With Earth Day coming up, I was trying to come up with a fun project that I could assemble with my kids. I've always wanted to establish a compost pile and my kids always love getting dirty, so I thought this would be a perfect match. ~Plus the manure, one of the ingredients, is always plentiful here on the ranch.
Why compost? Yard and food wastes make up approximately 30% of the waste stream in the United States. Composting most of these waste streams would reduce the amount of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) requiring disposal by almost one fourth, while at the same time provide a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Compost added to gardens improves soil structure, texture, aeration, and water retention. When mixed with compost, clay soils are lightened, and sandy soils retain water better. Mixing compost with soil also contributes to erosion control, soil fertility, proper pH balance, and healthy root development in plants.
I found some easy to follow steps from eHow:
Purchase a compost bin from any garden or hardware store. You can also make one yourself but allow for enough circulation all around the compost bin (drill holes in bin 1.5 cm holes at 15 cm intervals around the can) We are going to use a three sided bin that we'll make ourselves with old fence boards. It will be bottomless to allow worms and other beneficial organisms to aerate the compost and be transported to the garden beds.
There are also many versions of enclosed compost bins, tumblers and auto flow composters available on the market for purchase.
Collect organic materials such as grass clippings, dead leaves, wood chips, shredded tree branches, kitchen scraps such as fruit peel, vegetables, crushed eggshells, and basically anything organic that you can think of except for meat or fatty and greasy items.
Put the collected compost materials above into the compost bin. Fill the bin until it is about 6 inches full.
Add 3 to 6 inches of fresh manure or soil on top of the compost materials.
Alternate between the compost material and the manure or soil until it reaches about 3 feet tall.
Poke holes all over the compost pile and add some water to keep it moist. Do not over water.
Keep the compost away from direct sun, some shade is ideal. This will help prevent the compost materials from drying out.
Turn the pile of compost about once a week for proper circulation and to avoid unhealthy bacteria from thriving. This also helps to prevent bad odors, which is typically a sign of poor circulation.
Ideally it’s best to have two piles or bins, one that you add to and the other that is almost ready to use. Once you use the first bin, don’t add to the second bin (just turn it) and begin a new pile or bin.
Try to move matter from inside to outside and from top to bottom. Break up anything that is clumpy or matted. Add water or wet, green materials if it seems too dry. Add dry, brown materials if the pile seems too wet. If you are still adding to the pile, take the opportunity while you turn it to introduce the new matter and mix it well with the older matter.
The compost is ready to use when it turns dark and has a rich earthy smell. There should not be a rotten odor.
Use your finished compost for all your garden needs.
You can have a second compost bin or area adjacent to the first to alternate between the two.
• The fastest way to get compost is to mix 1 part grass clippings and 3 parts dead leaves (chopped with a mower), place in a three-sided bin with no top or bottom, keep it moist, and turn it with a cultivating fork every 2 weeks.
• Locate your compost bin somewhere that is easy to access, so that you and family members will be encouraged to use it.
• Share a composting facility if you live in an apartment complex.
• Have a mini compost bin indoors that you keep near your meal preparation area. It should be something that is easy to fill up, transport daily to the compost bin, and keep clean. You could consider a small plastic container (there are fun tiny garbage cans with lids) or use something as simple as a glazed terracotta plant saucer - it looks nice, is easy to clean and transports easily. Line the inside of the mini composter with newspaper, which you can add to your compost pile and it helps to keep the container clean.
• To aid the decomposing, add some red worms, which can be bought online. If you use a compost bin with an open bottom, the worms will probably come into your compost pile on their own.
• Cut around the top of a plastic milk jug leaving it attached at the handle. Keep it under the kitchen sink to collect your compost.
• For faster break-down, shred leaves, clippings; and crush egg shells.
• At some point, you may need to start a new compost pile, and stop adding to the old compost pile to let it "finish up."
• Layering is very effective if possible - one layer brown stuff, one layer green stuff, one layer composting worms (as long as the temperature of your compost does not exceed 25ºC).
• In dry weather, fill your bucket with water each time you dump in the compost pile. This will help add needed moisture.
• If you mow your yard, collect your grass trimmings! It's free, and it's a great way to get more compost.