I have been really interested in different ways of composting lately, I set up a compost bin and a worm farm! I am really hoping to improve our soil with nutrients created from our own waste. But why create compost instead of buying a bag of fertilizer at the store?
Why should you compost?
There are many reasons to compost, but I have listed some of the most important ones!
1. Compost is free
I don’t know about you, but I like free stuff! And how awesome is it that we can improve our garden soil for free? You don’t have to buy anything to start composting, you don’t need a fancy bin or any additives, all you need is a designated place on your property, kitchen scraps and yard waste! If you want to put your compost in a bin you don’t need anything fancy, the compost doesn’t care, just find any container that is at least 1 cubic meter and throw all your organic material in there and nature does the rest!
2. Compost increases nutrients and adds microorganisms
Synthetic fertilizers contain Nitrogen, Potassium and phosphor, because these nutrients have a positive effect on plant growth. However, using synthetic fertilizer results in over-fertilization and disturbs the natural nutrient balance in the soil. Plants need more than just nutrients to survive, they also need organic matter and microbial activity, synthetic fertilizer actually decreases the beneficial microorganisms in the soil. Compost contains elements, trace elements and microorganisms. The microorganisms found in soil and compost are responsible for the breaking down of organic matter and making nutrients available to the plants.
3. Compost loosens and heals the soil
A lot of soil has been damaged by commercial grazing, intensive growing of crops, successive tilling and plowing. Compost can heal this soil overtime, it adds nutrients and microorganisms that were extracted from the soil during these processes back into the soil. Compost loosens the soil, making it easier for plants to grow and retains water.
4. Composting reduces waste
Composting kitchen scraps and yard waste reduces waste going into landfills. It is estimated that 30-50% of food is thrown out, that’s crazy! Any organic matter on your property can be composted and should not end up in the trash. You can turn your organic waste into black gold that feeds your garden instead!
5. Nature does it!
My opinion is that if nature does it we should too. If you have even been to the woods you will have seen that nature composts everything, trees, leaves, animal droppings, even dead animals. Whatever organic material falls onto the ground gets composted by nature. The organic matter is broken down overtime with the help of microorganisms and turns into dark, rich soil!
How to compost
There are many ways to compost, some take longer than others, some are more work than others, but they all improve the soil. It may take some work, but you can reap the benefits eventually.
Book recommendation: Compost everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting – David the Good
A compost bin doesn’t have to be anything fancy, all you need are four walls that contain the organic matter. This could be any reclaimed material you have lying around on your property. We used pallets to build our compost bin, but you can use anything, just make sure the compost gets sufficient air and moisture and you are good to go! If you don’t want to just slap something together there are compost bins for sale. I collected some pictures from some awesome people who were willing to show their compost bins, just to give you some ideas!
Three bin compost system
With a three bin compost system you add fresh material to the first bin only. As bin number one is full you move it to the second bin and don’t add any more fresh material. You continue to fill up bin 1 with fresh material again, when it is full you move the material from bin 2 to bin 3 and from bin 1 to bin 2. This way you can start putting fresh material in bin one again and bin 2 and 3 have time to compost. By the time you have filled up bin 1 for the third time, bin 3 should be fully composted and ready to use in the garden!
One bin compost system (made from scratch)
Here is some great examples of one bin compost systems made from scratch or reclaimed materials. It will be harder to turn the compost than it is in a 3 bin system, because you have to take the compost out and dump it back in. You could opt for not turning but this will make the process of completing the compost take longer.
Pre-made Compost bin
This is an example of a prefab compost bin that we bought. The problem with this system is that it does not get a lot of air and turning it is a pain in the rear. You may also need to add lots of moisture as it is closed and does not benefit from rain. We have had two of these compost bins for 5 years and moved them with us when we moved, and we have yet to get compost out of these bins. If you have one of these bins and successfully created compost in them let me know, I would love to know how! One mistake I know I made is that instead of putting it on the ground, we put it on a pallet (we only did that after we moved), so microorganisms and bugs/worms can’t enter the compost bin.
A compost pile is even easier to make, just designate an area on your property for compost and start dumping your organic waste! Just make sure the location is easily accessible and it is not in the full sun all day. If you want to make it even easier on yourself, put the compost pile where you are planning to garden next year, that way you just have to spread the compost and not haul it around in a wheelbarrow!
This is so awesome, you can get your chickens to help you create compost! You make a compost pile or a bin which your chickens can get into, and let them do their thing! They will scratch it, eat bugs and food scraps, and poop on your compost which adds even more nutrients! Not only do they help speed up the composting, it also cuts down your feed bill because the chickens are eating from the compost! If you place the compost where you want your future garden to be they can even help you spread the compost! More information on using chickens as compost workers can be found here.
Sheet composting (lasagna gardening/back to eden)
In this case you compost right where you want the nutrients, in the garden bed. You layer stacks of organic material and plant on top of it and the organic material will compost over time and feed your plants! No hauling compost, just stacking it where you need it and let nature do the rest! A great documentary was made about back to eden gardening, definitely a must see for everybody!
Another great way to compost is vermiculture, in this system composting worms (not earthworms) help you turn your kitchen scraps into rich compost! The benefit of this system is that you can set it up anywhere, even in an apartment! You can build your own wormfarm (see ideas below) or buy a prefab wormfarm(*).
Book recommendation: Worms Eat my Garbage – Mary Appelhof
The first wormfarm is ours, we had an old bathtub standing outside that was once used as a livestock waterer, it’s too high for our sheep though and open water and a toddler are usually not a good idea. So we decided to turn it into a worm farm. It has a drain in the bottom so any excess moisture can be drained easily. We added a layer of rocks in the bottom to help with drainage, then added a layer of landscaping fabric, and on top of that we added bedding (moist newspaper) in which our worms live. We have been using it for a month now and the worms are thriving!
Next you see a wormbin made from totes, holes and a spout have been added to the bottom to allow drainage, and a hole has been cut into the lid to allow sufficient airflow. This system would be great for small spaces, like an apartment.
This last wormbin is one I built for my sister who lives in an apartment. Not only is it small, it also looks cool and can be used as a bench or little side table! It is made of wood which allows for sufficient airflow. This system is a horizontal migration worm bin, there is a piece of hardware cloth in the middle. You start bij adding bedding and worms to one side, where you feed them. When the first half is full you do the same thing on the other side, and the worms will move to the new material when they have finished composting the first side. After a couple of months you can harvest the castings from the first side and start filling that up again. The problem with wood though is that the moisture will break it down eventually so after a couple of years it will need replacing, but that’s alright because it was easy and inexpensive to make!
In this system you build a no-dig raised garden bed on top of buried organic matter (including logs and branches). The gradual decay of organic material provides long-term nutrients to the plants. The logs and branches act as a sponge, retaining water, meaning you may never need to water your garden bed. If you are interested in learning how to make a hugekultur bed, make sure you check out this video!
What to compost
Everything! No, that’s a joke (sort of). Basically anything that was once alive can be composted because it will break down eventually. Nature composts everything that falls onto the ground, leaves, branches, dead animals and even poop. But we are dealing with a situation in which we have to live so some care should be taken into how you compost certain matters. David the Good just recently posted a video on Composting the Nastiest Stuff, in which he buries all sorts of nasty rotten waste and plants on top of it. You have to take into account possible animals that can get into your compost and you health, you may not want to just throw this nasty stuff on a compost pile because it will attract all sorts of pests and create smells. I really suggest buying David the Good’s book: Compost everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting if you are interested in composting everything!
What is your preferred method of composting? Maybe you use a composting system that I didn’t list, I would be really interested in hearing about it!