Composting is the best
way by far to feed your garden, and, it
keeps organic waste out of the landfills!
Check out these great
The article below is a great discussion
about various types of composting.
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OBSERVATIONS FROM A COMPOSTING TRAINER
By Doug Remington
I have been a composting trainer for the
City of Columbia, MO for two years. I was
blessed with students that knew more about
composting than I did. I would like to share
some of that information with you. The first
thing I learned is keep it simple. Kitchen
wastes can be composted quickly, without
any odors, no rats, mice, snakes (we have
had composters find snake families living
in their compost bins), and no flies or
other noxious insects. The only tool you
need is a small shovel. Simply bury each
days wastes in a small hole about 6 inches
deep. Just dig a small hole, put the wastes
in the hole, and put the top soil back on.
In just a few days (not 1 to 3 years like
the wire bin) it will be gone. I have had
many people tell me they have been burying
their trash for 15 years or more and never
a problem or complaint. One elderly couple
that moved into a downtown condo buries
their trash in the flower beds along their
sidewalk and in front of their unit. That
is enough space for their needs and they
have been doing it for three years and not
a single problem.
Why does in-the-ground composting work so
well. Because it moderates the tremendous
swings in the parameters of moisture, temperature,
and oxygen. The same thing a good compost
bin is supposed to do. When choosing a compost
bin, you should check and see how well it
scores on each of these parameters. Take
a very commonly recommended compost bin,
the wire bin. It does nothing to control
moisture swings, no wind protection, no
vermin protection, no insulation, no shade,
and no nothing. It is the worst compost
bin design possible. The people who recommend
it say materials will breakdown in 1 to
3 years. Lots of time for bad things to
happen. One researcher I work with lives
in a nice suburban neighborhood. A few years
ago he and his neighbors attended a neighborhood
meeting to learn about composting. The wire
bin was suggested because it is cheap and
anyone can make one. So they all made one
and filled them with leaves. A few people
put some more leaves in the next Fall. Then
they all ignored their bins because nothing
was happening. Then we had several wet Springs
and something did happen. All of the wire
compost bins went anaerobic. The stench
was so terrible that it would almost bring
tears to your eyes. The whole neighborhood
was a foul and putrid place. Everyone gave
up composting because it didn't work. The
simple answer is to mow the leaves when
they have fallen and are dry. Start at the
outside of your yard and mow in a counter-clockwise
concentric circle. Spread out any clumps
and in a few weeks you won't be able to
see a single leaf. It will fertilize the
yard for free and improve the overall health
of your yard. There is no easier(no raking,
bagging or lifting heavy bags), quicker,
more effective or cheaper way to dispose
It is very important for composting trainers
to be firm and recommend bins that are really
effective. One to three years is not an
acceptable time frame. Too much time for
something to go wrong. A compost bin should
create an environment that stimulates both
macrobes and microbes. That means a top
for shade and to repel rain and sides to
protect the pile from the drying winds and
provide vermin control. Cost is not a prohibitive
factor. Cardboard can make great walls and
a small piece of white or black plastic
makes a great roof. As a matter of fact,
they can be used to retrofit the wire bins.
Several of my students have done just that
and have been amazed at the results.
Remember, no compost bin will work at peak
performance levels without a lid and sides.
The World's Ultimate Compost Bin
I am always amused by the modern pursuit
of a single device that will work perfectly
for everyone, everywhere, under every possible
set of conditions. One of my favorite sayings
is, "If it says one size fits all, it won't
fit anyone." So the world's ultimate compost
bin is one that meets the following criteria:
1. A bin that you can afford. You may not
be able to afford a $3,000 solar powered,
motor driven composting facility. A simple,
cheap, but effective compost bin can be
made of newspaper, heavy string, and small
sticks. A newspaper bin is especially good
for batch composting things like leaves.
A farmer can tell you how fast hay rots
when the bales are turned on end.
If appearances are not a main concern for
you, either because you can screen off the
bin or because you have a large enough property
to keep the bin out of sight, a free, biodegradable
bin is as close as a store that sells appliances.
