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SquirelNutkin 08-10-2002 07:29 PM

Can you give me some basics of compost-

Like, how do you keep the flyes out of the stash inside?

What goes in it?

How long do you wait?

How do keep all the animals out? Or shoudl I care?
What about flies in the pile?

Do I have to sift it every once in a while?

We wont have much yard wast- mostly just food- so is that an OK mix>?


Chanley 08-21-2002 11:01 PM

Here is an article I wrote on the subject, hope this helps.

The Dirt on Composting

Composting has been a part of my life for many years and I have come a very long way. My first compost pile was started in the 5th grade, after an Earth Day celebration at school, I was determined to save the world so I immediately ran home and put a gallon jug of water in the toilet (to conserve precious drinking water with every wasteful flush) and began explaining to my parents why we needed to put our kitchen scraps outside. Needless to say, I failed to understand the concepts of composting and we had a very small pile of rabbit food on the concrete pad in the corner of the backyard. My father still chides me about the pile of “trash” I put under the clothes line when I was younger.

Over the years, I have made many mistakes with my composting and still work on perfecting the art of making dirt. My biggest failure was when I took a Rubbermaid trash can and simply threw my kitchen scraps and yard clippings into it. What started out as an economical way to make dirt quickly turned into a maggot farm. I will not describe to you the utter grossness of this container but it reminded me of an Indiana Jones movie. To dispose of the contents of this failed attempt, I had to bury it while gagging and shaking off the bug willies. This experience was a wake-up call for me, I decided to actually learn about the process of composting. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I have gleaned through my interest in making compost.

First off, it is important to understand exactly what you are trying to do and why when you decide to become a composter. This is very exciting business, almost like alchemy, you are taking waste and turning it into black gold for your garden. The reasons for this are many. You may want to cut down on the amount of waste you are adding to the landfills, food will not properly decompose in the garbage dump environment. You may want to grow a healthier garden by adding some rich compost for free. Compost is the frugal gardeners delight, you get fertilizer for your garden for free, it just takes a little work. Whatever the reason you decide to become a composter, you are recycling the nutrients and minerals from your waste back into the earth while saving space in landfills and becoming more self-sufficient.

During composting, you are speeding up the natural act of decomposition. Thrown on the ground, all organic matter will rot given enough time. What a compost pile is designed to achieve is rapidly decomposing the matter while heating up the pile enough to sterilize it. You need water, nitrogen and carbon to make your pile work properly. For carbon, it is best to add small twigs, leaves and other woody material. For nitrogen you need grass clippings, kitchen waste and other garden waste (like those veggies that are a little too ripe to eat or the plants you have pulled out). Compost piles utilize bacteria to break down the matter in them. There are two types of bacteria that do this work. The first is aerobic bacteria, these little fellas need lots of air and work very quickly leaving behind no odor. This are the good guys in composting. The other bacteria are anaerobic bacteria, this is the source of foul odors and other yuckiness generated by decomposing. Anaerobic bacteria can be eliminated by having a well maintained pile that receives enough air and water. A compost pile should be as damp as a wrung out sponge, this is achieved through proper watering and turning the pile.

When using kitchen waste it is important NOT to use anything with meat or dairy. This means no food cooked with animal grease (lard, bacon etc…). Never add meat to your compost pile, meat can harbor parasites that may not be killed in composting and the smell of the meat will invite critters into the pile for dinner. Do not add fresh manure, once again, this could harbor harmful micro-organisms. I love to use horse or rabbit manure in my pile, but it must be old. In other words, I let it sit in a pile all by itself till it no longer has an odor. It is important to cover all kitchen scraps with dirt or yard wastes to prevent a bug infestation. I keep a bucket with a tight fitting cover under my kitchen sink, I simply put my wastes in there and dump it every other day or when full. I add my coffee grinds (filter and all), egg shells, vegetable and fruit peels, pasta, old bread, and the unidentifiable rotting objects from the vegetable drawer.

