You Need to Compost

We’re likely going to spend a lot of time talking about the most important thing you can do to improve your garden – being a Soil Farmer.

That’s right.  As of right now, you’re no longer a tomato farmer.  Not a pepper farmer.  Not a chicken farmer.  No Sir… you’re a Soil Farmer.

The easiest way to improve soil conditions is something that every person can start right this very second: Composting.  I’ve been at this for quite some time and before I can help you get started, I have to get something off my chest and help myself.

Hi.

My name is Mike.

And I’m a Compost-aholic.

I never thought I had a problem.  Honestly.  It all started with a banana peel every now and then.  No big deal.

Then I’d toss in a few egg shells on the weekend.  I eat cold cereal most weekday mornings, then go off and work hard… so I deserve to live it up with scrambled eggs on the weekend…… right?  It wasn’t every day, so I was fine.

Then it progressed to coffee grounds.  And kitchen scraps.  And cardboard.

It didn’t seem weird to move the compost with us to our new Homestead.  No, I’m not talking about the small plastic compost bin.  I mean, I moved *The Compost*.  Inside our SUV. Over twenty miles.

That felt normal……..

Before I knew it, I was yelling at the Wife if she didn’t peel the stickers off her empty avocado shells in our kitchen compost bowl… and I was introducing myself to our new neighbors primarily so I could ask them for their horses’ poo.

And building this monstrosity.

1CompostFill3-rs

Why should we Compost?

Compost is a necessity for any productive garden.  It provides much needed nutrients to your plants.  More important, it feeds the earthworms, beneficial insects, microbes, and other millions of organisms that are necessary for healthy soil.  It adds humus to dry compacted dirt, helping it to retain moisture. Composting also cuts down on what goes in your garbage can on the way to a landfill.

So there are some of the benefits.  Know what some cons are?

Buying the stuff is crazy expensive.  Especially if you have it delivered (along with mulch on the right) like I did from a local garden center to prep the large garden area at our new house last spring.

2Midwestern-Bite-Ugly-Food-4-Compost-RW

With a little bit of one-time construction work, you can make compost yourself.  Forever.  Easily.  For free.

Let’s start with the container.

On a small scale, you can get going by purchasing the black plastic compost bins for sale everywhere.  But I’m cheap and would rather build one from free materials.  Another pitch for going bigger than those small commercial bins is that composting is quicker and easier if you work a pile about 3 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft.  Most of the small bins you see go a lot slower because there isn’t enough stuff in there to really get the heat going that breaks everything down efficiently.

I assembled ours from pallets scrounged over a couple weeks.  They’re perfect for a simple structure and allow for plenty of air circulation.

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Ideally you want your compost pile close to your garden and in a convenient place for you to walk by every couple days at minimum to deposit your kitchen scraps.  Not wanting the bins to be too far out of the way, yet still hidden from view, I decided to place them just behind the back shed at the entrance to our woods.

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After cleaning up the garbage the previous owners had collected in that spot over the years, (including all the chicken wire you might read about in another of my projects), it looked a lot better.

So let’s get building.

I did some quick measurements to make sure I could have two good sized bins in this space next to our future firewood off to the right.

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Then I assembled the back.

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You can nail or screw the pallets together, but I decided to use large zip ties instead.  This way it would be a little easier to disassemble if I ever move these elsewhere.  Plus I had a huge bag of ties laying around the garage.

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All done.

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I wanted multiple bins and will add a third when I get around to removing the downed tree.  That way I can have different piles going, all in varied stages of breakdown.  Add your fresh components on the left. Every few months (depending on some factors) move your piles from one bin to another, giving it a mix.  Keep it moist, but not wet.  By the time it gets to the third and final bin it looks like the beautiful, moist, black soil pictured above in the pile I bought and had delivered.

Ideally your piles should have an internal temperature of 140 degrees or so.  But don’t even worry so much about that unless you’re looking to produce your black gold as quickly as possible.

So what do we put in compost?  Apparently there are people out there crazier than me with PhD’s or something in rotting garbage.  They break everything down to a science that hurts my head.  No joke, we have a book sitting on our shelf over 300 pages long entitled “The Art of Composting”. It looks 80 years old if it’s a day and we got it from the Library Book Sale for $0.50.

I haven’t read it. 🙂  Let’s keep things simple.