Collecting a shipping box from a washing
machine or dishwasher and punching some
aeration holes in the bottom and sides gives
you an instant compost bin that will eventually
turn into compost itself. The shipping box
and newspaper bins are both static pile
composters which means they are not to be
turned or stirred. This results in a slower
process but is a perfectly acceptable method
You can also build a very attractive and
highly efficient unit very cheaply out of
wooden pallets. (See the diagram and instructions
for how to construct one.) Wood is an ideal
material for compost bins for several reasons.
It is biodegradable, strong, a fairly good
insulator, makes an attractive compost bin,
and when coupled with screen provides protection
from insects and vermin. It also protects
the compost from the drying rays of the
sun and wind, and it is available everywhere.
Wooden pallets are often discarded after
a single use or when broken. You can usually
get them for free or very cheap. If you
don't know of a source through your employment
or friends you can purchase pallets very
inexpensively from Civic Recycling on Brown
2. A bin that is made out of recycled, biodegradable
materials. One of the main reasons for composting
is to lessen the flow of materials into
landfills. If bins are made of non-recyclable
plastics, for instances, they will wear
out and need disposal. In the future landfills
could be filling up with old, worn out,
plastic compost bins.
3. A design that provides an ideal growth
environment for the hundreds of organisms
that form a community of waste degraders
and that works for your lifestyle.
How well your compost bin controls the environmental
parameters of moisture, humidity, aeration,
and temperature, determines how fast your
wastes will break down.
A commonly suggested design is the woven
wire bin. The biggest problem with this
design is excessive wetting and drying.
This means the bin provides ideal conditions
only a small fraction of the time in our
Missouri climate. The wastes are held up
for the sun and wind to do the maximum drying.
Dry wastes do not compost. Then, when it
finally does rain the pile either gets too
wet or the excessively dry material sheds
the rain and stays dry. If it should get
too wet, anaerobic digestion takes place
which causes foul odors. If it sheds the
rain (have you ever noticed how much harder
it is to get a completely dry sponge to
soak up a spill) it stays too dry and nothing
happens. These problems can be overcome
by wetting the pile as you build it and
then covering the pile with white plastic
if your compost pile is in the direct sun
or black plastic it is in the shade. Be
sure to cut some aeration holes in the plastic
to allow the pile to breathe. Don't cut
the holes in the top because it will allow
unwanted water to enter the system. You
can use rocks, bricks, soil, or boards around
the base of the compost pile to hold the
plastic in place. But the pallet bin is
really a better option.
There are dozens of designs for compost
bins to fit into almost any lifestyle. The
first step is to decide what you want the
compost bin to do for you. Many people have
sedentary jobs and need some physical exercise.
Having a composting system that requires
regular turning with a shovel can be the
best choice. Regular turning also speeds
up the composting process. The Columbia
Volunteer Program, University Extension,
or the public library all have information
on compost bin designs. You can also visit
the Compost Bin Demonstration Sites at Oakland
Middle School and the Community Garden on
9th Street to see a number of different
types of bins.
Other people are so busy and overworked
they don't have the time or energy to turn
the compost pile. Most modern commercial
composting companies use a composting system
called Aerated Static Piles. Instead of
regularly turning the piles to expose all
parts of the pile to the fresh air, they
run slotted flexible pipe throughout the
pile to allow the air to flow through the
pile. The same technique can be used in
a small scale unit. Slotted flexible pipe
is used underground to drain water away
from buildings and is available at most
building supply stores. Simply cover each
end with screen or old pantyhose to prevent
vermin from living in the pipe, and bury
it in the pile with both ends exposed. If
the pile is fairly large, bury one or two
pieces of pipe in a U-shape with both ends
poking up out of the top of the waste material.
See below for suggested use of pipe system.
The design of a compost bin is limited only
by the imagination, but the best bin is
one that fits the needs and lifestyle of
the composter who uses it.
