Building a Compost Bin

    • A ventilated bucket serves as a compost bin

      A generation or two ago, many families tossed vegetable food waste, weeds and clippings into a pile to "stew" until they turned into a natural fertilizer to use in the vegetable garden and flower border. Today, composting is popular because it saves landfill space and nourishes the garden. Most of us, though, need to control our compost heap so it doesn't offend the neighbors, draw vermin, or get tracked in the house by little feet. What type of compost bin need depends in part on where you live and in part on how fast you want to "cook" your own organic "stew."

    • Compost bin with removable sliding sides for easy access

      Many municipalities and some homeowners' organizations regulate the type and placement of compost bins. Some outlaw them completely. Check local ordinances or zoning codes before beginning to build. In most places, if you put your bin someplace that it can't be seen or smelled and construct it with solid (or semi-solid) sides, you'll be within the law. Build a platform so air can circulate under the bin as well as around it and put a lid on top and sliding side on one end so you can turn the contents periodically. Use pallets lined with screening or chicken wire or build the bin our of two-by-four inch boards, leaving about a quarter inch gap between planks on the sides. Build frames and line with screening, chicken wire or landscaping cloth to make a lid that can be lifted easily to mix the heap. Adding sliding sides allows frequent turning, a practice that cools the pile a bit and mixes the "fresh" ingredients to achieve uniformly ripened compost. Complete directions for box bins are available from university agricultural extensions.

    • Simple compost built with landscape logs added as the heap grows

      If you don't have to meet special regulations, you have a wider variety of designs from which to choose. The simplest heap is buried in a hole in the ground. Contain the mess by fabricating a chicken wire "corral" or using wood snow fence, available at most local hardware or building supply stores, to surround a box-shaped heap. Both types provide a good air circulation and can be broken down and moved easily.
      "Worm bins" are solid-sided, hinged-top boxes built with preserved natural or engineered wood. The box has a raised bottom in which holes are drilled for drainage, covered by a moist layer of bedding for the worm colony consisting of peat, leaves, shredded newspapers or cardboard. The worm bin can be placed in a cool basement or garage as well as outside to compost plant and vegetable material all year long. In fact, if you can encourage worms to camp out in any compost bin, the time needed to reduce plant material can be reduced to at least half. Place any compost bin out of direct sunlight; internal temperatures often reach temperatures in excess of 100 degrees as plant material oxidizes.

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