Official Earth Machine compost bin users thread!

pkapeckopickldpepprz(z9 a/b FL)December 5, 2008

I have 3 of them and they work ok as you start filling them up. Problem seems to be once they are 3/4 to 100% full. As it cools off the bottom door compost isn't quite finished with lots of sticks and branches still in original form. Also how best to remove the stuff from the compost door? Seems like I can scrape out a pitchfork full of compost but it's not very light and fluffy like you think of when people say black gold, it is black and clumpy sort of resembling a clay like material. In any event how do you ever get the back of the bin totally empty when you keep adding new on top?

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I have a different kind of composter (Garden Gourmet), but I think the design is similar, with a door at the bottom to shovel stuff out and a door in the top to add stuff.

I try to shred sticks and branches before adding them, or resign myself to the fact that it will take a long time for them to break down.

I periodically take some from the bottom and put it on top to help with mixing. If I really want to mix it up, I fill buckets with stuff from the bottom until I get a bunch of it out, then add the compost in the buckets back on top. I'll also mix it with a bulb auger.

At some point, I usually stop adding new stuff for a couple of weeks. I'll then sift the compost. I use most of it in the lawn so I don't want chunks. If I use it in the garden, I don't worry about sifting. Anything that doesn't go through the sifter goes back in the bin after the entire bin is empty. I'll usually alternate the leftover compost with layers of new material that I've accumulated over the prior few weeks.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 1:53PM
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pkapeckopickldpepprz(z9 a/b FL)

I think part of the problem for me is the sifting process. I use the 1/2" hardware cloth over a 32 gallon Rubbermaid trash can and it is slow going. Takes about an hour to get "maybe" a 1/2 of a 5 gallon bucket worth of compost. There's got to be an easier way. You mention you totally fill and empty that Garden Gourmet in a few weeks. There is probably some material (since I keep adding new) in the original bin I bought 2 years ago still in there.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 2:42PM
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pkapeckopickldpepprz(z9 a/b FL)

I will be adding pictures to display the Earth Machines.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 2:50PM
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pkapeckopickldpepprz(z9 a/b FL)

As you can see there are lots of twigs and sticks, and the picture makes the compost look better than it is in person. It is kind of wet and clumpy...

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 3:09PM
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careyj(7 Southern Maryland)

I have 2. I just add to one for six months then let it rest for 6 months. hen I use the other. Im getting ready to empty one now. I dont add sticks to mine because they take forever.

I find it is much easier to just lift the container off the ground and set it aside to work with the compost (learned that here:). I put whatever is not finished in the wheelborrow to put back in the composter.


    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 3:29PM
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pkapeckopickldpepprz(z9 a/b FL)

Earth Machine 1

Earth Machine 2

Earth Machine 3

Hardware Cloth sifter

Sifted compost in a 32 gallon Rubbermaid trash can

You can see the twigs and small stick pieces even in the sifted compost and I'm ok with that it's just the so called finished compost is all clumpy and wet and almost impossible to sift even. How dry are these supposed to be? I've been doing compost for 10 years and it never is as easy as it seems.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 3:30PM
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pkapeckopickldpepprz(z9 a/b FL)

I did just buy a electric chipper (Harbor Freight) and it works well for rose cuttings which is probably 90% of what I put in my compost bins. Prior to the chipper I would hand cut pieces usually around 1 inch in length but the leaves and deadheaded stuff was not shredded. My problem with a 0% tolerance for yard waste is probably the reason I am fighting to make compost as quick as sdome of you all are doing it.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 3:45PM
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westover(Portland OR)

I have three Earth Machines too, which I like very much now that I've figured out how to make them work for me.

STICKS AND BRANCHES. I had this problem too, because at the time I started making compost I read somewhere that I should make a bottom layer of sticks and twigs. But that bottom layer didn't decompose. What I eventually learned was that sticks and branches hardly ever decompose in any kind of compost pile, not unless you're willing to give it a couple of years or more. I tried open piles, lasagna layers, but the sticks and twigs survived after everything else in the pile had done the right thing. Now, I just grind the sticks and twigs up in my electric shredder-grinder before adding to the compost, and it works out fine. If too big to grind, they go in with the firewood. And for the bottom layer in a new bin, I now use several inches of shredded leaves.

THAT BOTTOM DOOR. I seldom use it any more, for the reasons you mentioned, and also because it's more work that way. I think that bottom door is more for people who have only one bin, where the bottom is finished and the top isn't. In that case, the bottom door lets you excavate enough to make new room at the top. As for getting at the back of that bottom layer through the bottom door, I don't even try anymore, it's like drilling a shaft in a coal mine.

