In part 1 of How To Make Garden Compost Without Losing Your Mind, we observed that things rot unless there are extreme conditions keeping them for doing so. I mentioned a couple of ways I have applied composting principles to my garden (mulching with grass clippings and letting chickens scratch in it). The techniques my dad has used are probably a little more traditional, but still have a lot of flexibility to them. So, here is how my dad makes compost without losing his mind!
In my dad’s average size suburban yard, he really only has room for one small compost pile. He contains it in a 3 sided cement brick structure. This structure is fairly adjustable, because the bricks are only stacked, not adhered in any way. They are held in check by a couple of ranch panels stuck in the dirt and a piece of old wall paneling kept straight with a fencing post.He can reconfigure or relocate it all at will.
He doesn’t worry much about ratios of what he puts in his compost pile. It gets watered as part of the regular lawn and garden watering routine. He says, “It all rots.”
My dad does have a sifting system, though, which basically is how he turns the pile. When he wants to remove some compost, he shovels it onto a metal grate to screen out the chunks. He pushes the compost back and forth over the grate with the working end of a flat shovel. The finer, well composted, material falls through the grate into the wheelbarrow under it. He also uses this time to look for unwelcome rocks or large pieces of other indigestibles. Those are tossed into a nearby trash can.
The stuff that doesn’t make it through the grate or the go into the trash can is swept to the side until he is done with all of his sifting and spreading. Then, it is returned to the compost pile for further rotting. Thus, the pile is “turned” as he uses it.
His pile is in the shade because a large tree limits sunlight to the backyard. He and my mom are not willing to allocate sunny growing space to compost. Still, he puts in all the normal debris: grass clippings, dead leaves, kitchen scraps that are plant derived. He has had this pile for a few years and is happy with how it produces. However, he and my mom got 4 chickens a few weeks ago, so he is already using the chickens to process a lot of compost before it goes into the brick bin. Since a fair amount of soil and other things get mixed in with the chicken floor collectings, he hasn’t worried about the compost getting too “hot” from their manure.
Now I’m thinking about building one of those brick bins in my yard, so that when I am in the mood to dig compost out of the chicken pen, I can pile it somewhere. Plus, if someone is working for me, and I want them to do the digging, there will be some place to put it. It is hard to think of where is a central handy spot on an acre, though. There will always be a few garden beds that are remote compared to the bin. Meanwhile, I am simply inspired to go spread some of my own homemade compost. It’s free.