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How to Make a Compost Bin

May 27th, 2009

compost-bin-how-to-make.jpgComposting your organic household waste is a natural way to create a great fertilizer for your home garden in addition to reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. Composting is a natural recycling process that has been in existence for millions of years. The decay of leaf matter by bacteria, molds, worms, and other organisms creates a layer of nutrient rich soil called humus. It is possible to recreate this process at home using material that would normally be thrown away, provided you follow a few basic principles.

Types of Compost Containers

To make your own compost bin in your garden, you must first choose a method of composting that suits your needs. There are many commercially available compost bins; however you can also create a holding bay with bricks placed directly on the ground to hold the refuse. Even simpler, the compost can be placed beneath sheets of hessian or plastic sheeting, using no container at all. For a compost heap containing everyday refuse such as fruit and vegetable scraps, it is best to keep your compost in a sealed container to deter vermin and other animals.

Getting Started – Air Flow, Layers, and Diversity

Regardless of the type of compost you are setting up, the first step in building your own compost bin is to place down a layer of twigs, sticks, or other coarse material to encourage air flow through the heap. Air flow is important to encourage the growth of bacteria that will do the actual breakdown of materials. On top of this rough layer, add a thin layer of soil or potting mix and some water to help give the new compost a boost to get going. Many people think composting is entirely kitchen waste such as fruit and vegetable peelings; however this would result in a damp and smelly mess. Composts need a diversity of layered and mixed materials in order to keep a balance of nitrogen and carbon.

The recommended ratio of carbon to nitrogen in a compost heap is 30:1. This means that for every container of kitchen scraps that goes into your compost bin, around 10 equivalent containers of grass clippings or dry material should be added. This dry material can include newspaper, shredded paper, straw or sawdust. Other waste that can be added includes fruit and vegetable scraps, garden clippings, even hair and vacuum dust. Things that shouldn’t go into compost include meat products, chemicals, animal droppings, and only small amounts of fats and dairy products. Once the layers have been added to the heap, further air can be created by turning the compost about once a week with a large gardening fork, and adding scrunched paper to create air pockets. Remember to add plenty of shredded paper, torn up cardboard and newspaper, or dry garden clippings each time you add a layer of kitchen waste.

Keeping Moisture Levels Right

After you have figured out the basics of how to make a compost bin, you will need to know that an effective compost pile is neither too dry nor too wet. Lime, dolomite, ash, and charcoal all help to reduce the acidity and moisture of the compost. Lime is also good for discouraging ants and cockroaches. If the heap seems too dry, simply add a little water. After adding your scraps and recycled paper, the compost needs time and heat to do its job. So position the bin in a sunny location in the yard.

If you are not using a commercial compost bin, make sure the shape of your makeshift compost heap allows the core of the heap to build up sufficient heat — up to 60 degrees Celsius is ideal. Cooler temperature compost that isn’t regularly turned will decompose more slowly, so if you want to throw your scraps in and leave it, don’t expect results for several months. It’s a good idea to let your compost settle for the first two weeks, then turn it weekly and it should be ready in 2 to 3 months time. The finished product at the bottom of the heap will be dark colored, crumbly compost with no visible decaying matter remaining.

Once your first batch of compost is ready, use it as a starter for seedlings when planting in your garden or as a fertilizer for existing plants. Composting is a great way to cut back on the amount of waste your household produces and given the right attention, it will benefit your garden as well as the environment.

Lisa Saremel is a freelance writer for Constant Content. Currently she has six articles available with a total of four sales.

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