When you have more than one bin, it's far easier just to fill one bin, then start a second bin while the first is curing, ditto with the third bin, so that when the third is full I empty the first one; even though sometimes it's not 100% cured, I empty it anyway. I just fork it out from the top, and when I've emptied it down to where the two rings attach to each other, I disconnect the upper ring for easier access. Even easier is just to lift the whole bin up off the pile and set it aside, although if you attached the bin to the ground with those four plastic screws, you'll have to unscrew them first.

BLACK AND CLUMPY. Perhaps it's too wet -- the last time I had black and clumpy/clayey compost, it was in the bottom layer of a bin that I had been overwatering, and it was a little soggy. When I have succeeded in making Grade A black gold, it's drier and crumbly. Or maybe yours wasn't completely finished. In either case, spreading it on the soil has always cured any faults for me.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 3:59PM
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pppppp....Man if your name is Peter Piper I'm gonna kill myself laughing....

Anyways, a compost wacko enthusiast would have named those EM's, you know like R2D2, 3CPO and Darth (as in Vader), not just number them. Heck we mighta even had a framed picture of them on our desk at work, you know, sorta like a family portrait. Let us kow what you come up with on that.

As far as twigs/branches, ya they are a problem, I found the easiest way to not have them waiting at the bottom, (of any CP for that matter) was to not put them in whole in the first place. But now I use a couple of different sifters so it's not such big deal to me anymore and the EM is only a demo to show people, it's not my primary composting method. I think they are fine units.

I also like the "lift off and move" method the others have already talked about versus "dig from the bottom". Although that doesn't stop me from peeking and digging in the bottom anyways. I have never split the units, I remember reading somewheres that it's a pain in the butt to get 'em back together again and I'm not gonna take that chance. (try putting them together after a few beers, it's, how shall I say it, entertaining?)


    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 4:27PM
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pkapeckopickldpepprz(z9 a/b FL)

Westover and pt3 thanks for some good advice. I think when I started all 3 of these EMs I went with what I had thought I had read on here that you start the base with sticks and build upon that. Well since most of my greens tend to be rose canes the bottom was basically a thicket of thorny rose canes assembled like I was going to build a fire and then just started layering on top of those. Never again will I do that as the stuff on the bottom is almost impossible to get out through the sticks and thorny branches that basically intertwines and made a sort of "nest".

I also remember what a bear of a time I had putting these together when they were new, so who knows how hard it would be now if the plastic has warped somewhat from the weight of the compost pushing against the walls of the EM.

I think my mistake was to think since the sticks werent decomposing an extra dose of urine would give it the nitrogen needed to get it hot again. Well it just sort of stayed soggy and that's probably the reason. I guess I will have to pick the most cured EM and empty it completely and start a new pile in that while the other 2 cure/dry out. Will it dry out faster without the top lid on? I guess it can't hurt if the bottom is soggy. Leave the bottom door off too to dry out the bottom middle?

Also my name isn't Peter Piper, it is Peter Pecker, lol just kidding, my name is not even Peter, I just liked the name for a garden related forum. Kind of catchy huh? :D

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 7:08PM
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Someone else mentioned this, but I thought I'd just reinforce it: I have 2 EM's. I never use the door at the bottom. I add to the pile from the top until I'm ready to stir it up. Then lift the whole thing off the ground, do whatever mixing or sifting I want to do, then build the pile back up with whatever needs more composting.

I also use an aerator weekly or so. That helps with getting air into the bottom and middle of the pile, and it brings up a little of the bottom material towards the top.

I'm overall pretty happy with them. Cheap, and they keep the pile well contained and heated.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 9:45PM
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westover(Portland OR)

Pkaetc, I made the same mistake in the beginning about the rose canes. The sticks at the bottom of my pile that were supposed to decompose, and didn't, still had their sharp briers when I disentangled them from the finished compost. That's what pushed me into buying my McColloch electric chipper/shredder, which made short work of the rose trimmings.

TAKING YOUR EM APART. Actually, you're right. About half the time that I detach that top rung, putting it back together is sometimes difficult and tedious. Lifting the whole thing off seems best.

DRYING OUT. I read cautions somewhere on this forum against letting your compost get too wet. If I remember, the excess water prevents the good bacteria from getting the oxygen they need. Opening that lower door would probably help it dry out, but I solved my similar problem just be spreading the imperfect soggy compost on the garden. The worms eventually took care of it.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 2:11PM
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val_s(z5 central IL)

I just use a pitch fork to stir mine right where it sits but then again mine don't get as full as yours. I mostly use mine in the winter for kitchen waste. In the spring I lift the whole thing, sift out what is usable and add what isn't into my concrete bins to keep composting.

I've never used the little door; to much bending for me.