4. Finally, a compost bin that is legal.
Where you live determines what waste disposal
regulations you have to follow. If you live
in Columbia, composting is legal unless
it becomes a nuisance because of odor or
is attracting or providing a breeding site
for flies or rats. If one of your neighbors
calls in a complaint about your compost
pile to the Health Department it will be
investigated. If it is determined there
is a problem you will be given seven days
to fix the problem and you will be referred
to the Columbia Volunteer Program for help
in solving the problem and maintaining the
pile correctly. If you are a renter you
will need your landlord's permission to
start a compost pile. Even if you own your
home, you may be restricted by neighborhood
Many rural people can legally have a simple,
open pile in the backyard under the old
oak tree. Open piles are cheap, but the
drawback is that they are slow, prone to
excessive wetting and drying, offer poor
insect and vermin control, and can be very
Building a Newspaper Compost Bin
Assemble newspaper, heavy string, small,
fairly straight sticks and compostable materials
(A). Cut several small matching holes along
the edge of several thicknesses of newspaper.
If you fold the edge and cut a >, it will
form a diamond.
(B). Add a few holes scattered throughout
the face of the paper to provide aeration.
Don't make too many aeration holes.
Lay the newspaper down with ends overlapping
and diamond cuts matching. Weave a stick
in and out through the diamond cuts to hold
the newspaper together.
(C). When you have enough sheets to form
the diameter you want, overlap the two ends
and weave them together. Three sheets should
be a manageable size, but it can be bigger
if you like. You will wind up with a cylinder
(D). Fill the cylinder with compostable
materials like leaves and grass clippings.
Tie a few bands of stout biodegradable string
around the bin during the filling to provide
(E). You will end up with a bale covered
on the outside with newspaper. You can even
remove the support ticks once the bale is
made and use them over and over if you have
done a good job of tying the string.
The Baffled Compost Bin
A moderately priced compost bin that is
very efficient is the baffled bin. It works
so well because of moisture, humidity, and
air control. Hot dry wind can dry out any
material it comes in direct contact with.
The baffles (see illustration) prevent hot
dry air from coming in direct contact with
the composting materials. As the air is
drawn into the bin it swirls around and
slowly picks up moisture before being drawn
into the interior of the pile where composting
is taking place. Having moisture laden air
drawn into the center of the pile is very
beneficial because compost piles dry out
from the inside out. The moisture laden
air also stimulates many microorganisms
because they can draw their moisture from
the air. The baffles provide excellent control
of large vermin like rats and mice and if
screen is used to cover the openings there
is excellent insect control. The baffled
bin will compost as efficiently as any high
priced system and is very attractive if
built with quality materials.
Construct five baffled panels for your bin.
This will give you four sides and a top.
A top is very important on a baffled bin
to moderate the air flow. Construction is
similar to the pallet bin. In fact, pallets
can be turned into baffled panels by nailing
boards and spacers onto them. For ease in
turning the pile or getting at the finished
compost, have one side open out or detach.
The top panel can either be hinged so it
can be raised or just rest on the top edges
of the four sides.
Building A Pallet Bin
Assemble four wooden pallets, six fence
posts, some boards, nails, and wire.
Try to get pallets the same size as it will
make construction easier, but they don't
have to be exactly the same size. You can
join the pallets together using six steel
fence posts, some 1" x 4" boards, galvanized
wire or coated heavy copper wire, or galvanized
nails. But be creative. If you have materials
at hand like untreated wooden posts or nylon
rope instead of wire, use them.
Choose the largest of your pallets to be
the roof and measure it's length and width.
This will be the maximum outside dimension
of the walls of your compost bin. Draw a
square or rectangle that size on the ground
where you will be placing your bin. Next
measure the other three pallets and lay
out a C-shaped design smaller than the roof.
Drive two fence posts for each wall spaced
about a foot from each end. Drive them in
so the top of the fence post is lower than
the top edge of the pallet. This will keep
them from sticking up over the top edges
of the sides and interfering with the roof.
Wire or tie the pallets to the posts.
The pallet you have chosen for the roof
needs to be modified for maximum effectiveness.
What you want is a roof that doesn't leak
too badly. Use the 1" x 4" boards to cover
the open spaces between the boards that
make up the top surface of the pallet.
Then put the roof on and wire it to the
pallets used for the walls. Some kind of
front door would improve effectiveness,
even one as simple as a heavy canvas flap
with a board stapled to the bottom. Or purchase
five pallets instead of four and wire or
tie the fifth to the front as a door.