What eats kitchen scraps, loves tea, and digests of all my confidential mail?
It’s smelly. It’s dirty. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of. Me and the compost are tight.
A few months ago, at the end of a season, it was clear that I had to expand my compost operation in order to process the spent plants from the garden. I opted for a two bin system based on a Citizen Gardener class I took a few years back. Essentially, one bin cooks (the one with the papasan hat) and one eats. The Citizen Gardener instructor (Dick Pierce) suggested using nine reclaimed pallets. His model is nice looking, easy to assemble, and easy to flip. All this sounds good, but I didn’t have nine pallets lying around. So, as with any recipe, I only sort of followed it, as in, mostly I didn’t follow it at all.
I browsed my collection of found treasures with the following structural considerations in mind:
2. easy assembly/disassembly,
3. free-standing ability.
In the end, the construction materials included rolled wire, a broomstick (this turned out to be extraneous), some cardboard (used as a Bermuda barrier), and the ever-useful zip ties (to bind the wire ends).
Once the two bins were constructed, I immediately implemented my New Improved Composting System. This system has been a success so far for the garden and has decreased waste in our household. Win/win! This is done all on the cheap, btw. I didn’t spend a dime on it. With no further adieu, here’s the system and how it’s made.
First step: The Pretty Kitchen Bucket was a gift from Mom. It’s very pretty, easy to clean, and it has a nice fitting lid so that its presence on the kitchen counter inflicts no aesthetic insult to my favorite room of the house. This bucket is where I put all the kitchen scraps while I’m kitchening.
Second step: The Holey Bucket. This is a five-gallon bucket with lots of holes drilled into it. When the kitchen bucket gets full, we dump it in this bucket, which sits outside near the back door, and then we cover it with tea grounds or our shredded mail. The tea and coffee grounds do a lot to keep smells and snails at bay and adds high-quality “brown” material to your compost.
When this bucket gets full, I move the filled bucket to the garden. There, it sits undisturbed until I need to use the bucket again (I have two buckets in rotation). If it rains, compost tea percolates out of the bucket and into the ground for a bit of passive soil feeding before it’s off to its next stop on the compost train!
This Holey Bucket step is important for open composting because it allows the kitchen scraps time to break down a bit before it goes to the large compost bin. This partially composted stuff is not as likely to draw unwelcome visitors to the garden as fresh kitchen scraps might.
Third step: Big Bins (The Eater and the Cooker). The Eater is the active bin that presently receives new material. The Cooker is the inactive bin that is just sitting and doing its composting thing until it’s flipped…it doesn’t get any new material. When the Cooker is flipped, it then becomes the Eater and the Eater becomes the Cooker. With these bins in continuous rotation, I always have a place to put new material and I always have a place to harvest compost.
I feed the Eater with all the garden cuttings (except nightshades, which might spread plant disease) and the Holey Buckets. When a few Holey Buckets have accumulated in the garden, or when a lot of plant trimmings have accumulated in the bin, I feed the Holey Buckets to the Eater, stir it with a garden fork and cover it with more tea. There’s no set schedule for all this. I just keep feeding the Eater until I need more compost, then, I flip the Cooker and harvest the compost. See? It’s simple!
FLIPPING AWESOME COMPOST!
Assembling the troops! These are my helpers, and I love them. These came from my grandparents’ house, and I use them often.
Below, you can see my elaborate sifting system. The tarp is to catch stuff that spills, because it will, in copious quantities. The sift also came from my grandparents’ house. (It’s original purpose was for drying onions and garlic.)
From here, it’s tedious (but rewarding!) and needs little to no explanation. I used the d-handled tools to get the material out of the bin that has been cooking, put the material into the sift, and then use my hands and the small hand tool to move the material around until all the good stuff falls into the waiting bucket and tarp. The stuff that won’t sift gets added to the compost that’s about to sit and cook.
Finally, I reassembled the new compost bin (the eater) and put the Papasan hat on the cooking bin.
And then…I took a shower and had a wee congratulatory sip of some spirits.