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Compost Bin

Composting is the ultimate recycling. It's totally natural. Composting is what happens on the forest floor, or under a treeline in a meadow. Leaves, grasses, water, bugs and the elements combine to decompose organic material, and create organic, crumbly black gold - fertile soil.

Compost doesn't help nourish the plants themselves all that much. But it sure does improve the soil structure so that all the things that will "feed" the plants, including water and air, can get to the roots more easily. Compost is the most important kind of soil amendment you can add.

Every kids' garden really should have a compost pile because of the crucial importance of improving garden soil, and the fun and fulfillment that comes from kids helping their garden success this cheap, easy way. Composting cuts down on trash, re-purposes stuff that formerly had to be hauled away, and is "green" in every way.

But you really don't HAVE to build a container for a compost pile. You can just literally pile the stuff in a pile. Grass clippings (with no chemical treatments), fallen leaves, and other garden debris plus vegetable waste from the kitchen, will decompose all by themselves with a little rain and sun, over six weeks to 6 months. The smaller the particles that you put into your compost (leaves that have been run over with a lawn mower or put through a shredder, for example), the faster the black gold will be created. The more you turn it (once a week?) the faster it will turn into useful compost. Then you can shovel it back into your garden soil.

It's faster, and some people think it looks better, though, if you build a structure with air circulation and drainage that will stack the compost pile as high as 4 or 5 feet, about 3 feet wide, keep the compost from blowing away, and look a little nicer. The smallest a compost bin should be is about one cubic meter.

You can create an aerated enclosure using chicken wire, snow fence, wooden pallets, or lumber. Nothing fancy is needed: you can make two L-shaped frames of chicken wire and scrap wood; a simple hook-and-eye can hold corners together, making it easy to collapse the bin when it's time to move the compost out, and shovel it into a wheelbarrow or whatever.

Similarly, a good compost bin can be made with a collection of bottomless wooden frames, preferably untreated wood or redwood or cedar. Maybe you have three squares on top of each other when you first mix the compost. Then, as the weeks pass and water and turning reduce the bulk, you can remove the top, and then the second, frame, so that the compost ready to go is in the bottom frame, ready to be forked into the garden. You can make a simple screen for the top out of an old window screen, or new material from the hardware store.

Some people build two piles, one for active compost and the other as a holding area for new materials. That's an excellent idea, since it can take almost a whole growing season to "cook" the compost. When Bin A is ready, remove and use the compost, and then you can prepare Bin B and start the composting process in it, and start adding new vegetable scraps to the now-empty Bin A.

For the non-builder, a perfectly good compost bin can be made out of a welded wire cylinder. To turn the material, simply lift the cylinder up and put it aside; turn the material, and fork it back into the cylinder.

If you're concerned about animal pests or odors, you can purchase a ready-made, enclosed compost system, but they are fairly costly. And anyway, properly aerated compost piles free of meat scraps and other animal products shouldn't have those problems.

A garden store can sell you a compost turning tool that may look like a "T." When you twist the handle, little blades shoot out at the bottom and "stir" the compost. As you lift the "T," all layers of the compost are disturbed and turned.

If you don't want the expense of that tool, good, old-fashioned garden forks are fine compost-turners.

By Susan Darst • Projects 04 © 2011

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