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Man School 101: Composting Made Easy

There are several reasons you should be composting. Several damn good reasons, in fact. Just answer these questions and you’ll see that I mean business:

  1. Do you love saving money? (Correct Answer: “Yes, I sure do!”)
  2. Do you hate planet earth? (Correct Answer: “No, I love this place!”)
  3. Are you ruggedly independent and self-sufficient? (Correct Answer: “Aw yiss!”)

If you answered Yes, No, Yes (er… Yiss) then indeed you need to start composting right away, sir! (Though, truth be told, you won’t enjoy the fruits of your labor for weeks or even months. Oh well.)

A Fancy Rotating Composter
A Fancy Rotating Composter

A few points to cover, and then I’ll get to a primer on setting up and maintaining your own compost pile/bin/drum. Keep in mind as you read this article that opting for a rolling (AKA rotating) compost bin will save you a lot of time and effort, making the all-important process of turning and aerating your compost remarkably easy. A decent rotating compost bin will cost you at least a hundred bucks, though, which might make the whole process overly expensive. Consider trying a good ol’ compost pile first, and if you find you’ve got a passion for the process, then invest in a bin later. Remember, all you’re doing here is speeding the decomposition of organic material — that’s what compost is. So why be overly fancy about things?

Related: How To Split Wood Like A Lumberjack

Now to circle back to the questions we discussed approximately 28 seconds ago…

There’s no more cost-effective and sustainable way to consume foods than to grow them yourself using compost you created yourself. So composting saves you money even while helping you eat tastier, more nutrient-rich foods.

When you throw food into the trash, not only are you wasting precious compostable materials, you’re also doing a disservice to Planet Earth! When foods end up in landfills, covered by heaps of trash, they break down into methane, a greenhouse gas even more potent and harmful than CO2.

And on question the third, once you have a reliable compost source, you’ll never have to buy fertilizer again, and you can renew and replenish the same soil many times. Buying bags of soil at the home improvement store or nursery is for suckers, right? Right.

NOW… here’s your 101 Level Course on Composting, which let’s call:

A Primer on Open Bin Composting

A Fine Box Indeed
A Fine Box Indeed

First, acquire a sturdy, open box. This can be a store-bought plastic bin, or it can be a wooden box you yourself create. (Space and interest permitting, for faster, better results, acquire two boxes so you can keep your composting process moving along at various stages. For even better results acquire 10 to 15 boxes, but also get yourself a tinfoil hat…) For the average household, a cube-shaped compost box measuring three feet on each side should serve fine. The box/bin/drum should have slots or holes poked in at at regular intervals.

Ideally you can place your compost bin on the ground with its bottom open to the soil. This will allow for ideal drainage and will let worms and bugs crawl up into your pile and do their business. While gross, that’s a good thing, FYI. If need be (say you live in an apartment and are using a patio or deck), you can always put the bin on a tarp or plastic tray and it should still perform fine.

First, add some dry bedding at the bottom of the bin. Use twigs, straw, or even mulch. This will help with drainage and moisture and let some air get in down there, which is important.

Compost needs to be a mix of two basic things which we can simplify as “brown materials” and “green materials.” For brown, think of leaves, straw/hay, pine needles, and so forth. For green, think of melon rinds, carrots, those tomatoes you forgot about and let rot, and most table scraps in general. The balance you’re looking for is, more or less, 50/50. Sometimes you’ll need to go heavier on the brown if the pile is too moist or too buggy; sometimes you need more green if it’s dry or the breakdown is taking too long. But in general, add equal amounts of brown and green materials when establishing and feeding your compost pile.

brown and green

To be avoided are meats, large amounts of processed grains (a piece of bread is fine; a loaf is not. A bit of pasta is fine. A pot of pasta isn’t), and dairy. Bits and pieces mixed in with leftovers here and there are fine, but keep them minimal.

Once you have enough brown and green materials to get started, add them into the pile in layers: an inch of leaves, an inch of table scraps, an inch of leaves… and so forth.

Then add some water if the material is dry.

Next cover the bin (with a board, a tarp, a ready-made lid, whatever).

Now leave it alone for a few days. Maybe start a new book or take up whittling?

Once or twice a week, check the pile and make sure it is moist but not saturated; adjust materials and water as needed.

After about two weeks, it’s time to turn the compost. Use a pitchfork or shovel (or something else, but I’m not sure what — comically large tongs, perhaps) to thoroughly mix up the ingredients.

Now wait another few weeks. By this time, your compost materials should be breaking down into a uniform deep brown mixture. If that’s so, you can begin slowly but steadily adding more brown/green stuff daily, but remember to stop adding material a few weeks before you want to plant with your compost. If the breakdown is not happening, try adjusting the brown/green blend and the moisture level.

And remember, once your compost pile is well underway, you should consider starting anew in a second bin, as the more time compost gets without the addition of new materials, the more it will breakdown into useful fertilizer.

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