Compost Bins, yes or no?

prairiemoon2 z6 MAAugust 8, 2014

Please help me decide whether to build a new compost bin. We had an old circular wire bin that we just accumulated grass clippings and leaves in and we just broke it down this spring. I am considering whether to build a new three bin system to actually compost a little more actively. I'd build it from hardware cloth on a wood frame and build a cover that latched on the top, also made of hardware cloth.

I'm cooling off on the idea because in the spring I'm naturally exuberant and gung-ho to do everything garden related, but my enthusiasm wanes as the temperatures rise. Another consideration is there are three people in the family who have back issues, so the passive pile was more suitable but still work that ended up being the whole job for the one person without a back problem. I was thinking that maybe having the three bin system, we could more easily keep up with it by turning it from one bin to the next before a lot of heavy materials accumulated, but I've never used that system and don't really know if it would make any difference at all.

There are two other issues, one is having the piles touching the ground, which I realize is necessary. We have a lot of trees with aggressive roots that grow up into the compost and defeat the purpose of having it. And I worry about covering the ground above tree roots for the health of the trees. Then the last issue is whether I will attract rodents or other creatures and that the cover won't keep them out. I imagine many creatures can chew through that hardware cloth. Then I read about someone struggling to keep yellow jackets from building a nest in their compost pile the other day.

So, what would be my alternative? Heavy mulching of my vegetable and perennial beds with grass clippings and chopped up leaves. Growing cover crops and turning those in to the vegetable beds, and purchasing some organic compost some of the time.

So, what say you? Have you been sailing along with your efforts to make compost, or have their been issues? Would you feel my alternatives would be feasible to continue to improve the soil and maintain fertility? Do you have some tip that simplified your compost making or solved a compost related issue?

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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Mulches that rot down; leaves finely chopped; and cover crops are great. These are basically sheet composting where you are not turning and moving material so much.

I like to spread some rotted or partly rotted material from a pile and plant tillage [daikon] radishes in August where plots become available. These winter kill and there is no spring work with them.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 5:08PM
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What a great user name! I feel the pain (literally and figuratively) plus I'm lazy to boot. I live on acrerage which affords room to use and experiment with different systems. I grab anything I believe good to compost which often leads to abundance of green or brown (usualy browns) so I modifyed three bin to handle spare material. Short lingths of 5/8ths rebar are stuck through 12" apart at a 30 deg angle(low end 18"above a removable 2x8 covering an opening at bottom of each bin. Bin 1 is filled with material as it becomes available. Regardless of time it requires ,material continues to be added until bin 1 is overflowing. Bin 2 is now filled then on to 3. Ever thing is kept moist by occasionaly pouring water on top without mixing or turning. I occasionaly pull the bottom cover to remove material from very bottom. Material will be partly to completly composted depending on time and conditions. Material can be used for many things ranging from traditional compost,worm bin bedding,mulch to flipped onto top of next bin to manage bin space. Once a bin is filled to overflowing,fresh material isn't put on top but partly composted material from adjoining bin is often used to fill void created as composting material srinks. As material srinks or is removed,rebar slightltly breaks up and agitates falling material.
I could see you doing this and never turning,just pull material when needed or pulling off bottom and turned onto top to speed up process.
Putting a thick plastic or other root barrier down would make sliding the shovel under bin easier. The barrier could also show an overly wet bin if water ran out on the barrier. Covering a large % of area beneath tree could be determential but I don't believe bins cover that much. The material makes a pretty inhospitable home for rodents and yellow jackets but if they move in I will throw a tarp over them until they die and add to my compost.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 5:09PM
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In the Spring, I saw a compost bin at my local Costco that was elevated off the ground and had a crank to turn the contents. Looks like it would be more convenient than a conventional composter or just a pile.

Our municipality subsidized the cost of large black bins a few years back and we have a couple of those. It's amazing how much can go into such a small space...I consider the stuff that comes out of those bins "gardening gold". I have been using a few scoops of finished compost mixed with water to water my plants and they love it.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 5:44PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Have you checked out all the FAQs and the many discussions about this over on the Composting forum here? It is a very active forum.


    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 5:59PM
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I love my turning double bin. Easy, compact and much faster. My compost breaks down about every 2 weeks and since there is 2 sides I am always starting a new one as the other one is ready to go. Super easy to turn & collecting the tea at the bottom is a hit-- I water my roses with it & they bloom the next day :-) worth the investment & even my kids can help turn it!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 8:32AM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

You might be interested in vermicomosting (worms) for your kitchen waste.
I haven't done it yet, but with my bad back am considering it!
You really don't have to turn it all the time! It doesn't have to get hot, you just have to wait longer! I'm a fairly lazy composter, but I usually get enough for a couple of beds each spring.
The others I go to the landfill (an organic compost place) and get a $12 truckload each year!
Many of my neighbors have stopped composting due to vermin, but I have several "barn cats" that the county fixed and returned for free to take care of any of those guys! Nancy

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 8:54PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Wayne, I read a book written by an Amish gardener last year and she also used the daikon radish for plant tillage for the same reason because in the spring she was ready to go. Her soil looked very friable. I imagine you can get the seed anywhere. Thanks.

