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Setting Up to Compost

To make compost, you’ll need to dedicate some outdoor space to the process. Ideally, the location of your compost production should be convenient to the garden, as well as close to the source of the raw materials (kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, etc.), without being an unappealing eyesore. Finding a good spot for your compost pile might be a little bit easier if you have a lot of land; but, even suburbanites and city dwellers can effectively maintain a compost pile with a little bit of creativity and effort. And, the benefits – both to the garden and the environment – far exceed the effort!

Open Bins or Containers

There are two basic kinds of compost piles: open bins and enclosed containers.

Open bins can be constructed with wood, chicken wire, or recycled plastic. Of course, municipal large scale composting is often conducted in large open piles without the use of any bins at all. These compost heaps are often turned by bulldozers or other pieces of heavy equipment, so container walls are not practical.

Enclosed containers for composting usually consist of one of two designs: upright box-like containers, and rotating drums.

Advantages of Open Bin Composting

  • Open bins easily collect rain water
  • Open bins are very convenient for adding materials

Disadvantages of Open Bin Composting

  • Open bins can attract rodents, flies, bees, and bears
  • Open bins can become too wet, if not covered
  • Open bins may be more difficult to mix (more on that later)
  • Open bins may be an eyesore to your neighbors

Advantages of Compost Containers

  • Compost containers will rarely attract pests
  • Upright containers may be more aesthetically appealing
  • Rotating drums are usually easier to mix or turn
  • Rotating drums are easy to unload
  • Rotating drums usually have “screening” options

Disadvantages of Compost Containers

  • Enclosed containers usually require you to add water
  • Upright containers may be very difficult to mix or turn

Two Chambers are Always Better than One

Whether you choose to use an open bin or a compost container, two chambers are always better than one. In fact, if you are really serious about composting, having two chambers is a necessity. Because the composting process takes at least several weeks under the best conditions, you cannot add additional materials to the heap without “resetting the clock” to day one. To create an ideal batch of fully composted material, your mix needs to “cook” for at least several weeks; if you add additional material, you’ll have a mix of fully decomposed material, partially decomposed material, and fresh materials. It’s simply much easier, and much more desirable to use a consistent mixture of fully decomposed compost for gardening purposes. After all, you wouldn’t want to buy a bag of potting soil that contained a rotting tomato in it!

Tools You’ll Need

After you’ve built or bought a compost bin or container, there are only a few tools that you’ll need to make compost. If you’re already a gardener, you probably already have the tools that you need.

Pitch fork, or turning fork – The best hand tool for mixing and turning a working compost pile. The tines of the fork will penetrate layers of leaves and grass clippings, and make the mixing process much easier than using a shovel.

Shovel – The best tool for removing finished compost from a bin or heap, and for tossing compost onto the garden.

Garden Cart – the best tool for moving compost from the heap to the garden. Garden carts can also be very useful in “catching” compost from a rotating compost drum.

Compost Thermometer – not essential, but you might be interested in checking the temperature of the “core.” A properly established mix will heat up to 160 degrees F.