There are many ways to build a pile and there are several items on the market for composting. I know a handful of people who have purchased the compost tumblers. These are big barrel type objects with a handle for turning, you add your wastes and turn the barrel. These are very easy to use and everyone I know who has one loves it. However these are above my price range and can only hold so much matter. You can use a trashcan to compost but you must drill enough holes all over the bin to keep it well drained, often these types get way too wet and the anaerobic bacteria take over while the bugs go to breeding. My favorite way of constructing a compost pile is to use pallets. Shipping pallets are made of untreated lumber (it is important NOT to use treated lumber, it can leach harmful chemicals into your compost pile). Rather than nail them together, take some bungee cords and hold the 4 pallets together. Then add a bottom made of chicken wire OR line the bottom of the pile with twigs. This allows airflow onto the bottom of the pile. Now start layering your wastes. Make sure to add layers of kitchen waste and layers of yard waste. Make sure the pile is moist, in our climate, this is one of the biggest challenges. Sprinkling the pile with water hose every other day or so depending on rain will keep it cooking. If you want to speed up the process, be sure to turn your pile once a week to once a month. This can be done easily with a pitchfork, I know a lady who does this as part of her work out.

A properly working compost pile will heat up enough to sterilize all weed seeds and pathogens while creating dark loamy dirt which resembles good quality top soil. Compost piles should never smell or attract bugs. Composting can be a rewarding experience for the whole family and one which should make you feel really good about yourself.

For more information on composting contact your county extension agent, call us at Deep Roots Nursery 534-5001 or visit one of the following websites:

Liz 09-05-2002 03:20 PM

Great article! Mind if I ask you a question? My compost pile is infested with flies. What can I do and how can I prevent it from happening again? I think it is because we create more green stuff (vegetable and fruit bits, grass clippings, pruned plants, etc.) then brown (we have no leaves but I'm planning to steal the neighbours' come Fall). I don't put any meat or dairy in there.

Thanks, Liz

Chanley 09-06-2002 10:52 AM

You really need to cover that up.

My suggestion...not the most organic but it will work wonders for your compost pile...

can you get city compost? My town has a composting facility and I can get a load of it for pretty cheap. Just shovel some of that on your pile. This will cover teh stuff so no flies AND will help add bacteria. Regular dirt works too. This fall drive around and pick up the bags of leaves from neighbors yards when they have bagged them.

Leave the leaves in the bags to compost a little and just add some leaves as you need them through the year.

Composted manure is another option.

Although it takes longer to break down, free mulch from the electric company is an option. Call them up and ask which contractor cuts the tree limbs away from the power lines and if you could have the chipped up mulch. Often they will give it to you for free when they are in your area.

Hope this helps a bit.

Liz 09-06-2002 11:54 AM

Thanks, Chanley!

I am planning to "steal" leaves this Fall but with our small downtown lots nobody has allot. Now that I think of it I had a bag of composted manure from my in-laws farm last year and I put in a shovel full every once in a while. That's probably why I had no flies. I read somewhere that manure was a "green" not a "brown". Is that true?

SquirelNutkin 09-06-2002 02:52 PM

thanks everyone.
I have slowed down on this project, as I am due in 2 weeks- and well, when I posted, I felt like we ahd all the time in the world to do all kind of projects.

But I have this thread favorite placed, so I will be looked back on it in a month or two.

thanks- great ideas

Chanley 12-01-2002 01:39 PM


SqueezeMaMa 01-16-2003 11:02 PM

Great information - Thanks! We moved into this house last spring, and I realized that the wooden "box" built in the back of the back yard is probably a composting bin. My question is this: Can I start putting yard waste and kitchen waste in there now? It's about 20 degress F outside. Can I start piling it in there now and it will compost later, or should I wait until the weather is warmer?

adventuregirl 01-17-2003 12:59 PM

I compost all year long, even when its below 0 F (which is quite often at 8600'). Tho, much of it will freeze, so it won't break down as fast, but the freeze-thaw action that happens in the Spring can speed things up quite a bit. It can also be hard to turn when your compost is frozen, but by the time you can, you'll have a bunch of stuff ready to break down and make some awesome compost.

SqueezeMaMa 01-17-2003 06:16 PM

Thanks for the info - I'm going to start now. I just need a little container to put under the sink, and get DH to remember to put stuff in there! Then some yard waste (we've got plenty of that!), and a pitch fork to turn with - I'm all set! I'm so glad I found this thread. I'm sure I'll be back later with more questions!

