In this article, we’ll tell you two things:
#1. How to make your own compost, to help you get a higher yield from your garden.
#2. How to make several types of DIY compost bins with parts you should have in your home right now. Videos included.
So let’s dive right in!
What Is Compost?
To go by textbook definition, compost is a mixture of decaying organic matter used to fertilize the soil. Gathering plant material like grass clippings, leaves, and vegetable peels, and putting them into a pile or compost bin usually make it up. The matter will decompose as a result of aerobic bacteria, fungi, and other organisms.
Why Do I Need It?
It would be quicker to sum up why you don’t need it. Compost is completely essential to speeding up the growth speed and quality of any crop. It’s organic Miracle Grow, but stronger. Compost is essentially recycled matter turned into fresh, new, vitamin-enriched soil which is ripe for planting just about anything.
Compost is comprised of plant matter, certainly, but their chemical breakdown is only half of the process. Since the beginning of time, agriculturists have used compost to ensure longevity and health for their crops, though they didn’t really know the why behind it. In the last fifty-or-so years, we’ve taken a good, hard look at the biological breakdown of compost.
Compost needs to breathe. Microorganisms, fungi, and even worms aid in the decomposition of organic plant matter to speed up the process. Don’t be alarmed; if you reach your hands into a compost heap and feel a warmth or intense heat dwelling inside, you’re not alone. It’s just part of the process of decomposition and aeration. If you’re ever concerned that spontaneous combustion could be an issue, simply refer to these tips on building a proper compost pile to avoid such an incident.
If you want your crops to grow rapidly and fruitfully—you’re going to need compost. There is no second-guessing it. However, some ways are wrong in how to go about doing this. Leave a pile of compostable items in the yard for some time, and sure, you’ll get a heap of compost ready to spread across your field. There are better methods to incur a richer and healthier soil for your crops. Let’s get into it.
What You Need for A+ Compost
We’ve covered what it is and why it’s important, but now, you’re going to need to apply a small amount of effort to start the decomposition process. You can expect anywhere from two months to four months to get ready-to-use compost for your crops.
A compost bin—you’ll start here to speed up the process. Leaving messy piles in the yard puts your compost at risk to the elements in their key stages of creation, as well as animals using it as a place to do their business. A good compost bin doesn’t follow a dimensional requirement, however, if you’re looking to avoid spontaneous combustion as I mentioned earlier, you should stick to an area of three cubic feet. It provides good ventilation; nearly promising you won’t get rotten compost.
Recommended below are the components to an inexpensive, effective compost bin:
- Plastic outside trash barrel with lockable lid
- Some sort of a platform, such as a few wooden planks or bricks
- Drill and screws to attach the barrel to said platform
- Drill’s second use: puncture holes every 5 inches on container for aeration
This project should only take you about five minutes in total. In no time at all, you will be ready to make compost. Below is a video example from Oscar Carmona, owner of the Healing Grounds Nursery in Santa Barbara, California.
Another option for large amounts would be a plastic barrel case. This is typically an enclosure to keep your barrels safe from large critters such as raccoons and opossums, but when properly reinforced from the exterior can prove a versatile and effective compost bin.
Here, you can see a PowerPoint demonstration of how to make a compost bin for around $20.00 out of a trash barrel. It includes ways to properly aerate your compost at the bottom of the barrel.
One more way to gain a wonderful compost bin is out of used pallets. If you’re savvy on websites like Craigslist, you’ve probably noted different times seeing free pallets for pickup. In this instructional video below, you’ll see how to create a small stable-like compost bin with an enormous circumference. If you choose this option, please note you’ll also need four corner brackets and a screwdriver in addition to the items listed above.
Sounds kid of redundant, doesn’t it? Your compost, while an organic material, can be created the wrong way, making it essentially useless (and rather stinky.)
Your compost needs to breathe. In order to do that, you should regularly churn the compost bin components with a pitchfork or something of that sort, so the matter resting at the bottom has a chance to oxidize. Components in your compost make an array of odors when certain balances are thrown off.
