today is National Learn About Composting Day

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Wed, May 29, 2013 - 11:29am

One of the easiest things to do to make yourself more resillient is to make your own compost.

Kitchen scraps and lawn clippings, leaves and wood chips, manure and can be as simple as a pile in a corner of the yard, or as elaborate as a compost tumbler, but the basic principle is the same: once nutrients enter your property, it's better to capture them than to send them off in your waste stream.

A typical day can include composting everything from coffee grounds (aphids hate them!) to vegetable peelings, to weeds you pull from your garden. Mix in horse, cow or chicken manure (let sit chicken manure sit it out for a year - it's strong) with a shovel or pitchfork, and just let it decompose. Turn it occasionally. Simple!

We have raised beds. Whenever we pull weeds or harvest, it uses up a little soil out of the box. Having compost ready to mix back in before replanting not only saves you buying bagged compost, but saves you time. And bagged, store-bought compost does not have those lovely earthworms.

Earthworms ... work as biological "pistons" forcing air through the tunnels as they move. Thus earthworm activity aerates and mixes the soil, and is constructive to mineralization of nutrients and its uptake by vegetation. Certain species of earthworm come to the surface and graze on the higher concentrations of organic matter present there, mixing it with the mineral soil. Because a high level of organic matter mixing is associated with soil fertility, an abundance of earthworms is generally considered beneficial by the organic gardenersource:

So what do you have? A simple compost pile, a set of wire mesh compost bins, a compost tumbler, or something else?


maceves's picture
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I have a compost tumbler, but it never seems to get very hot even though it is black and sits in the sun--apparently I don't have enough material added to heat it up and no animal droppings here to speed up the process.  At some point I found a compost  turning fork which is very helpful for getting the material to move around.  It was way too heavy to tumble as it was built to do.  Compared to my vermicompost,  I thought that compost looked a little rough, so when that stuff was almost  done, I shoveled  it to a big pot and added a handful of worms to finish it off.  That worked through the winer---I'll soon see if it gets too hot here to do that in the summer.  The worms were big and fat when I dumped it all out this spring and the compost was beautiful.

When I dumped out last season's tomato pots I found worms in all of them too---surprise!

I do have four worm systems going right now.  They have to be fed of course, but not every day.  I have the Can of  Worms, a Worm Factory 360, a homemade system and the compost finishing.,  I also have some finished vermicopost that I am letting cacoons hatch out in, no hurry.

When you have porcessed it yourself on your own property, you know what is in it.  No toxins, nothing to interfere with the micorbial activity in the soil, except what the worms have done which is all beneficial to us and our food plants.


Doug's picture
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Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3240
sheet composting

After using virtually every other method, all of which require considerable labor, I have settled on sheet composting as the least labor intensive and most productive method.  Just let your garden waste compost in place, layered with Brown leaves, manure, food waste and green manure.  Oh yeah, the best and most useful material I've found is cardboard.  It blocks weed and grass growth while breaking down into soil building biomass.  It works particularly well as mulch for young trees with othe other compostable material piled on top.


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Amanda Witman
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We currently participate in curbside composting

Our town just implemented town-wide weekly compost pickup to supplement recycling and trash.  The tipping fee for compost is about 50% the cost of that for trash.  The thought is that eventually trash pickup will be reduced to 2x/week.  There was a town-wide pilot program last fall, with 300 households participating, and now it's available to everyone.  One benefit is that large-scale composting makes it easier for things like large meat bones, fats, and non-recyclable household paper to break down.

My town lot is very small, and I do intend to put a compost bin in the yard eventually, but I am thrilled by this new option of townwide pickup.

I compost anything biodegradable that is non-recyclable, with the exception of human waste (though I have several friends who do humanure composting successfully.)

One question I have is about invasive weeds.  I wouldn't put them in my home compost, but wonder if the presumably higher temps of large-scale town composting would take care of them.  Or are they best burned, or put in the regular trash?  We specifically have bittersweet, goutweed, witch grass, and violets here.  Anyone want to help me figure that one out?