AmandasMom 01-17-2003 07:26 PM


I was wondering what you thought of this composter, I was looking into getting it:

Due to homeowners crappy rules and reg's this is the only type of composter I can use. I can use other brands, but it has to be in a container.


TigerTail 01-18-2003 04:04 AM

i haven't had much luck w/ the whole 'project' of it all (turning the pile, keeping the dog out of it, etc.) & am waiting to buy a compostwin (sigh, wish i had a dh who liked compost & would build me one, then turn it for me!)... but rather than obsess about what i'll do when i have the time or money, in the meantime, when it's just the usual coffee grounds, onion skins, cabbage leaves etc, I just dig a deepish hole somewhere I don't plan to cultivate real soon, & bury it (in thin layers). i am at least getting it back into the soil without dithering about, y'know? (and for lots of yard waste like leaves, I just mow with the mulching blade. how can anyone bag up leaves & throw 'em away!!!)


Chanley 01-18-2003 11:37 AM

There is a woman I know of who has a large rubbermaid container with red worms in the bottom. She keeps it in her laundry room I think. She just puts her waste in there and the worms eat it. No fancy schmancy plastic money mongering tub, just a rubbermaid. I dont see why that would not work for you as well. There is no odor, they eat a TON of waste. You want redworms that you get from a bait store. Every so often just dump some of the worm castings and worms into the garden and start over. Amazingly simple.

Here is a sight with some good info on vermicomposting:

Good luck! This is a pretty cheap and easy solution to composting.

TigerTail 01-21-2003 02:44 AM

when i was a teen my best friend's dad was a worm farmer . i remember reading all sorts of cool recipes in his literature. wormburgers- excellent protein! (yes, i tried it!)

(no room in my laundry room, chan- there's seed starting tables in there, y'know! )

btw, you oughta see the soil under my rabbits' cages; there's so many worms you'd come (lol, if you're like me & get off on serious wormage.) rabbit crap is *awesome*. what a way to turn weeds into brown gold!


MaShroom 01-30-2003 01:09 PM

i'm a recent convert to country living. we just went to a raw diet in dec. help me, i am drowning in fruit and vegetable peels!!! i want to compost all of this stuff. if i just throw it on the garden and hoe it into the soil is that going to be good enough, will it decompose? if we have a big compost pile out in one of the pastures do i need to layer with straw? smell isn't really an issue as there is plenty of space and we can do this away from the house. and i don't mind the little animals raiding the pile, hey, it's winter and a possums' gotta' eat.

i just don't want to end up with some sort of mess on my hands that will take a backhoe to clean up. any suggestions are more than welcome.

(you're thinking "dumb city girl," aren't you?)

AmandasMom 01-30-2003 01:24 PM

Congrats on your raw diet! Finally, someone other then me on this board I've been raw for almost a year and my dd (2.5 years old) has been 90% raw for that time too. And I also am drowning in fruit and veggie peels!!! I can't just toss into the backyard like I would love too, so I need to buy an enclosed composter. Not sure which one yet.. I just wanted to say hi and its good not to be alone on the boards now

MaShroom 01-30-2003 01:35 PM

hi amandasmom! good to meet you! i just knew there had to be another raw family around these parts.

Chanley 02-28-2004 04:11 PM


nym 02-29-2004 02:13 PM

I just moved into a community where our composter is mostly fruit and veg peels and not much else. There is a lot of flies, and I know that I have to add some leaves or something to the bin. Can is use straw? We have a lot of that. I could also get some well aged manure from across the street.
How long would it ake to break down sticks and twigs?

Does the outside temperature affect how fast the material is turned into good compost? We live in a wet warm area, in the summer we have not a lot of rain, and lots of warm weather. Would the compost break down faster in the summer?


Chanley 02-29-2004 06:48 PM

Moisture will affect it, heat will not.

You do need to balance it.

DEFINITELY use straw. OMG it is AWESOME in compost. Also use the straw as mulch in your garden. Wheat straw breaks down and naturally prevents seeds from germinating. This will keep weeds out of your garden.

Aged manure will really get it cooking but I dont think you will need this unless you add way too much brown matter. We have used manure (does not have to be aged) in compost to get it really cooking.

