Stella Otto: The Backyard Fruit Gardener

Today's Tip: Mow vegetation short around the base of fruit trees and bushes to reduce winter habitat for rodents.

Containing Your Compost

The foot­print of your com­post pile will be some­what dic­tated by the method and loca­tion you choose.  For sheet and trench com­post­ing, the size of your future gar­den bed will be the deter­miner; just as the size of your com­post tum­bler will dic­tate the vol­ume it holds. Sheet com­post­ing will be done right on the ground sur­face over dirt or sod, with organic mat­ter lay­ered, lasagna style. For trench com­post­ing, start by dig­ging a 12 inch deep bed or hole. Mate­ri­als will then be lay­ered in it just as you would in a bin.

Two side by side compost bins - one for getting started; one for finished compost

Two com­post bins side by side — one for get­ting started; one for fin­ished compost

If you are build­ing a com­post bin, 4 foot by 4 foot square, 3 to 4 feet high is often con­sid­ered ideal. Nat­ural air pen­e­tra­tion from all sides of the pile is typ­i­cally up to 24 inches. Too large a bin may hold too much water, lead­ing to anaer­o­bic (oxy­gen starved) con­di­tions in the cen­ter or the pile.

Repur­pos­ing ship­ping pal­lets as sides make set-up quick and easy. Just lash or wire them to metal fence posts set in the cor­ners and you are good to go. Since most pal­let boards have some space between them, aer­a­tion should be ade­quate. Often 2 or 3 bins are built adja­cent to each other — one for start­ing, one for cook­ing, and one for fin­ished com­post. The side-by-side arrange­ment makes turn­ing eas­ier. Fine mesh chicken wire or hard­ware cloth is another easy quick-to-setup  mate­r­ial to use for the bin sides.

No mat­ter which com­post­ing method you select. The prin­ci­ples are pretty much the same. You layer var­i­ous mate­ri­als to allow for aer­a­tion, mois­ture pen­e­tra­tion, and micro­bial activ­ity. The idea is to cre­ate a layer of organic mat­ter, topped by a layer that will encour­age ini­tial micro­bial activ­ity and heat gen­er­a­tion, capped with an inch or two of microbe bear­ing mate­r­ial. If you have lots of mate­r­ial or are in a hurry to cre­ate copi­ous com­post, you can repeat with mul­ti­ple layers.

For other infor­ma­tion see—

Cre­at­ing Com­post
Com­post — Where to Begin
Recipe for a Com­post Pile
Fac­tors that Affect the Com­post­ing Process
Com­post No-nos: What not to put in your com­post pile

Stay tuned for more —

Com­post Conun­drums — Trou­bleshoot­ing your com­post pile
Com­post Myths