Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Compost is Ready

It's taken a little time but it's finally ready.  Compost that is.  After putting together my new bin at the end of June I filled it up with sod, manure, kitchen scraps, lawn grass, wood ashes, partly rotted sawdust and weeds.  It heated up nicely but I admit the results are a little sketchy.  To get that nice finished compost you really need to chop up your ingredients first.  Big tap roots from plantain weeds have a hard time breaking down otherwise.  So rather than just spread my compost straight onto my beds I have to do a bit of work first.  Here's the set up.
A pitchfork, wheelbarrow and milk crate.  What's the milk crate for?  Sifting.  Because I don't chop my compost ingredients there are still large pieces floating around so I fork the compost into the milk crate, and shake shake shake.....

In case anyone's wondering this is a helluva workout.  Forget pilates, your upper abdominals will be on fire after doing this for an hour.

Now, before you go filling up a milk crate with compost be warned.  Don't fill the whole crate!!!  Just put a scoop or two in.  You'll need to be able to lift and shake the crate and you can't do this if it's too heavy.  Also, the foot print of the crate is quite small, too much compost and it will just start lumping together in there.  In fact, you should preferably have a better sifter than this.  I'm using the milk crate as I've got nothing better at this point in time.  My preference would be a sifter that is rectangular and only about 2 inches deep with lots of surface space.  The screen shouldn't be too small either.  Unless you like your compost super fine.  I generally use home made compost as mulch so if it's in bigger chunks it's not too big of a deal.  Left on top of the soil exposed to the weather and bugs it will continue to break down on its own.  The good juices will leach from the mulch down to your plants anyway so you'll get the benefit of mulch plus nutrients.  After all that shaking you can see the compost is much finer although there's still a few sticks that get through.

What am I doing with all this compost?  Remember all those trees I planted in the spring, well they are getting put to bed for the winter with a thick layer of compost to protect their roots.


  1. Marguerite, A few years ago, my husband built a compost screen out of old boards and some screen. It fits right over the wheel barrow and makes screening so easy. Just throw a few shovel fulls into the screen and then use your hands or the shovel to sift it into the wheel barrow. Not as good of a workout as your method since there's no heavy lifting needed!

  2. I so admire people that compost. I really wish I could be one of those people. I've become comfortable in the idea that this probably won't happen for a long time. I'm even attending a 12 -step support group...Lazy Compost Avoiders anonymous.

  3. Wow, that does look like a lot of work! Your plants (and your abs) will thank you. I'm much lazier with compost, just heaping everything into a big pile, and shoveling out the bottom when I get the motivation. You have a nice setup. Mine is literally just a pile, no bin. Fortunately, our climate here is compost-friendly.

  4. Debbie - that sounds wonderful! I used to have a better sifter before we moved but unfortunately there were many things that we didn't have room for when we came east and it got left behind. I've been bugging Jody to make me another one but for now the milk crate gets the job done.

    Kyna - you're missing out! All the lovely bugs and clumps of smelly unidentifiable goo. How can you resist?

    Floridagirl - unfortunately yes it is a lot of work. Shredding the ingredients at the beginning would make a world of difference but thus far it's not in the budget. Despite the lovely bins I also have open piles sitting around, I usually pretend they don't exist so it looks like I'm much more organized than I am. :-)

  5. I love your bins. Big with lots of air circulation. Looks like your hard work is paying off! I'm hoping to have compost for spring. I don't hold much hope for this fall.

  6. Hi! Your compost looks cool! Mine is quite "organic" made of old fence wood. I usually have three piles - one is the 'active' I load again and again, one is "under construction" or "sleeping" from previous year, and the third is the one I spread in autumn. In my garden it takes two years to get fine compost with no work. I never shred what I throw on it and never turn the pile. I use a sifter lik this one on the site:

  7. Sounds like a lot of work. You are very dedicated. I'm much lazier than you. I don't worry about big pieces of stem, I just pile it onto the garden and let the worms and bugs and the sub zero winter weather finish breaking it down.

  8. Marguerite, I have a great sifter that sits on the wheelbarrow. BUT I think I'll try your method for the abs!

  9. Marguerite, I'm so glad I saw your blog this morning! I'm building a new compost bin this weekend and it looks like a similar design to the one you have! I have used the milk crate sifter and then did build a sifter to fit over the wheelbarrow. Hooray for compost!

  10. I limit compost heap to just grass cuttings, leaves and whatever is considered organic waste in the garden... Not much, but it helps to revitalise the soil. Huh, pilates with compost, that's quite something!! ~bangchik

  11. Laura - I love these bins too but I'm surprised at how quickly they filled up!! I still have a large pile of bits sitting next to the bin and we've had to start new piles in other parts of the property.

    Muvelt - That sifter is incredible!! I think I just found the next thing I want my husband to build for me!!

    Melanie - I don't know if it's dedication or just impatience. I really wanted some homemade compost for my trees before winter came. Although you have a good point about the weather breaking things down. I'm still new to zone 5 so it might break down faster here than I imagine.

    Sandra - I never seem to get to a gym so this is a good substitute but it's also pretty messy. I'm leaning towards a sifter that I can sit on my wheelbarrow.

    Auntie K - Good luck with your bin. My husband actually designed the bin based on my somewhat vague requirements. So far they're working quite well.

    Bangchik - I didn't realize what a workout it would be until my mid-section was aching the next day. Who knew I'd get so much exercise out there?

  12. I really like your compost bins. Would you share the dimensions?

    1. Hi Gloria, the bin is approximately 8 feet long and four feet wide. Divided into sections that are 4 by 4 feet. It stands about 4 feet high at the tallest point.