    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 10:05AM
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diane_nj 6b/7a

Thanks for starting this thread. I have had 1 for 2 years now, and I've not removed anything. I'm a kind of slacker composter, it is just me. I only make coffee on the weekends. I try to save all of the waste greenery, peels, mushy vegetables, bread (shhh, don't tell annpat!), stale cereal. Leaves from my yard and whatever weeds come up. I've given up on putting in the rose canes, I don't have a chipper. Shreded bills, printer paper, paper towels.

I did look behind the door during the summer, the finished stuff at the bottom looked sandy. Was a little surprised, but whatever the soil food web brought to the pile, the soil at the base of the EM has a lot of sand.

I will get a second bin, though. I would like to get some volume of compost finished, and having just one bin doesn't cut it.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 10:42AM
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pkapeckopickldpepprz(z9 a/b FL)

Well I did a scavenger hunt for UCG and hit a few Starbucks and took home 2 of those large clear bags filled about half way so I would guess 40-50# of coffee grounds. Got 2 of the EMs cooking now at 120-130. If I can get a regular supply of UCG like 1 big bag twice a week or so I will be able to finish off 2 of the EM's and then empty both out and start new piles and not use sticks/branches on bottom.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 2:25PM
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ajpa(z6 se PA)

Where do you get your Earth Machines?

I checked with my county and they will offer them in Spring to attendees of a composting workshop but they only offer the workshops on weeknights (I am unavailable being on kid duty).
Are they for sale (where and how much do they cost?)

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 2:16PM
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val_s(z5 central IL)

Ajpa - although I got mine through the county, they did not offer a workshop. They just posted it in the paper and had the sale in the parking lot of a local mall. The link below should help you I think.

Here is a link that might be useful: Purchasing an Earth Machine

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 3:16PM
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ajpa(z6 se PA)

Val, how much did your county sell them for? I emailed the EM company (thanks for the link) and they sell them for $100 plus $43 S&H. (!!!)

I think maybe I will bring the kids to the composting workshop ... that will solve my babysitting problem.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 5:13PM
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val_s(z5 central IL)

Yikes! No! No! No! I only paid I think $35 for mine. It was about 3 years ago so I don't remember exactly but right around in there. I also bought one of the little winged aerator tools they had to go along with it. Twas kind of worthless to me though.

My husband and I have been watching the paper ever since hoping they'd have them again but so far we've either missed it or they haven't done it again. I wished I'd gotten 2 of them but I didn't know at the time if I'd like them or not. Some people do and some don't.


    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 6:37PM
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I am interested in them as well, but it will be costing me a hundred plus $65 shipping! Eeew.... I know we used to get them here, but our local Composting place has on their website that they're looking for suggestions for good cheap composters. Sad... perhaps EM / NorsemanPlastics isn't working with counties on this anymore...


Here is a link that might be useful: Tucson Organic Gardeners

    Bookmark   December 30, 2008 at 8:50PM
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pkapeckopickldpepprz(z9 a/b FL)

DaGenester I posted another thread Bought a compost bin at Sam's Club looks like a Bio Stack about the Soil Saver bin that I found at Sam's Club.

For $39.99 you get a far superior compost bin than the Earth Machine. Trust me I liked the Earth Machine a lot and still do, but compared to the Soil Saver, it is no comparison. Read the thread and consider the savings, and also hope you have a Sam's Club near you, and that they stock this compost bin.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2008 at 2:48AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

pppp - re the 'problem' of sticks and twigs. I wouldn't agonise over them. My compost always has twigs in it and I don't regard them as a problem. I certainly don't spend time or energy sifting them out. If they are large they just go back in to the next batch. If they are small they go on the garden. The vegetables don't object. I have two 40 inch high bins similar to your Earth Machines and I too ignore the door. It's much easier to lift the whole thing off and dig out the usable stuff. Undecomposed bits just go around the system again. As you see, the rhubarb doesn't mind a few twigs. (The wooden bins in the background are not mine. They belong to a neighbouring allotmenteer. I have two pallet bins behind the photographer and another wooden bin in the garden at home.)

    Bookmark   December 31, 2008 at 1:18PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

You can tell I'm at a loose end today - result you get to have to look at more photos of compost bins.

A bin for all seasons.

The bit of wood is my patent compost stirrer. As you can tell I am a very low effort composter.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2009 at 9:57AM
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I got my Earth Machine (I call it my R2 unit) late last spring, and this is the method they told us to use at the class I took when I got it:

First, fill it. It won't do its thing until it is full (I've found this not to be true, but...)

Month 1: Turn it once a week. The method they told us was to physically pick the Earth Machine up off of the compost heap, place it down beside the heap, then move the working compost back into the top Earth Machine with a pitchfork, mixing stuff as you go. Water as needed as you go, too. I've found this method of moving the thing back and forth to work pretty well. The vents in the lid should be covered.

Month 2: same as above, but only every two weeks. The vents in the lid should be uncovered.

