Friday, October 3, 2008

Composting 101: Part II

Selecting and Setting Up a Location for a Compost Pile

Before we discuss what you put into your compost pile, you should take a walk around your yard and pick a spot. You'll want an area that is under some cover, if possible--eaves, overhang, a lean-to shed, heavy trees, etc. If you have neighbors who might object to the appearance, pick a spot that is hidden by bushes, fencing or a garden shed. As long as the ground doesn't have anything on top of it other than natural brown matter (dirt, leaves, dead grass, pine needles and such), this is the spot.

Measure the diameter of your spot so you can pick up some inexpensive yard fencing to shore up the composting materials. You can start with a small area. perhaps 2' x 4', and when this pile is full to the top of the fencing, build another elsewhere and start it. There are many types of garden fencing available, so pick something that suits your ground and weather. Here in Florida, a wooden fence would rot, so for this pile, I chose a green wire fencing that is hardly noticeable and pushes into the ground easily. On my other pile, I purchased a roll of green contractors fencing (they usually use orange, but I wasn't going for the standout look of bright orange) which attaches to plastic posts that have steel pegs on the bottom. I had seen many of these being used to fence in Agility courses for dogs, and was familiar with their ease of opening and closing. This has turned out to be nice. I can walk right into my pile and dump my daily contents in whatever area appears to need an addition the most. A "gate" is not necessary, though, as you will be able to bend over your low fence and dump your additions in easily. Whatever works best for you is fine. I would merely suggest you not choose a biodegradable material such as wood.

As for the need for 2 compost piles, this is strictly up to you. If you're like me and want to have compost to use for fertilizing your houseplants, etc. at some point in the future, you'll need to be able to access the compost in the pile. If you keep adding food, etc. to the top, the compost will be buried underneath, so a second pile will prevent this from happening. Get one pile started and then move on to the second one, allowing the first pile to do its thing. Be patient. It appears that the time it takes to get compost depends largely on the balance of all the chemistries, something which I'm too lazy to monitor. I'll just wait till its ready.
One final note. You'll need to cover your compost pile with a large piece of heavy gauge plastic, to keep it from absorbing too much rain that blows into your secluded bin area. Heavy wind, gutter run over and sprinklers can all do their part to drench even the most secluded spot, so cover your pile well, but don't worry if water seeps in. Some water is needed, although ground water is sufficient, generally.

If you're starting this with a bit of a skeptical edge, and want to do it on a budget, you'll find these minimal supplies above to cost under $15, and cheaper options are available (i.e. posts and wire fencing like that used for a rabbit hutch would probably cost less. I didn't buy plastic sheeting; I had some contractor-grade trash bags, which are very heavy plastic. I used 2-3 of those on each of the piles and they seem to be working fine.

My biggest concern was the wildlife in our area. We have had numerous trash can raids, so I felt that a closed bin might be in my future. A month into this, I'm not seeing any evidence of disturbance. The fencing I used, pictured above, isn't that secure, so I tucked the plastic contractors' bags into the bottom and hoped for the best. So far, so good. It's location, as you can see, is behind bushes and pool equipment, the latter of which might make just enough noise to keep critters at bay. We'll see.

If you'd like to be sure to catch all the posts in this series on Composting, the schedule is noted below. Remember, too, that you can subscribe by e-mail or RSS at the top right of the blog, and the headlines will come right to your e-mail. Just click to open and read. This is the easiest method. First class delivery of your Organic Journey Online articles; no stamp required.
Composting Posts Schedule:
Friday, 10/3--Selecting a Spot & Setting Up a Compost Pile (Part II)
Monday, 10/6--Healthy Choices for Your Compost Pile (Part III)
Friday, 10/10--More Composting Options and Information (Part IV)
Monday, 10/13--Composting Doggie Duty and Other Solutions (Part V)
Thursday, 10/16--Kitchen Compost Storage, Saving Paper Towels and More Green Tip Toes
Friday, 10/17--What Do I Do With Large Quantities of Material to Compost?
One final note: Comments, please! Click the purple COMMENT link following the post and leave me your questions or ideas. If you are already a composter, I would love to hear from you. I have a lot to learn.
If you need a snack after all this compost stuff, stop by Blake Bakes for an organic pound cake recipe. Enjoy!

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