Klem, thanks. :-) An interesting setup you have there. I would assume that you are not using plastic on the ground? My concern with using a sheet of plastic on the ground under the bins, is that it doesnâÂÂt allow the soil micro herd to move up into the compost pile, right? Plus I wouldnâÂÂt think it would be healthy for the tree roots they were covering. And it was my understanding that for a compost pile to be effective it needs to be at least 3ft x 3ft in diameter and that would mean a 3 bin system would cover at least 9 sq ft of ground under the tree. We had a circular wire bin under a Maple that was about that large and we lost a couple of branches on our tree. I donâÂÂt know that was the reason, but I guess I canâÂÂt ignore it either.

Thanks Donnaâ¦I have those black plastic Composters too and I am storing yard waste in them right now. Yes, the Composters that turn seem ideal, but last time I checked they were pretty expensive.

Dave, I was thinking that just after I posted that maybe I should try the soil forum, but a composting forum, even better. IâÂÂll try it. thanks.

Hippy, I donâÂÂt think IâÂÂve seen a double turning bin. Where did you find one?

NancyJane, I havenâÂÂt given a lot of serious thought to worms, just because of the âÂÂyuckâ factor. lol I know I should be used to that in the garden, but itâÂÂs just a natural reaction I guess to that wriggling mass of worms, it just gets me. [g]
YouâÂÂre very lucky to have an organic source of community compost! No cats here and I have been relatively vermin free and IâÂÂd really like to keep it that way. :-)


    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 4:59AM
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Vermin in the compost pile? You mean like rats or mice?

I've never had such a problem. The compost pile should be too hot for comfort if its working properly.

You're not putting food in it, are you? Banana peels - ok. But nothing cooked. No meat or bones, no leftover rice or cooked food of any sort. That includes bread. No bread in the compost pile.

And kitchen waste (celery trimmings, apple cores, etc) should be buried. Go one better and freeze it first - that will help break down cell walls so it will rot faster once you get it out there.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 5:01AM
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gardenmom(z4 WA)

Depends on how much room you have. I've a 3 level black plastic one the county subsidized. Kitchen scraps, small weeds and trimmings, and my worm bin overflow goes into it.I flip that once or twice a year.

My main pile is behind the garden - weeds, large zukes, old rotted manure, and assorted big items go into it. My husband flips it with the tractor 2 - 3 times a year. I screen it into a wheel barrow as I use it. Without the tractor, we'd never maintain it.

Friends of mine bury their kitchen scraps in a trench alongside their veggie rows. It works well for them.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 3:28PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

BOY! I was completely confused! I included both tumbler and vermicomposting in one confusing post! Sorry! Nancy

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 8:56PM
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loribee2(CA 9)

I have 4 raised beds in my garden and thanks to our California drought, I'm trying something different this year. I'm only planting in 3 of the beds. In the 4th, I'm digging trenches and burying my yard waste. I've got it covered with plastic to hold in the water. Throughout the summer growing season, I'll keep adding waste to it, probably piling it on top once my trenches are filled. At the end of my summer growing season, I'll take a few bags of composted steer manure and cover it all and let it sit through the winter, maybe turning once or twice if I'm in the mood or feel I need it.

If this works, I may keep doing this on a rotational basis. Planting out three of the beds while amending the 4th. I'm finding it easier to have the compost right in the garden than off somewhere else, and burying it right in the bed instead of turning and moving it later.

If it doesn't work, I'm thinking about that double tumbler hippy mentioned. The stiff price has kept me from trying them, but with the endorsement, I'm tempted.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 10:58PM
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I found that one, but triple wide bin works the best for me. It is easier to move compost from one pile to another without permanent wall between them... I use plywood as temporary walls between piles. Also, if you can't turn it now and want to switch to passive composting, you just start new pile, and let the old one to rot. I compost horse manure, leaves and kitchen leftovers(veggies only). I do not have a bad rodent issues, but see couple of holes from time to time

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 3:37PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Zensojourner, a passive pile using kitchen scraps did attract mice to my bin and they wintered over in it. That was years ago. I pulled it apart and only collected leaves and grass clippings after that. I also havenâÂÂt seen hide nor hair of a mouse since.

When I have kitchen scraps and open vegetable garden space, I bury it directly in the bed along the edges. It has worked okay for me in the past, but I donâÂÂt always have enough open space. Thanks for the tip about freezing first.

GardenMom, I have two black plastic com posters from the town I live in and the cover locks on them. I was using them for kitchen scraps once and a wire bin for leaves and grass clippings, but something chewed right through the plastic to get into those, so I stopped putting kitchen scraps in it. I like buying scraps in the garden itself when I have bare ground. Raised wooden beds, donâÂÂt really allow using the pathways for that purpose though. Good thought though in a flat garden.