The ideal Carbon to Nitrogen mix for your compost is thirty parts Carbon to one part Nitrogen.  Or 30C:1N.

Think of Carbon-havers as Browns and Nitrogen-havers as Greens.  The percentage of Carbon in Browns and percentage of Nitrogen in Greens work out to an easy rule of thumb:

Compost = 50% Browns + 50% Greens

Browns

  • Leaves
  • Straw
  • Cardboard
  • Wood Chips
  • Sawdust
  • Pine Needles
  • Newspaper

Greens

  • Lawn Clippings (Don’t use if treated with herbicides!)
  • Non-Meat Kitchen Scraps
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Manure (Don’t use from carnivores like your pets! Only herbivores!)

It’s best if you can alternate layers of Browns and Greens, each about six inches thick.

Fill ‘er up.

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With all the kitchen scraps that come from a wife with a Food Blog, plus acres of leaf-dropping trees, plus a few horses living within easy walking distance, I hopefully won’t be hauling money to the garden center next spring.

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Now you know why I’m the crazy guy who is asking the older couple down the lane if I can fill up my lawn mower’s trailer with their horses’ manure.  And tractor it home.

For some reason, Joanna says she refuses to take part in that type of conversation with strangers.  Or the transport operation.

She’s weird like that.

–Mike

Have you been composting? Any good tips or success stories to share?

Posted in Compost Tagged with: , ,
15 comments on “You Need to Compost
  1. Who doesn’t love a good compost???

    I tracked you down from Twitter and I’m glad I did! I <3 your posts, infused with humor. I am going to be a regular reader now.

    If you're interested in sharing some more witty pearls of wisdom, I run a Blog Hop on Fridays. You can enter last weeks up until this Thursday at noon. I hope to see you there!

    • Mike says:

      Hey Jessica, thanks for stopping by. First comment! Your plaque will be in the mail. Pretty sure I found you on Twitter first, and since then I’ve been a fan of your blog.

      Once I get rolling a little more here, I’ll definitely check out your Friday Hop.

  2. Great information on composting!! Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog hop, I’ll be featuring you, so please feel free to grab my Featured Button! Have a great week!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick
    http://www.The-Chicken-Chick.com

    • Mike says:

      Hey, thanks Kathy! I’m thrilled since I’ve been following your blog for quite awhile. Even before I had chicks of my own.

  3. Hey, I am so glad to find you through The Clever Chicken Chick’s Blog Hop. I am honored to be featured this week as well. This is a very informative post on composting without going into all the science of it. We expanded our compost bins last year using repurposed pallets. I am a lazy composter and tend to toss things in daily but usually only turning the pile once or twice a year when I need some for the garden. Luckily, compost happens without much intervention. I am happy to discover you. I love the way you write and will be reading your blog regularly.
    Rachel @ Grow a Good Life recently posted…Simple Seed Germination TestMy Profile

    • Mike says:

      Hey Rachel, I’m like you – lazy composting is right up my alley.

      I’m more of a compost middle manager. I walk around, sipping coffee, making small talk, murmuring Mmm-Hmm, while I “manage” my chickens who turn the compost pile for me. 🙂

  4. Tamara Hampton says:

    Im about to truck in the compost for my new beds but… i have the bins started for next years expansion. (also have 12 horses so i dont have to have embarrassing conversations with my neighbors… hmmm but they have cows)

    • Mike says:

      If you and your 12 horses are anywhere near SW Ohio, we might have to make our acquaintances. 🙂

      I found the two horse neighbors weren’t too put off by my questions, but then it got a little weird when I started asking what the horses eat. The one place was excited I wanted to cart off their stuff, then I had to tell them I wasn’t interested when they said their supplemental feed was sprayed with a bunch of herbicides/pesticides.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this article at Green Thumb Thursday! We’re featuring it tomorrow so feel free to grab the featured button to add to your sidebar or to this post. Please leave more links while you’re there! 🙂
    tessa Homestead Lady recently posted…Easter Eggs – Natural Dye vs. Natural DyeMy Profile

  6. Suzanne says:

    I was thinking about moving my compost pile to the chicken pen. Do I need more than one pile if the chickens are turning it daily?

