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
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