Compost piles smell like ammonia when they give off excess nitrogen, which is in short, ammonia. If you’re adding high-nitrogen enriched components to your pile, this is bound to happen. This is most common when your compost has an abundance of green materials. One pro tip to avoid having to turn your pile often (since it can be a narcotizing experience) is to jam a few sticks in the center of your pile. It allows for air to essentially leak in, aerating the inside of the compost heap, taking out some of the guesswork for you.
Dead leaves and brush are extremely high in carbon, and as a result, compose slowly on their own. When mixed into the larger pile, that may slow or even stop entirely. Your compost is lacking moisture; throw on a pair of gloves and dig through the heap. If it’s not moist enough, the decomposition process will halt completely. This can be easily remedied with a quick run over with the hose. If you’re following the three cubic feet suggestion, run the hose for ten seconds a piece in six different spots—one minute should do the trick.
Dead leaves are brown; food waste is green. You need a healthy balance for your compost.
Building the Heap
Equipped with basic knowledge of what compost is, and how to create your own compost bin along with maintaining your compost. It’s time to get a pile going. You’d be surprised at what is considered organic, compostable waste.
- Yard Trimmings: Take a poke around the yard; you could certainly trim back a bit, or perhaps you already have a small pile in the corner. The contents of your mower, fallen twigs, branches, any removed moss. It’s all good.
- Shredded Newspaper: Pretty cool, right? Each one of your morning papers could do just as well in the recycling bin as they could in your yard. In an SHTF scenario, you’re probably not going to get daily newspapers delivered. Any that you have laying around, rip them into little bits and toss them in the bin.
- Wood Chips: Ever heard of mulch fires in the dead of summer? That’s because mulch is constantly decomposing. It makes a great addition for compost heaps.
- Coffee Grounds: This includes the wet filters after you make a pot of coffee. It’s paper and will aid in keeping moisture in the compost, as well as the water trapped in the grounds.
- Egg Shells (Crushed): They take a little while to decompose, but add a great blend to your compost.
- Tea Leaves (Loose): Unless you can verify that the teabags are created of natural, organic material (like hemp), you’ll want to loosen the leaves before adding them to the compost.
- Used Paper Napkins/Towels: Same principle as the coffee filters. Paper came from nature, it can go back.
- Fruit and Vegetable Scraps: Well, this one’s probably not that Read below to see what of this category should NOT go in your compost pile.
- Cooked Rice: This applies to all pasta.
- Stale Bread: Also, tortilla chips, potato chips, and crackers.
- Hair: Either from your hairbrush or beard trimmings.
- Dryer Lint: From 100% natural fabrics only. No exceptions
- Old Wool Clothing: Got a sweater collecting dust in the back of a closet? Before cedar moths get a snack, refine it into confetti-like bits.
- Old Herbs and Spices: Has your oregano gone stale or flat tasting? Toss it in the pile!
- Nut Shells: Keep in mind – do NOT put walnut shells in your compost. It is hazardous to plant matter. There’s no way around this rule: this is toxic.
- Cardboard: Cut it up into miniature bits; it adds a great deal of volume.
- Egg Cartons: Cardboard-styled only; chop them up finely.
- Crumbs: This may sound minuscule, but think about the amount of food particle crumbs you sweep up in one given day, let alone a whole month. It adds up. I’ve gotten so much as a football-sized pile of crumb compost material in one month.
Advanced Option: Tumblers
We have the basics—now let’s get a bit on the wild side with this. We’re going to look at larger productions of compost. If you viewed the previous video I provided about pallet-styled compost bins, you can see a good example of how much I’m talking about. You can also get equivalent amounts of compost from another type of bin: we’re going to take a look at tumblers.
These are essentially extremely large compost bins on stands, which are excellent and useful for multiple reasons. You can more easily access your compost once it’s completed and ready to be spread among your crops; no crouching down to the smallest corners on the floor. Look at this video below to see how easy it is using a compost tumbler.