    • Mike says:

      Hey Suzanne, in my opinion, it kind of depends on what you want to do and how fast you want to do it. As you’ll read, I plan on having multiple piles. Remember for faster composting, a large pile is necessary to get the heat going. 3x3x3 is about ideal for homescale production.

      1. Since I use the Deep Litter Method in my chickens’ run, I just throw them all compostable food scraps into their carbon bedding (leaves, straw, etc.). The chickens eat what they want (usually everything) and anything left over composts in the deep litter. But this is a rather slow method and I harvest the deep litter compost about twice a year.

      2. Another option is to have a dedicated compost bin the chickens have access to. They’ll scratch around in it, which turns the compost, but unless you can figure out a way to McGyver it to stay contained, they’ll spread everything out. So to get the compost process going again, every so often (few days? weekly?) you’ll have to pile everything up again to get the cooking going. Then chickens will scratch and turn and the process repeats.

      I’m going to do the best of both worlds. Apart from the slow deep litter composting, I’m going to get a lot of aged horse manure from a neighbor, and layer that with straw into a large pile under my apple trees inside an electric netting paddock. The chickens will have a ball digging through there and I’ll re-pile it every few days to get re-cooking. After probably 2 months I’ll have a beautiful (free) finished pile of compost to spread under the apples and elsewhere.

      • Suzanne says:

        Wow. Thanks for such a quick–and thorough–response. Now I know what to do with those bags of wood chips I have that got soaked in the rain.

        With the deep litter method in your pen, are you supplementing feed or scratch, or does DLM invite enough bugs and worms to keep them satisfied once they’ve processed the daily scraps?

        • Mike says:

          No, you absolutely must provide feed. There’s no way they’d get enough food, let alone proper nutrition, from just worms/bugs in the litter. *Maybe* if they had free-ranging access to a LOT of good forage outside the coop it would be enough, but you’d be rolling the dice on whether they’d lay well (from improper nutrient balance).

          My feeding regiment is:

          –Non-GMO feed from Hiland Naturals available at all times
          –Barley I sprout from seed for them
          –Mealworms I colonized (although not much yet as it’s in infancy.)
          –Whatever they hunt/forage in their grassy paddocks.

          I’d recommend doing some reading on what laying hens need in regards to nutrition (e.g. % of protein, calcium, etc) and seeing if you can recreate what they need if you want to try and minimize feed you buy. Here’s a good start from the feed company I use:

          http://hilandnaturals.com/images/Hiland-Naturals-Ohio-Complete-Layer-16.pdf

        • Mike says:

          Me again, Suzanne. Check out this video (you have to enter your email address but they don’t spam and it’s well worth it). Geoff Lawton experiments with feeding chickens with just food scraps and compost. You’ll see it takes a LOT of food scraps. 🙂

          http://www.geofflawton.com/fe/64322-chicken-tractor-on-steroids

  7. It happened pretty much the same way for me. I remember just throwing most of the organic stuff out in the compost, but now it is most everything and the garden loves it. I will till it up and spread it and the plants just eat it up. Great post!

7 Pings/Trackbacks for "You Need to Compost"
  1. […] took a big first step with my last post on the importance of (and how to) compost traditionally.  Yeah, I admitted I might have a […]

  2. […] actually very surprised, and mostly humbled, to have my first little old blog post here on Gentleman Homestead be featured on 104Homestead.  Go check out her content.  I think […]

  3. […] The second was from Gentleman Homestead Consulting on why we should compost. […]

  4. […] Gentleman Homestead Consulting – You Need to Compost – You do, and you need to read this […]

  5. […] You Need to Compost by Gentleman Homestead Consulting: […]

  6. […] (or south) of the coop, is a three bin compost system out of pallets very similar to what I built Here out in our woods for leaf mold composting.  When the chickens get released from their run, they […]

  7. […] well.  To learn how to make delectable compost, visit these links:  For the lazy person; You need to compost; Black Gold; Different Methods.  Trust me, they’re all good – go read […]

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We are located in the Dayton, OH area. Our goal for this space is an informative companion to our primary passions - the Workshops we facilitate on various topics and the Private Consultation given to clients as Homestead and Regenerative Agriculture Design Consultants.

Recently, our young family moved out of the cul-de-sac where society says we're supposed to live, and onto five acres outside town. If you stick around on the blog, you'll see our successes and failures in real time as we start from scratch and transform our land. Read a lot more about us Here.

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