The sun is out, the sky is blue. It is beautiful outside, and so is the new compost box we built in my backyard over the weekend. It means I’ll have readily available composted soil to feed my garden.
This is something you can do, too. The good news? It was practically free, except for about $10, a little elbow grease and a short drive.
And honestly, there really is no bad news about building a compost. You are making food for your plants, and renewing the environment by recycling your leftover veggie scraps.
Compost is the result of hundreds of organisms, including bacteria, fungi, insects and worms, feeding on organic matter. It’s basic biology. Those organisms consider your old food scraps and leaves to be a culinary delight. When they partake in your recycled scraps for their dinner, they aid in keeping the soil healthy and filled with nutrients.
Simply put, your trash – food scraps, leaves, etc. – is “magically” transformed into nutrient-rich soil.
Where to begin
First you need an inside compost bucket. I use an old, gallon-sized paint can and some recycled #10 sized tin cans – large, family-size cans you see at grocery stores selling food in bulk, about 112 oz.
The paint can is the best, and I use the tin cans if I am cooking a lot at once and have overflow. You can also use a family-size coffee can with a lid.
Make sure your cans have been cleaned and then punch holes in their lids. This will let the food aerate, but you can still close the lids and not have such a stench.
I place my cans by the garbage or next to where I am chopping/cutting so I can just slide the compost materials right in. Many folks put them under their sink, but I don’t for two reasons.
1. I cook every night. I go through enough compost that I can fill up a can in two days.
2. Out of sight, out of mind. I have forgotten about the compost under the sink more than once. When I did remember, it was definitely not a pleasant olfactory experience.
What to compost
- Dried leaves
- Twigs and branches
- Shredded newspaper
- Grass clippings
- Coffee grounds
- Egg shells
- Tea bags
- Kitchen Scraps
- You definitely do not want any diseased plants composting into your healthy new soil.
- Steer clear of any human or pet waste. ‘Nuff said.
- Stay away from meats, bones and fats. They don’t decompose the same and tend to draw varmints like rats and pesky flies.
- Citrus peels are too acidic and will keep worms from munching your compost.
Inside to outside
Building a simple compost bin begins with scoping out where it goes outside. You’ll want a well-drained plot that is not up against a wooden fence or structure. Don’t compost the side of your house!
We used four pallets – three for the sides and one for a swinging gate. Chicken wire covers the top to keep out animals and falling debris.
We chose not to add a bottom, because we will be turning the compost often enough for it not to sit too long and get too moist.
What you’ll need:
- 4 or 5 recycled pallets
- Two 4″ T hinges
- Simple 3″ hook and eye latch
- 3 square feet of chicken wire
- 12 2″ wood screws
- Staple gun with staples
Step 1: Most pallets are made of slats. Our pallets were were solid. If this is the case, you’ll want to drill 9-12 holes, about the size of a silver dollar, in the wood so the compost can breathe.
Step 2: Connect the pallets with the wood screws so that they are all standing up and joined together in a U-shape.
Step 3: Cut chicken wire to fit the top and staple down.
Step 4: Attach the fourth pallet to one side of the open end with the hinges and add the hook latch to the other side to ensure the door closes.
Step 5: Make a base for the compost with leaves and twigs and then start bringing your inside compost materials outside.
Voila! You are ready to compost! Begin adding your refuse and mix your compost often to ensure it gets enough air. Soon you’ll see decomposition under way.
Turn with a shovel or pitchfork daily to keep the air flowing and to keep it from getting too moist. The moister it is, the longer it takes to decompose.
If it’s your first compost adventure, it should take about 6-8 weeks for your compost to be fully ready to use.
You can begin using your “homemade” dirt on your plants even though some of the twigs and leaves may not be fully decomposed. Cover flowerbeds, use as mulch or blend in with your garden soil. Your plants will definitely thank you.