When adding a plethora of vegetation and fruit-based compost, you need to keep one thing in mind: rodents. Especially in a less-than-favorable scenario, the possibility of rodent infestations could potentially be on the rise. Most tumblers are elevated at least 14” off the ground, resting on lightweight construction metal pipes. It prevents any critter with a collapsible skeleton from scaling the structure and gnawing at your compost.
Not only that, but it allows for easy and mess-free churning of your compost. No pitchforks or churning forks necessary; even less maintenance than compost already requires.
A really cool feature on most of these, apart from the fact that they can hold upwards of 65 gallons of compost (the highest capacity of the ones I’d recommend), is the ventilation system. Usually, in the form of a grate, these nifty features can aerate your compost for a while, releasing any extra nitrogen that may be toying with the brown/green ratio.
For the most part, these types of tumbler-style compost bins ship anywhere in the continental United States from major retailers such as Amazon. If you’re planning to create a post-apocalyptic farm, something that will secure a powerful place in any existing communities, you’ll want a small armada of these tumblers for optimized farm usage.
Mistakes to Avoid
I take it this is your first time really contemplating the production of compost, whether in small, personal batches or in large quantities. Personally, I use two of those 65-gallon Lifetime Brand Compost Tumblers at my homestead. It produces more than enough for up to ten people and basically works for itself. With the woods at the back end of my property, I can scour the forest line for 15-20 minutes and come up with gallons and gallons of brown compostable items.
That being said, there is a level of experience that comes with creating compost on a constant basis. Things you should avoid are as follows:
- Don’t Start Small: Although I explained this in a test size of three cubic feet, if you’re serious about doing this, start with a cheap, custom-made compost bin like we talked about earlier. It’s a great preliminary before you spend $80-$105 on professional compost bins
- Don’t Depend on One Source: For compostable matter, that is. Things come and go in supply, and there isn’t one way to know what will be available. Keep your options open between green and brown matter.
- Don’t Get Overwhelmed: It’s easy; don’t overthink it. 99% of the time and work is all nature’s way.
- Don’t Use Citrus Peels: I know earlier I stated to use fruit and vegetable peels without prejudice. However, one of your greatest attributing factors to a fast decomposition are worms inhabiting the compost pile. Citrus peels can kill them.
Compost is not a divine art. Mistakes can be made, some of which need solutions in the moment.
Problem: There are maggots in my compost.
Solution: You do not want them in there. Pour boiling water over any visible maggots. They’ll die and become part of the compost heap.
Problem: My compost isn’t heating up.
Solution: Your compost heap needs to be between 120F and 160F at all times to ensure proper microbial breakdown. You’re lacking nitrogen-rich components; add green matter, mix or tumble, and check again.
Problem: It’s dry or dusty.
Solution: You’re simply lacking moisture. If you live in the west where it often gets dry and dusty, you may need to moisten your compost more frequently. Make sure to blend it again and check the center of the compost. If the center isn’t moist, add more water.
Problem: It’s growing plants.
Solution: You haven’t met that threshold of 120F to kill all seed life. If the plants are simply common weeds, this tends to happen from time to time. Rip them out and blend or tumble your pile again, it should prevent another weed from popping up for quite some time.
Problem: Large critters are eating my compost!
Solution: If you’ve built a lockable-lid compost bin, I hate to tell you, racoons have caught on—they can sometimes open these. Depending on what your compost contains, these scavengers can sniff out kitchen scraps one might toss out on a normal basis and ravage it. Add a lock-and-key if it’s a serious issue, or bury your kitchen waste deeper in the compost bins to ward off any scents these critters can pick up.
Not only will your harvests be bountiful under the super-charged growth of your homemade compost, but you’ll have spent absolutely no money beyond a startup cost of a proper bin and equipment. A one-time fee for a lifetime of compost housing and nurturing; it’ll come in handy. Trust me.