Saturday, April 08, 2006


I must have the most complicated and inefficient compost system in New England. I sometimes wonder if it's worth the trouble, but this week I sifted about 4 wheelbarrow loads of the stuff and spread it on an established mixed border out near the street. It looked wonderful, masking the 8 different textures and colors of bark chip mulch, and I know it will help sustain all the plants in that garden, from the Sweetgum tree (Liquidambar rotundiloba) to the tiny Cyclamen coum.

Here's my system. For kitchen scraps, I have a tumbler, also called a batch composter. I bought this because, in my in-town yard, I don't want to draw rodents to the kitchen scraps. I purchased this locally, but it was from Gardeners' Supply Company. I had to modify it in 2 ways: block the larger drainage holes with hardware cloth (steel mesh) to keep rodents from moving in, and drill smaller holes in the lower half of the unit. This holds a winter's worth of kitchen scraps; when it's too full to turn, I start stashing the fresh scraps in 5-gallon buckets with tight fitting lids, and let the material in the tumbler cook for a few weeks, turning it whenever I think of it.

When the buckets are full, I slop the material out of the tumbler into another black plastic unit; this one is wrapped in hardware cloth because it is also prone to attract rodents. I mix in some dry material, leaves or cardboard, whatever is available at the time. Now I'm ready to dump the buckets into the tumber and start refilling it.

Meanwhile, all the garden waste, leaves, grass clippings, spent foliage and weeds, go into a 3-bin system that my husband built for me. It's about 9 feet long, each bin is a 3 foot cube. Material goes into the bin on the left, when that's full each bin is turned into the bin to its right, with the material in the last bin theoretially fully cooked and ready to sift and use. Anything in the last bin that won't pass through the sifter is put back into the first bin for a second trip through the system. The last bin also gets the material from the second platic unit, which is pretty well broken down by the time it needs to be emptied.

The problems with this system are that the material in the last bin isn't usually ready to use by the time the other bins are full, and I may not be ready to use that compost anyway. I have a trash can with holes in the bottom to store it until it's ready or I'm ready. If I were building this again, I'd make the bin to the left, the first bin, at least half again as big as the middle bin, and the last bin much smaller.As the material breaks down, the piles become much smaller, so this would give me more room where I need it without taking up any more space. I might even use 4 bins in my next system. Since this unit is just built from pine, it needs to be rebuilt every 10 years or so anyway, so I can redesign it each time.

Having a second tumbler would also make this much more efficient - it would eliminate the sloppy mess of emptying the tumbler into the "holding bin".

Is composting worth the trouble? You bet.


Blogger cutiger95 said...

Tell you what compost is one of the most important aspects of maintaining the environment. It benefits both the area around you and your gardening capabilities.

September 03, 2006  

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