As far as little rain, I would throw a tarp or something on the top of the bin to help hold in moisture. You do not want it to be air tight but a tarp on top should not hurt that.

nym 02-29-2004 06:55 PM

I went and moved the compost barrel today. It was sitting in a wet, muddy mess. I moved it onto an old untreated pallet, with some chicken wire on top. Then I dumped everything back in (it has now been well turned!), added some straw, sticks and twigs and a little dirt. I hope it does better!

Ame 02-29-2004 08:15 PM

We are putting grass clippings layered with saw dust. I went to get some red wiggler worms to help speed of the progress - but the local bait and tackle said theya re hard to come by. He only had night crawlers...would that work ? If not what is a cheap organic way to speed up the composting process with grass clippings & saw dust ?

<by the way this a great thread - thanks for all the info>

Chanley 02-29-2004 11:48 PM

night crawlers will not work, they eat different things in teh soil and will die in compost situations.

Do not put too much sawdust in your pile. It will tie up nitrogen. With LOTS of grass clippings that is good as grass is HOT but sawdust will slow it down.

Just something to think about.

Now I will totally contradict myself by saying....

Do not overthink your compost, remember, it is not made of plastic so IT WILL ROT! It just may take longer. THis all sounds complicated but it really isn't.

edited to make more sense.

ja mama 03-01-2004 03:01 PM

Did I miss the answer to the question if it's okay to just bury your kitchen scraps right in your garden if you don't have space for a compost pile (or time)?

Xenogenesis 03-07-2004 06:50 AM

I know folks who have done this (buried stuff directly).

Wouldn't that attract varmints though?

Chanley 03-07-2004 12:40 PM

The way to do this properly is to dig a big trench. and over time fill it with your compostables and cover the section you have just filled. You let that trench sit for a season, covered and then plant on it again. Then you dig your trench in another part of the garden. You keep rotating the trench year after year. This is how you compost like that. clear as mud?

It should not attract varmints IF you keep all of the animal fats and such OUT and try to keep your stuff buried. Same as a compost pile really only it will not get as hot.

sabrosina 03-09-2004 05:41 PM

Great thread. I'm a composting wannabee and this thread and the ideas here might just be the nudge I needed.

We live on nearly an acre with plenty of trees surrounding us, and other than the grass we've just planted on a small part of it (which was overrun by weeds until recently) we've left it natural at the perimiter. I do yank the monster sized weedy looking vegetation and do mow and trim/cut back the perennial (how DO you spell that word?!?) plants and have been throwing the clippings on a pile.. thinking that I'd get around to composting it all and using it for fertilizer.

So I have loads of kitchen scraps (I'm a chef and we primarily eat vegetables and fruit) that I've been throwing in this huge pile (10'x10'x3'deep now) behind our shed. It doesn't seem to have attracted any bugs and does seem to be decomposing though its not contained on the perimiter.

Question is this: Can I just let it 'go' like this and wait for it to compost? (Which is what it seems to be doing..) I really have no idea how long it could/should take if composting at a good rate. Maybe containing it is just to accelerate the process? And finally.. Where would I find the wooden pallets? Using them bound with a bungie cord is a great idea and we certainly have plenty of space for one or even two.

Oh.. and supposing I layer properly and turn and keep wet.. how long should it take and how will I know if what I've composted is 'ready' to be used in the flower/veg beds?

Thanks in advance..

Mama Lori 03-28-2004 07:03 PM

Chanley, thanks. You've helped me get started on composting.

Now two questions.

Does it matter WHERE in the yard you make your pile? Sun? Shade? Does it matter?

And, where oh where do you get shipping pallets?


CaliMommie 03-28-2004 11:02 PM

Can I use pine needles in my compost pile?


Mama Lori 03-29-2004 02:41 PM

AmiBeth, from what I've read in this book I picked up at the library "Composting [Nourishing the Soil]" by Liz Ball, yes you can put pine needels in. She says they make good carbon (brown) additions to he pile, but keep in mind that they take a little longer to decompose than other leaves because of their thick outer waxy coating of cutin. They'll decompose faster if you shred them first (if you have a shredder).

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