Grover's picture
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Compost by trial and error

Compost is black gold. We've got chickens, ducks, and 2 horses that keep compost piles going. I just throw everything into one pile and keep adding shit (literally) along with bedding when it starts smelling like it should be changed. I have a 4' diameter children's wading pool in the chicken/duck run. It gives a place for the ducks to float. In a couple of weeks, it is full of nutrients (euphemistically speaking.) Every week or two, I clean it out and moisten the compost pile with it. The chickens/ducks reward me with eggs when I care for them.

We've got some pretty noxious weeds. I let them dry in the sun for a few days. Then, they get tossed on the compost pile. I don't think my pile gets hot enough to kill weeds. It does get warm enough to sprout the weed seeds. Those sprouts fail when they can't make it to the surface. They then become part of the compost. That is the key to weed control in my compost - warm enough for seeds to sprout; deep enough to not be viable.

I just distributed all the material from the pile started 2 years ago. Most of it went to my garden (and the neighbors' gardens.) Some was used under fruit trees, some to fill in mower tracks, and some for the greenhouse. I spread the remaining amount under fruit trees this year.

Compost happens ... if you let it. If something works, keep it up! If not, try something else.


Oliveoilguy's picture
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Posts: 578
Side Dressing with Compost

We have 4 horses and clean the paddocks with a tractor.  We pile up the maure/hay mixture and let it go for about 1 year, turning it once or twice. That becomes our "finished" compost after it cooks. Then we start another pile of raw stuff. 

This year I planted 3 100' rows of irish potatoes. I cut a furrow in the garden, planted the eyes about 16" apart in the row and covered. Ran some drip tube down the rows with emitters on 8" centers. After the plants were up (about 1 month) I took a 5 gallon buckets full of compost and spread it along the rows. Each bucket went about 8' to 10' so there was a lot of work involved.

The reason we side dress is to keep the compost right at the plants and not fertilize the weeds.  We are already harvesting the spuds for new potatoes but they have another 2 weeks before we dig the main crop for staoage.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1988
black gold

Our compost is in a simple pile on the side of the house. When I pull weeds, or have a load of kitchen (non-meat) organic scraps, they go on top. When we need compost we pull some from the bottom of the pile, and turn it. Every so often we mix in some horse manue from a nearby farm.

Compost. It's just another way to use the waste stream as a revenue stream, as we turn trash into treasure by turning garbage into what farmer George Washington called "black gold."

Thrivalista's picture
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Joined: Apr 5 2011
Posts: 60
Compost - 3 bin system

We're on a small (.15 acre) lot in a village setting, so don't have room to store leaves and other carbon materials for keeping odors down while sheet composting. (Otherwise we would sooo go with the easy approach!) We use a 3-bin system: 1 for raw materials, a 2nd for cooking, a 3rd for storing finished compost. It's all out back behind the garage, and sheltered from sensitive eyes (!!) as best we can with fencing, lattice, and vines. We also stash a few large garbage cans full of leaves, straw, and other covering carbons.

We compost every biodgradable organic non-animal material we can, except paper and cardboard due to concerns about inks, finishes, glues and binders.  We solarize persistent weeds (primarily morning glory and garlic mustard here) by throwing them inside a cold-frame set on the driveway in the sun. Once they're good & dead, they go in the compost pile.

Sterling Cornaby's picture
Sterling Cornaby
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Posts: 152
I like it

We also live on lot of similar size to yours and I just came up with the three-bin approach myself.  I'm glad to find out it has worked for you!  I didn't think to store dry leaves and straw as well.  We'll have to get a few trash cans for that as well.  Thank you for sharing what composting system works for your small lot.

Woodman's picture
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Posts: 1028
The clay soil was too wet to

The clay soil was too wet to dig at my place, but I don't have to when I plant potatoes.  I just put them on the ground and shovel compost over them.  I rigged up an old trailer so I can haul about 5 yards at a time from the transfer station the road. Its amazing so many folks take the time to collect their grass clippings and leaves, drive them to the station, and then I get the Town operator to load me up for free.  

When the potato plants are about 1 ft high I hill them up with more compost.

Thrivalista's picture
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 5 2011
Posts: 60
What a nice thing to say!

You're welcome, Sterling, and thank you for the kind words!

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