Thursday, December 9, 2010

How To Make Dirt

I have been composting for several years now. I did a lot of reading on the net before we built our first compost bin. Everyone seems to have their own system and you can find hundreds of ways to "properly" compost. There are some "tricks" to help speed the process along, but for the most part nature does have to take its course.

I have 2 compost bins. We built the first one and my son bought me a second one. I must confess, I do like the one we built better. It is larger and easier for me to turn and empty.

We built our bin out of pallets. You can find these just about anywhere if you look. Some home improvement stores will even give you some of theirs if you ask. We got ours from construction sites and from the curb of homes that were laying sod in the summer. We used 3 pallets and some extra plywood for the front. The pallets make up the sides and the bottom. I also purchased some plastic mesh from Home Depot to line the inside. I used the plastic kind because over time the metal mesh will rust and come apart. I don't have a top on my bin so I use a tarp weighted down with boards. This works for me because I don't have to worry about the wind blowing the top down on me and I can adjust the tarp to make sure I have it covered nicely.

As far as the actual composting goes, I just throw it in there without any layering. The first summer I put all "green" stuff in there. Grass clippings, raw foods from my kitchen, etc. Then in the winter, I took leaves and put them in there. Some people use the "lasagna" method. Green brown, green brown you get the idea. Since you will be turning your compost, I don't bother with all that extra work. You do want to make sure that you turn your compost enough to get a good mix. This helps in the decomposition of some things.

There are others that will also layer a soaker hose in their compost bins. While I think this is a really good idea, I cannot seem to remember to do it to my own bins when I empty them. Watering is important to decomposition. I do water mine if it has been dry for several weeks. Otherwise, if I know it is going to rain, I just remove the covers and nature waters for me.

There are things that I don't compost because I cannot find any articles that recommend them. I don't compost any dairy or meat products except fish or shrimp. I only compost those items if they have not been cooked in any seasonings. You can search the web and find a plethora of articles on what is compostable and what is not. As far as turning goes, some folks turn their compost daily. I only turn mine when I have to water it or I add something new to the mix. I also compost tea bags, coffee grounds and egg shells. If you grow roses, you know these items are excellent for your beds.

I have had great success with my composting adventure. This past summer when I had to replant some of my house plants, I used my compost. I also added some to my garden and have started a new flower bed with just compost. The good thing about compost is that you know there are no chemicals in your soil. The soil also holds water better so less watering is needed. I noticed a significant growth in my plants once they were planted in compost.In the garden compost is an excellent fertilizer. I used no chemicals on my garden this past year and was very satisfied with my results.

Composting is very easy to do and you don't need a large container or a lot of space to compost. You can use just about any size container to start a compost bin. You could even use no bin at all and just pile up your compost. My mom has used this method and it is by far the easiest way to compost.

If you have children, composting is an ongoing science project. My grandson loves to turn my compost to see how many worms he can find and how much is actually ready to use.

The last thing I want to touch on is smell. I was concerned that my bin would start to smell and bring on undesirable animals. Your compost should smell like the forest floor. If you notice any rancid odors, you have put something in their that should not be composted. If you go only with raw food items, you should be okay.

I hope that you will try composting. I think you will enjoy using your own dirt in your planting projects.


  1. Small Footprints said...
    Fabulous post! When you go to use your compost, do you separate out the stuff still "working" from the new dirt? And if so, what's the easiest way to do that?

    We put shredded up toilet paper rolls in our compost and the worms love it ... it disappears faster than some of the veggie matter. I've read that it has a lot of carbohydrates in it and composting "critters" love it. Must be true ... when I last stirred the pot, we had no toilet paper rolls and nice plump worms. :)

    Thanks for sharing your methods!
    Inge' said...
    If the stuff is small, I just leave it in the stuff I am using. It will still continue to decompose in my beds. The larger stuff I leave in the bin. It is pretty easy to just move it to the side and avoid scooping it out.

    I never thought of toilet paper rolls and worms! I have a lot of newspaper that I use as a starter layer for my beds so I don't have to dig. Wonder if I could use that in there? I will have to research that and get back to you.

    I forgot to put in there if you put any limbs in your compost they should be no bigger around than a #2 pencil. Hope this helps!
    Chris said...
    I've read that you don't really have to turn the contents of the pile since the worms do it for you. HOWEVER, sometimes when I stir the contents of the container, I get a whiff of some odd smells. That tells me that worm or not, loosening the contents will help. Worms can't do it alone.
    Inge' said...
    I have also read that you do not need to turn your compost. But, I find that it decomposes faster if I turn it. I have not had any odd odors. Maybe you have put something in your compost that is not recommended? Mother Earth has several really good articles on composting that you might check out. Maybe you can find the source of your odd odors from one of those. Hope this helps!
    Chris said...
    I get that sometimes when the contents are a little too wet. When the bin is too wet, I usually leave the lid off during daytime to help dry up the contents. Stirring helps too.

    I try not to put the "bad" stuff too. I put lemons once. It smelled bad after a few days. I never put in citrus peels again.
    Inge' said...
    I also leave the top off of mine if it gets too wet. I have not had that problem with the citrus peels. I do know they take a long time to decompose! I must confess the lemon and limes usually go into to my garbage disposal for use as a "freshening" but I do put orange peels in mine.
    Chris said...
    These days, I'm just thinking of leaving the citrus peels in the ref to keep the ref smelling "citrus-sy". It just doesn't have the same effect on the worm bin.

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