I wasnâÂÂt confused, Nancy, no worries! :-)

Loribee, I like your plan to keep one bed fallow each season. I have five vegetable beds and I originally planned on doing the same thing. As a matter of fact, two of my beds were doing so terrible that I yanked everything already and sowed cover crop over both of them. I hope I can stick to that plan, itâÂÂs just I am enjoying having so much room to grow more crops that itâÂÂs going to be hard not to plant the whole thing. [g] YouâÂÂve encouraged me to try to commit to it. After all, itâÂÂs just one bed and I will still have four more!

And I like your reminder that without a separate compost pile, there is a whole lot less lugging and moving.

Yes, I have always thought that tumbler would be really nice to have, but what a high price for them!! I like your original idea of one bed fallow each year. Much more of an organic, elegant solution. :-) Any chance you could add another bed?

Galinas, ThatâÂÂs an interesting idea, so you have a triple size, but no compartments, itâÂÂs all one open area, then you temporarily use plywood to separate it. Yes, it would allow me to just start three piles and leave them until they were ready.

Great ideas, everyone, thanks!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 4:23PM
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Working for us (and the chickens)...there are three cinder-block bins. They do need to be turned with a pitch fork but it's not too bad to do if you use the front of the bin blocks as leverage for the fork.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 9:31PM
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I have a 3 compost bin system which the previous home owner left me but I prefer not to haul compost to the garden. For years now I've used circular wire fencing directly in the gardens as composters. Fill them up in place and then till & spread the finished compost on the surrounding area. If I need compost quicker I'll place 2 wire bins next to each other, let them heat & rot, then combine both into one bin for a speedier process for finished compost. But generally I find that 1 large wire bin rotting for 6+ months in place is good enough as long as I have 3-4 bins rotting in secession.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 9:39AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

LKZZ those are nice and roomy and I love your chickens. Nice too that yours will probably last you forever. [g] I wonder since they are so open, have you ever had any issues with critters?

Vgkg - I've buried kitchen scraps in my beds directly but I hadn't thought of just putting a bin right in the bed to collect organic matter and let it rot until it was ready. I have raised beds and a small garden, so not sure how much of that I can do, but I like the idea. Do you also add kitchen scraps and have you had any critter issues? i definitely don't want to attract even squirrels to my beds.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 2:15PM
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Hi Prairiemoon, good questions. No pests have bothered my compost fence circles. I make fence circles about 4' wide and the fence height is 5', using 2"x4" wire hole size, sturdy wire to last years. I do have loads of critters esp squirrels to fend off from the growing garden goodies but never had a compost thief unless it were a bird or two pecking at deposed fruit seeds, rare though. Yes, this system is easier to do with large plots as they take up valuble space. I suppose some plant could use the pile/fence to climb while it's decaying but never have tried that. Yes I use kitchen scraps, grass clippings, leaves, chicken poop (got those this year), etc, it's all good. Good Gardening!

--PS, I should add that after the compost is old enough and ready I use my roto tiller to chew up the piles before applying it for the garden, makes a nice chopped up loamy compost & well mixed. Use the tiller for turning young piles too.

This post was edited by vgkg on Thu, Aug 14, 14 at 17:51

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 5:46PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thanks VGKG! I think you've got a great system going there and glad to know, no critters! Yes, trellis the squashes or cukes on the fencing that would help make the space do double duty.

No rototiller here, but spreading it and turning it in when ready, especially in the fall to winter over under a layer of leaves should work too.

I think I saw a photo of raised vegetable beds recently that showed PVC piping, I believe, sort of a good size diameter maybe 8 to 12 inches? With holes drilled along it and inserted in the bed among the plants wherever there was space and those held organic matter to break down and add to the bed. An interesting idea, but having all those PVC pipes all over the bed didn't appeal to me.

Your size really is a compost pile in the garden, with that 4ft diameter and 5ft height. Actually I have a 7ft trellis in my raised beds and the bed is 4 ft wide. So I could just block off the last 4ft of one of my beds and fill that. In one of my long beds, that would still give me 13 ft x 4ft bed. If I did it in one of my 4ft x 12ft bed, that would take up a third of it, but so would a squash. Very helpful, Thanks!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 7:39PM
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The large tumblers go on sale periodically and mine so far has been critter proof. The wire mesh I had before would occasionally attract large rats and racoons if there were any kitchen scraps.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2014 at 5:34PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Hmmmmmmm. Lori, You may have helped me with a dilemma I've had! DH bought me a pretty cheapo tumbler. It's almost impossible to get the stuff out without spilling it all over the place.
If I just place it over a fallow bed and dump it every once in awhile I'll have the best of both worlds!!!!!!! Thanks! Nancy

    Bookmark   August 18, 2014 at 10:22PM
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I've been using a 'chicken coop composter'. The chickens live over the compost and scratch and shred it, and eat the kitchen scraps. It takes up relatively little room. I posted videos on youtube on how to make it. Just search my user name, chickencoopcomposter, on youtube.

Here is a link that might be useful: youtube

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 12:21AM
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