_ that landlord of yours up to, plumbing-wise, that could be taking so long?

    Heather--That gate does make an attractive sifter, no?

    Dee--Yeah, I've done the "stick your hand in it thing," too. Kind of cool. Hot.

  12. I am lazy about composting lately, except with the worm bin. I'm sure you will build one that far exceeds mine in elegance. Oh, how I wish I could take you up on your (joking) offer of a new gate! If you lived closer, I would probably be hitting you up for building-stuff lessons!

  13. Composting is my favorite part of the garden. Wonderful post.


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