If you have followed my blogs, you know how much I value compost (or "dark-brown gold"). Compost is essential to organic gardening because it feeds the soil, which in turn feeds the plants (where-as commercial fertilizers force-feed the plants so they don't reach for the trace elements). I'll discuss how and what to collect and compare initial cost and some advantages of three methods of composting. If you wish to purchase finished compost, it is available in bags or in bulk at Agway for $36 per scoop (avg pickup bed) or $21 for a half scoop.
I keep a stainless container (with lid) next to the sink. (see below). I double-line it with produce bags and fill it with fruit and vegetable scraps. I avoid corn cobs, pits (avocado, peach, etc) and grains as none of these break down well. When the bag is full, I tie it and deposit it in a five gallon pail (with lid) outside my back door, awaiting a trip to the compost pile.
Food scrap container
I use the cheapest, but not the quickest (may take a year or more) composting method. It also requires the most space but is a way to make enough for my sizable garden. I made two different sized bins by fastening wooden pallets together (to form a bottom and sides). The pallet slat spaces allow ventilation to promote decomposition and the bottom skids also keep the tree roots from invading the piles (I learned the hard way). The larger bin is used to collect leaves in the fall from a dozen deciduous trees in my yard plus donations from neighbors. In the smaller bin, I covered the bottom with a two inch layer of leaves. Whenever I have kitchen scraps or grass clippings (from my half acre yard or from neighbors who don't use weed killer), I toss in a layer and cover them with leaves. With a fifty-fifty mix, heat will be generated but no objectionable odor. As it decomposes, the pile will settle. I continue this process for a year or so until the bin is full and finished compost shows near the bottom edges. At that point, I build a new bin and transfer (invert) the pile until I get to the "gold". I repeat the process with the new pile. I could speed up the process by dividing the composting bin in half and turning the piles more often. All of this is fenced in and is shielded from the neighbors by their sheds as shown below.
My composting operation
Composting bins (which look like an inverted garbage can with a lid on top and a door at the bottom to access the finished compost) can be purchased for $65 at Agway. A friend has two bins in different stages of composting. He stirs the top of each pile periodically with a pitchfork. You can see in the following picture that he includes egg shells (which don't break down well - I feed my hard-boiled shells to the birds).
Rotating bins are a bit more expensive (ex. $120 - $130 at Agway) but can produce finished compost quicker. My back-fence neighbor has a bin that has three rounded sides that tumbles the compost better than round bins, but is harder to turn. The manufacturer claims that if turned daily, can do it in thirty days. However, he does it less and sometimes adds more stuff before it is done so it takes longer.
Chose the method that best suits your needs. If you have any gardening questions or comments, I would love to hear from you. You can either post a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy composting - Mr. C.