Aspiring composter looking for basic advice

hillellJuly 7, 2013

I have begun researching setting up a compost system, but I have found that much of the info out there skips the most basic parts and goes straight to the technicals. Here is my super basic question: we would like to compost our kitchen scraps at our summer cottage for the 2 1/2 months that we are there- is this doable? If so what system would best suit? The house is in New England. We are usually at the there full time June - August and then come back for short trips in the fall before closing it for the winter. I would appreciate any advice for this particularl situation. Thanks!

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Most all of the waste from your kitchen will have a fairly close Carbon to Nitrogen ratio, ie. less than 30:1 and so you would need some high Carbon material to compost with them. By themselves your kitchen scraps would also be an attractant for several unwanted critters and the high Carbon materials could hide those kitchen scraps from them.

Here is a link that might be useful: Composting Tutorial

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 6:50AM
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hillel -
For your situation, the most practical method would be "trench composting".

More information about the gardens and landscaping would be good, but the basics of trench composting are that you dig a trench where you want better soil, such as between the rows of a vegetable garden, in a flower bed, or wherever.

As you deposit each load of scraps, cover them with the dirt from the trench and pack it down. By next year, they will have mostly decayed and you can plant on them, and make a new trench.

Do NOT compost meat or fish. The critters will dig it up and scatter compost all over the place. Stick to vegetable-based scraps.

Here is a link that might be useful: Composting without bins or piles.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 7:58AM
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It's doable, but since it will largely be unattended and sit static you will want to properly construct your pile and take a few precautions.

First, add only produce trim, which can include coffee grounds and spent tea leaves or bags - no animal products, including dairy. Second is getting a C:N balance in the 30-40 range. Those kitchen scraps will be in the 15-20 range, so you will need some balancing "browns" to keep it in the right range. Third is using a brown material that will assure good pile porosity for oxygen penetration; for this bulky browns like straw or wood chips work well. Third is no dimension greater than ~ 3 feet, again to assure decent oxygen penetration of the pile. It would also be a good idea to have a cover over the pile to preclude too much moisture penetration.

Precautions include keeping the food stuff away from the edges until they are well decomposed to avoid critter attraction, and siting the pile location so that if it does become a bit stinky it doesn't become a nuisance to neighbors.

I would stop additions to the pile about 3-4 weeks before you leave it at then end of summer. At that point I would turn it at least twice a week, and preferably every other day. By the end of that time the initial decomposition should largely be complete, and you should be able to leave it to cure without much problem. For your situation a tumbler of at least 90 gal's could work well for the initial accumulation and then mixing for 3-4 weeks. If you went that route I would then remove the coarse compost and pile it up outside the tumbler for curing.

Alternatively, if you have the land space you could use trench composting.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 8:29AM
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If it were me I would just a rubbermaid container with lid, red wiggler worms and cardboard with vegetable scraps.
End of summer, pack the rubbermaid bin in the car and take home where feeding continues.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 11:36AM
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I do not have enough info for a good answer.

WHY do you want to compost your scraps?

1) To improve the soil for a garden? In this case I would dig some holes and cover the fruit/veggie waste with some leaf or dry material. Place a patio stone on top to stop animals from digging it up.

2) Just to get rid of it? No trash pickup?

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 5:31PM
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livelydirt(Zn 4, Lively, ON)

Hillell... here's what I advise all who ask how to make a compost heap. Get seven scrap shipping pallets. Wire them together to form two bins - attached to one another. If you're right handed, start filling the right bin with brown stuff and green stuff... all you can find. I get most of my brown stuff from leaves I drag home in the fall. I leave them in the bags out in the rain and snow. If they don't have any holes in them, punch a few so the leaves can get wet and start to decompose. Throw in vegetable based kitchen waste, garden waste, grass clippings etc, then add a bag of leaves and and a little bit of garden dirt or forest floor litter that is black. It contains the bacteria to get the whole pile cooking. You need to keep a lid (chunk of old plywood) on it to control how much moisture gets in... but you do need to keep it moist - not soggy. Just before you close up camp, unwire the front panel on the bin you have been working on and fork it into the adjacent bin. Try to get the outside dryer material onto the inside of the new pile. Water it as necessary. Cover and go back to the city. Next spring you should be able to spread it on your garden. Some of it may be a bit coarse, but that won't hurt anything, or you can pick it out and throw it back into the first bin. I purchased a shredder MANY years ago and it was a great investment. I shred all the cooked compost before applying it to my garden. Main thing is to keep it simple and keep the work to a minimum. I have been composting in this manner for forty years and it has worked wonderfully well. Have fun too... don't spend all your time tending your compost... It will tend itself. Green stuff + brown stuff + water = great compost.

BTW, to keep my pile moist I do this... we keep a one gallon pail under the sink and all the day's waste goes into it. Every morning I fill the pail with waste water from whatever I'm doing around the sink... then out it goes to the heap. I put it in a different spot each day in a methodical fashion so I know where the water went. Works well.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lively Dirt - The Garden Blog

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 11:21PM
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I use the pallet system but you could just heap stuff in a pile or use cinder blocks or chicken wire to sort of keep the pile contained. Really you can just throw your plant-based food scraps on the pile, I usually cover with shredded paper or you can use paper towels and coffee filters as your browns. If you tear these up they decompose faster. It is true that fruit like watermelon rinds attract flies, so I make sure to cover them with shredded paper. If you like the exercise, which I do, you can turn your pile often. I turn mine occasionally and I never water it. It all goes back to compost even if you don't do anything to it. Really it's not that big a deal. Have fun with it.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 9:28AM
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The simplest way to use your kitchen scraps at your cottage would be a version of trench composting like I do in the summer here. Every day I have about a quart of kitchen scraps and just dig a hole between the perennials about a shovel's depth, dump in the scraps and cover with soil. The earthworms do the rest. It doesn't get any easier than this.

You will notice a great improvement in your soil over time with this method.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 10:37AM
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I'm thinking a simple chicken wire or wire fence circle is going to work fine here. The volume of food waste over just a few weeks, without any yard waste to add to it, is not going to be enough to warrant a full sized bin like a pallet bin or concrete block bin. Unless I misunderstood, that's probably overkill.

I like the trench composting idea too. It may be a bit more work to dig the trench as opposed to having a bin, but there's no turning or emptying the bin after that. One step and done.

If you go with some type of bin, I don't know that I'd stop adding several weeks before leaving and try to hurry up the batch. I would add stuff right up until the last day, layering with some browns, turn it once before you go, and when you come back months later, you'll have compost. Empty the bin and start over. If it's not done yet just add to the top and let the stuff on the bottom cure a bit longer. Easy enough to sort it out when you finally empty it.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2013 at 11:03AM
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priswell(9 CA)

Since you're talking about a temporary, intermittent residence, I say go with the trench composting - dig a hole 1 1/2 times the depth of your scraps, and bury your scraps. Just dig a new hole every day. If you're worried about feral animals, plunk a big flat rock, or weighted screen over the newest scraps and move it along as you dig new holes. Even if you have an armful of scraps at a time, they will shrink considerably in a few days.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 1:05PM
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