Month 3: this is the curing phase, you don't need to keep the compost in the Earth Machine. I generally move the Earth Machine off the heap and start a new batch.

My compost didn't get as hot as it probably should have, and yes I had sticks and such still intact, too. I just threw the big stuff back in with the next batch. I've been pretty happy with mine and with using the method above.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2009 at 5:02PM
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Off-topic (kinda) - I have an Earth Machine (just purchased last week). I haven't started to fill it because it is winter (18 degrees right now). Can I freeze my food scraps (peels, rinds) in my home freezer and then put them in the EM in spring? I don't have anything else to put in the EM now - no leaves, etc. - just small bits of peels/rinds. I hate to throw out my daily orange/banana peels.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2009 at 1:49PM
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You can freeze them and put them in later, but it seems to me that the EM is sort of a large freezer now, so you can toss them in that and let them sit until they start to decompose. If you're worried about having too much N, you can always add some shredded paper (or tear some up and add it if you don't have a shredder).

If the EM is in a spot that isn't easy to get to in the cold, another option is to put a bucket near the back door and throw the scraps in there until it's easier to reach the EM or the bucket fills.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2009 at 3:26PM
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I haven't even put it together yet. It is too darn cold out. I have NEVER composted before, and am a bit confused to say the least.

As for putting the scraps by the back door, I was afraid of rodents. And I thought about getting a small kitchen compost "holder" but thought it was a waste of money.

Since I have practically nothing to put in it, I figured I'd wait until spring.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2009 at 7:14PM
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pkapeckopickldpepprz(z9 a/b FL)

Figured I'd resurrect this thread. How is everyone's EM holding up? Mine are doing well and I have completely removed all three of them and relocated them starting new piles in each of them since I started this thread. I completely dissassembled them and hosed them off to give it a somewhat cleaner interior. It wasn't as bad as I expected to get the 2 halves connected together but occasionally you play the game of getting what seems like all the tabs in the grooves and then you will see one sticking out and then you lift the laves apart to get it in place and then another falls out... Usually OK within 5 minutes of this game. Anyhow I see cracks forming on the lids of my 3 EMs and I sent an email to them since they say these have 10 year warranties. Since we get a lot of rain here in Florida I';d prefer to keep the lids in tact as the bins get enough water as it is. Just wondering how everyone else's unit are doing. I still prefer the ones I bought from Sam's that look like Bio-Stack copies, but the EMs are my first bought containers

    Bookmark   August 21, 2011 at 3:22PM
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Hi everyone, we just got ours but we have a little dilemma, we can't put it on grass, don't actually have the space for it. The only other option is on a nook on the driveway, which means we need to figure out how to place, i.e. what to put under it.

Obviously the driveway is concrete and apparently, that won't do. Has anyone have to deal with such a situation? I w thinking of putting some soil in a big plastic small sided bin. Any other idea?

Thanks for your reply and thank you for this thread.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 8:29PM
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start with 2 45 gallon plastic drum, drill holes into the bottom and the sides then get a piece of ply wood to cover it. Dump what ever you want into it leaves clippings food ect and have 10$ of high nitrogen fertilizer on hand. fill your drum throw in a few hand fulls of fertilizer every foot or so and add water. Every week take a fork and stir it in adding water and a two cups of fertilizer. In a month dump it out saving the compost then forking the rough stuf back into the bin to start another batch.Then again with your space confinements Take 5 gallon buckets call your local county landfil and get some from there.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2012 at 1:19AM
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VaNick, why can't you put the compost bin on the grass?

I placed my EM's on the grass with the intention of turning that part of my yard into a perennial bed or vegetable garden. Do you have that option?

If you can't destroy the grass (maybe due to a landlord situation?) is there any area with perennials or foundation plantings? I'm just wondering if you can first try to get a little creative in placement before doing some potentially unwieldy workarounds. Maybe you can push some mulch aside?

    Bookmark   December 17, 2012 at 10:55PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

The drainage on grass is not so good.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2012 at 10:10AM
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ApprenticeGardener(7b or 8)

Just ordered an Earth Machine from Home Depot for store pick-up with no shipping changes for what appeared to be a reasonable price. I'll keep updating on my experiences as they occur. (First one will probably be to see how long it takes to actually arrive). Best Wishes--Carl

Atlanta, Georgia
Waiting for the last day of frost to pass, to apply the pre-emergents, and to see the forsythia bloom.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 4:26PM
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ApprenticeGardener(7b or 8)

Picked up the composter at Home Depot today. It actually came in on the 6th, but I've just today had the opportunity to go get it. It's raining to suit Noah at the moment, so the box is sitting in the back of the truck. More info in my next post.

Best Wishes--Carl

High and Dry in Rainy Hotlanta

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 5:55PM
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