Tag: compost

Compost Corral

It’s hard to believe, but the average American family produces over twelve hundred pounds of organic waste in a single year, and most of it ends up in landfills. That’s a real shame when you consider it could be going to work in your garden. It just makes more sense to reuse this valuable material rather than going to garden centers and nurseries to buy it in bags.

Composting is simple, but you need a place for it to happen. That’s why I designed a simple compost bin, which I call my compost corral. All it takes are 4 concrete blocks, 16 landscape timbers and 4 metal rods.

Material List for Compost Corral

  • (16) 8 Foot Landscape Timbers
  • (4) Concrete Blocks
  • (4) Concrete Reinforcement Bars, 5/8" dia. and 2 Feet Long

Drilling Holes in the Landscape TimberStacking the Landscape TimbersAll the Landscape Timbers in Place

Begin by placing the 4 concrete blocks about 8 feet apart. That’s the same length as the timbers. The blocks elevate the corral so you can shovel the compost from the bottom.

Next drill a hole just halfway through 2 of the landscape timbers at each end. These will be the bottom rungs of the corral and will serve as a base for holding the concrete reinforcing rod. For the rest of the timbers, drill the hole all the way through. And make sure the hole is slightly larger than the diameter of the rod.

Set the 2 "base" timbers on the concrete blocks with the holes facing up, then stack 2 more timbers on top of these to create a square. It is a similar process as when you built things out of Lincoln Logs.

Adding Compost to the Compost CorralNow align the holes in the top 2 timbers with the half holes in the bottom two timbers and insert your concrete reinforcing rods.

To complete the corral just stack the remaining timbers one on top of another over each rod. Stacking the timbers like this will create air spaces. And that’s important for decomposition.

When it comes to composting I’ve learned a few tips that help make the process a bit more efficient.

First, I always look at composting materials in two divisions – green and brown. Alternating thin layers of green and brown is the best approach. By layering these two at about a 50:50 ratio you can yield some impressive results.

Green materials consist of anything green or high in nitrogen. Brown materials on the other hand are a source of carbon. And leaves are ideal. I also like to break up old bales of straw.

Avoid adding sticks, diseased plant material, cooked food and weeds.

Now when you add leaves to your compost bin don’t let them mat down in thick layers. This will exclude much needed oxygen from the process. Water is also a key ingredient. Keeping the materials moist is like putting fuel on the fire. Lightly water and turn your compost about once a week.

Composting

One of the reasons I’m attracted to gardening is that it allows me to use and reuse materials. This has a lot of appeal for a pack rat like me. It gives me a good excuse to hang on to things because I often find another use for them later. Nothing goes to waste in the garden.

A prime example of this is my compost bin. I can take material that I might otherwise throw out such as leaves and grass clippings and turn them into big dividends next year in the way of healthy soil for my vegetables and flowers.

Many people I talk with are intimidated by the whole process, but there is really nothing to composting. It is all about getting the mix right.

The recipe is simple. The only ingredients you need are organic materials such as autumn leaves, grass clippings, and raw vegetable scraps from the kitchen. Items to avoid are woody stems, weeds, diseased plants, cooked food and meat products. These items either take too long to break down or have the potential to spread pests and disease. The final two ingredients needed for compost are water and oxygen.

CompostI find it works best if you layer green, nitrogen rich clippings with brown, carbon rich material such as the autumn leaves at a ratio of about 1 part green to 1 part brown. The nitrogen will help speed up the decomposition of the dead leaves.

You can further accelerate the process by adding a source of nitrogen in the form of granular fertilizer high in nitrogen or well-rotted cow manure. At one time manure could be obtained from a local farmer, but with the risk of ecoli and diminishing access to farms, I recommend using bagged commercial cow manure.

Combining all these elements generates heat, which is the final ingredient needed to create compost. When your compost heats up, you know it’s working.

It’s no surprise that weather plays a factor in how quickly your compost heats up. The process works best when outdoor temperatures are fifty degrees F or higher.

Of course, if you are starting your compost pile in fall when leaves are most abundant you won’t have this advantage. To keep your compost going strong through the cold months, there are a few things I recommend. Make sure your pile is at least three feet high, that it stays moist (not sopping wet) in dry weather and that you turn it about every two weeks. Covering it with plastic will also help to hold the heat in when it is cold.

By taking advantage of all of the garden trimmings and leaves available in the fall, you can have plenty of rich compost in about 6 months. Just in time for summer planting!

Good to Know: Fall Leaves

Wouldn’t it be nice if fallen leaves insulated grass from cold winter temperatures? Unfortunately leaves left on the lawn are not helpful and can actually be harmful. It is important to remove dead leaves because over time they will form a dense mat that smothers your grass. So get out the rake, add the leaves to your compost pile and keep reminding yourself all the great rich soil that will come from your efforts.

Compost Accelerators

There are a lot of ways you can save money in the garden. You can buy small plants, start from seeds or make your own pest spray, but my favorite money-saver is compost. I love composting because it takes materials that might otherwise end up in the trash and turns them into something useful.

Composting is similar to baking in that the right mix of ingredients is needed to produce the desired results. A compost pile needs brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) materials, water, air and microorganisms to turn leaves, yard waste and kitchen scraps into usable organic matter.

The relationship between the brown and green materials is key to a successful compost pile. The nitrogen producing green materials (kitchen scraps, grass clippings) work with microorganisms to break down the carbon producing browns (dead leaves, straw etc). Compost in a Wheelbarrow Ideally you want one layer of green for every three layers of brown. If the ratio of green to brown is off, decomposition slows to a crawl and there’s not enough nitrogen to support the microorganisms necessary to complete the composting process. Basically you end up with undercooked compost that, when added to the soil, can make plants spindly and pale.

So what do you do when you have a yard full of dead leaves you want to compost? If you are short on green materials, get yourself some compost starter. A nitrogen based starter will help activate decomposition. Blood meal, alfalfa pellets and chicken manure are good options. Don’t overdo it; a sprinkling of starter every now and again is all you need. Too much nitrogen and your microbes will start producing ammonia.

You can also apply a compost inoculant to speed up the process. These accelerants add beneficial bacteria, microbes and fungi, the microorganisms that do all the work in a compost pile. You can find them at garden centers and home improvement stores. As with the activators, a little goes a long way. Sprinkle some of the product over your leaves and add water to bring the microbes to life.

Good to Know: Jobe’s Compost Starter

Jobes Compost Starter
One year I used undercooked compost in all my raised beds with disastrous results. Seeds sprouted, but never took off. It was pitiful. Since then I’ve discovered Jobe’s Compost Starter. It’s an inoculant that we use to add the beneficial microorganism archaea to our compost. Archaea isn’t just fast at breaking down organic matter, it’s downright aggressive. Whenever my compost appears to be lagging, I add a little Jobe’s Compost Starter to increase the microbial activity in the pile. I’m done worrying about using undercooked compost in my beds.