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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Then I assembled the back.
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.
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
- Wood Chips
- Pine Needles
- 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.
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.
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.
Have you been composting? Any good tips or success stories to share?