Composting tools, in and out of the bin

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We all know the benefits of compost at this point. It improves soil health, structure, drainage and water holding capacity. It reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides in your lawns and gardens. Bigger picture, it reduces odors, methane and polluted water at landfills. What’s not to love?

If you’ve never composted before, though, making sure you do it right is very important. The first thing you want to do is figure out the best spot to place your bin. You’ll want to build it on level ground. A bin that’s at least three cubic feet in size is necessary. Try to avoid placing it on tree roots when possible. How much sun or shade the location receives doesn’t really matter – what does matter is the compost moisture. As long as you keep an eye on that and keep it where it should be, you’ll be fine.

Three basic kinds of bins are wire mesh, pallet and store-bought.

To build a wire mesh bin, you’ll want a create a cylinder made from wire mesh with one-inch or smaller openings, a few stakes and either nails or sturdy staples. There is very little construction involved in making your bins like this, and they’re easy to set up and tear down. The best part? They can be expanded beyond that three cubic feet minimum to accommodate more material.

One step up from a mesh bin is a pallet bin. The materials to create one of these can be found fairly cheaply (or even freely!). The 16-square-foot footprint they create can hold a lot of material – and you can easily expand what you’re composting by building additional bays. Pests can be a concern, what with the slats, so you can add welded wire to keep them out.

If you want to purchase a tumbling bin, that’s great too. They minimize the amount of work you need to do when it comes time to turn your pile. They are self-contained to keep out pets and other pests. Of course, buying commercially available bins will likely be more expensive than building one yourself.

Once you have the pieces you need to build your bin, you’ll need to focus on what goes in it. Composting ingredients include fallen leaves, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and paper filters, yard and garden waste, shredded newspaper, cardboard, straw, water and air – a mix of “greens” and “browns.”

Your greens are nitrogen-rich materials. They add moisture to the pile. Nitrogen is important because it’s used by composting microorganisms to grow and reproduce.

The brows are the carbon-rich materials. They’re used by microorganisms as a source of energy. The materials are the dry matter added to balance the pile’s moisture.

You want to create lasagna layers in whatever compost bin you’ve built or purchased. Every time you compost, start by placing browns along the sides of the bin to create a “bowl.” Place the greens in the middle of the bowl, then cover them with more browns. No food should be showing on the top of the sides. Add a new layer to your lasagna as you build it up.

Once you have all these basic tools, there’s nothing that can slow down your compost creation.

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