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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Waste Not Want Not

One of the great things about having a backyard farm is that it allows you to waste much less than you would otherwise. In our house, our food scraps, vegetable cuttings, and uneaten leftovers are all used. We feed the vegetables to our Rabbit who then makes that food into good garden fertilizer. We give most of the other food, (including vegetables that the rabbit doesn't eat) to our chickens. Did you know that chickens will almost eat anything? Well they do, and all of that food energy goes into making eggs or more fertilizer. Everything that our chickens don't eat goes into our compost bin with the chicken waste and rabbit poop so we can add rich organic material to our garden. We also shred our newspapers and junk mail and add them to our compost bin instead of recycling all of our paper.

Here is how we made a simple compost bin for less than $20. We bought a sturdy plastic garbage can at our local store.

For the organic material to break down it needs oxygen. We drilled holes in the can at regular intervals.

You will want to add what are called green and brown materials to your bin to get a good ratio of carbon rich and nitrogen rich matter in the compost. Brown materials are high in carbon and they include ash or wood material, shredded cardboard boxes and newspaper, leaves, pine needles, and fruit waste. Green materials are high in nitrogen and include grass clippings, coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, manure, most food waste, seaweed, hay, and other green leaves from plants. It is suggested that you layer these materials. The smaller the material is the better as well. On a daily basis we have more green waste than brown so we throw everything in the compost bin and then add our browns periodically by shredding paper and scooping up some hay from the chicken coop.

Once you have a good mix of greens and browns you want to mix them together. In this picture we are rolling the compost bin to mix the compost. We have found that adding a bungee cord from handle to handle over the lid helps to keep the lid on as we roll it. You also want to keep your compost relatively moist so you might need to sprinkle it with water periodically.

It normally takes 1 to 2 months for your compost to form. For this reason it might be a good idea to have a few separate bins. If you don't want to make a bin like this or you are on a larger property, you can just pile your compost in an area of your property that is preferably far away from your home as it tends to stink. You can also just form a fenced in compost area with fencing, bricks, or cinderblocks if you want to keep it more contained.

I find a lot of satisfaction in taking what most consider garbage and making it into something that helps my garden grow.

21 comments:

Jennifer said...

We did a similar bin -- I love your bungee cord idea to secure the lid when you roll it around.

I kept a bag of soil or compost near our bin so I could cover scraps with "dirt" everytime they were added to the bin. This helped with flies.

Ventilation always seems to be a challenge, so I think I might look for the biggest plastic laundry hamper I can find to make another compost bin. Anyone know where to find some big hampers?

Dale said...

Great article! Sounds like a very simple method for composting.

mike said...

Jennifer, I like the idea of having soil or compost next to the bin to cover scraps. Smell can be an issue with compost bins and I can see how this might reduce the smell.

Kate and Crew said...

What consists of a layer? I know you said you need brown and green layers. If I bung some veggie scraps in there, do I immediately put leaves in there? or do you just try to make sure you have equal parts of "green" and "brown?"

THANKS!

mike said...

Jennifer- I like the idea of adding soil or compost to reduce the smell. If you are having a lot of issues with smell it might mean that you don't have enough oxygen getting to your pile.

Kate- Good question. A lot of the literature I have read says to layer your compost, however, I have also read that layering isn't as important as the ratio. You can change the ratio depending on what your soil needs but a one to one ratio is usually good. We don't layer in our bin because we have more green waste so we add that throughout the week and then periodically I will add brown materials to bring the ratio closer to one to one.

ChristyACB said...

You know, that fancy bin I have didn't do a thing to make compost, only a future archaeological dig of perfectly preserved food. LOL.

I think I'll make a couple of these this year instead of buying the fancy rotating one.

Do you get run-off from this one that can be used as compost tea?

mike said...

ChristyACB, We keep our compost as wet as a sponge that has been squeezed out and I roll the bin once a week so there isn't a lot of compost tea. Has anyone tried spraying compost tea on there garden?

winnie said...

Thanks for the post. I have been thinking about composting for years, but after reading this post, I finally went out and bought the bin, drilled it with holes and am filling it up. Wish me luck!

marisa said...

Winnie, you will do great! It is very easy to do. Good luck!

mike said...

Way to go Winnie. Let us know how it works.

Thomas said...

I recently started reading about compost and paper shredding. I wrote an blog entry the other day about it. I have a question though. What kind of paper shredder do you use? Crosscut or strip cut? Do you find one works better than the other?

Thanks.

Julie said...

I'm excited about this post! Just this week at my Goodwill I scored one of those fancy ceramic crocks with a charcoal filter (for holding composting scraps on the kitchen counter.) My next step is to make one of these bins.

I read on another blog that the holes should be drilled from the inside to the outside to encourage drainage. I suppose since yours isn't very wet it hasn't been a problem?

mike said...

Thomas: I like your blog. We use a crosscut shredder. I haven't used a strip shredder so I can't compare them but I would expect that the crosscut works better since the smaller your material is, the easier it is for it to break down.

Julie: I hadn't heard about drilling from the inside out but it seems to make sense to me that it might drain better. When I make these in the future I will probably drill from the inside out. Thanks for the feed back.

winnie said...

Do you have any suggestions for keeping food in the kitchen? With the kids and rain and the bin being far enough away to require putting shoes on, I just can't make it out there after every single meal, but don't really want to leave rotting food lying around.

Rachel said...

This is great! Thank you - I can't wait to try it! I've just bought a house, and am thinking about starting up a garden for next year...

marisa said...

Rachel, good luck on the new house and garden. This year would be a great year to plan the garden, figure out where the best sun is and decide how big you want your garden spot.

Darren (Green Change) said...

Looks great! I made a similar compost bin from an old plastic food-grade barrel - check it out at my blog:

http://green-change.com/2009/05/05/diy-tumbling-compost-bin/

I've found horse manure (free from local stables!) goes well in there. I also like to add clippings/prunings that have been through the mulcher. Avoid long tangly weeds (like grass runners) or branches, as they don't break down very fast and just tangle everything up.

Anonymous said...

how many columns of holes need to be drilled?

marisa said...

We made the columns about 6-8 inches apart. You just want to make sure you get enough air flow through it. You can always add more later if you need to.

daisy said...

I have a small bucket for compost. (We have HOA issues.)
There's no smell, but tons of fruit flies. Do you think this means I need to add more paper or cardboard to the mix? TIA

Anonymous said...

Trips to the compost can be minimized by using an air-tight container. I use a 48 oz. coffee can with a veggie bag liner. I recently found a deodorizing pad on close-out ( which I velcroed to the lid), but it didn't have a smell before. I'm still learning about this process. Just learned about about tearing up tp and paper towel tubes.