The Vegetable Garden

Composting The Easy Way

Having an ample supply of good rich compost is the gardeners' dream. Composthas many uses, and all of those uses will result in nicer plants. However, composting can be time consuming and hard work. I place a reasonable value on my time, so spending hours and hours turning compost piles doesn’t qualify as a worthwhile exercise, at least in my book. Nonetheless, I do compost, but I do so on my terms.

I built two composting bins. Each compost bin is five feet wide, five feet deep, and four feet high. I built the bins by sinking 4” by 4” posts in the ground for the corners, and then nailed 2 by 4’s and 1 by 4’s, alternating on the sides. I left 2” gaps between the boards for air circulation. The 2 by 4’s are rigid enough to keep the sides from bowing out, and in between each 2 by 4 I used 1 by 4’s to save a little money. The compost bins are only 3 sided, I left the front of the compost bins open so they can be filled and emptied easily. Photos of my compost bins are on this page: http://www.freeplants.com\composting.htm


I started by filling just one of the compost bins. I put grass clippings, dried leaves, and shrub clippings in the  compost bins. I try not to put more than 6” of each material on a layer. You don’t want 24” of grass clippings in the bin, you should alternate layers of green and brown material. If necessary, keep a few bags of dry leaves around so you can alternate layers of brown waste and green waste.

When we root cuttings we use coarse sand in the flats, so when it’s time to pull the rooted cuttings out of the flats, the old sand goes on the compost pile. In our little backyard nursery we also have some plants in containers that do not survive. Rather than pulling the dead plant and the weeds out of the container, and then dumping the potting soil back on the soil pile, we just dump the whole container in the compost bin. This adds more brown material to the mix, and is a lot easier than separating the soil and the weeds.

Once the compost bin is full, the rules of composting say that you should turn the material in the compost bin every few weeks. There is no way that I have time to do that, so this is what I do. I pack as much material in the bin as I can, before I start filling the second bin. I pile the material as high as I possibly can, and even let it spill out in front of the bin. Then I cover all the fresh material with mulch or potting soil, whatever brown material I can find.


Then when I’m out working in the garden I set a small sprinkler on top of the pile and turn it on very low, so a small spray of water runs on the material. Since I have a good water well, this doesn’t cost me anything, so I let it run for at least two hours as often as I can. This keeps the material damp, and the moisture will cause the pile to heat up, which is what makes the composting action take place.

Once I have the first compost bin completely full, I start using the second  compost bin. As the material in the first compost bin starts to break down, it will settle, and the compost bin is no longer heaped up, so I just keep shoveling the material that I piled in front of the compost bin, up on top of the pile, until all the material is either in the bin or piled on top of the heap. Then I just leave it alone, except to water it once in a while. The watering isn’t necessary, it just speeds the process.