The Vegetable Garden

Why is compost special? - Compost Heat

    Compost pile won't heat up. The materials may be too dry. This can happen quickly during the summer months. Try to keep your compost materials moist to the touch. Cover the pile. The pile may be low in nitrogen. Fast-working microorganisms can quickly consume all the nitrogen and leave undecomposed carbon materials behind. Replenish the nitrogen content of your pile with fresh green grass clippings, garden weeds, kitchen scraps, manure, or an activator like SuperHot. Your pile may also be too small. Collect more materials and mix everything into a pile that measures 3 feet on each side, and is at least 3-feet high.

    Smelly compost. If your pile smells like ammonia, it may contain too much nitrogen. Add carbon materials such as straw, leaves, or hay to correct the balance.

    Soggy compost. Dense or water-logged compost piles don't contain enough oxygen for the microorganisms to survive. Often these piles give off an unpleasant odor. The solution is to aerate the pile and add more dry materials.

    Finished product is too rough. Some materials like eggshells and corncobs take a very long time to break down. If you want a more finely textured compost, shred or chop up the materials before putting them into the bin. You can also sift out these crumbs and throw them back into the next pile.

    Types of compost bins
    Trash Can Bin.

    To convert a plastic trash can into a composter, cut off the bottom with a saw. Drill about 24 quarter-inch holes in the sides of the can for good aeration. Bury the bottom of the can from several inches to a foot or more below the soil surface and press the loosened soil around the sides to secure it. Partially burying the composter will make it easier for microorganisms to enter the pile.


    block, brick, or stone binBlock or Brick or Stone Bin.

    Lay the blocks, with or without mortar, leaving spaces between each block to permit aeration. Form three sides of a 3-to 4-foot square, roughly 3 to 4 feet high.

    wood pallet binWood Pallet Bin. Discarded wooden pallets from factories or stores can be stood upright to form a bin. Attach the corners with rope, wire, or chain. A fourth pallet can be used as a floor to increase air flow. A used carpet or tarp can be placed over the top of the pile to reduce moisture loss or keep out rain or snow.

    wire binWire Bin. Use an 11-foot length of 2-inch x 4-inch x 36-inch welded, medium-gauge fence wire from your local hardware or building supply store. Tie the ends together to form your hoop. A bin this size holds just over one cubic yard of material. Snow fencing can be used in a similar fashion.

    Wood binTwo- or Three-Bay Wood Bin. Having several bins allows you to use one section for storing materials, one for active composting, and one for curing or storing finished compost. Each bin should be approximately 36 x 36 x 36 inches. Be sure to allow air spaces between the sidewall slats, and make the front walls removable (lift out slats) for easy access. Lift-up lids are nice.

    Plastic stationary bin

    Plastic Stationary Bins. These bins are for continuous rather than batch composting. Most units feature air vents along the sides and are made from recycled plastics. Look for a lid that fits securely, and doors to access finished compost. Size should be approximately 3 feet square.

    Tumbling or Rotating Bins. These composters are for making batches of compost all at one time. You accumulate organic materials until you have enough to fill the bin, then load it up and rotate it every day or two. If materials are shredded before going into the bin, and you have plenty of nitrogen, you can have finished compost in as little as 3 weeks.