Composters are made for those living in the city or suburbs; but if you live in the country or rural area with some land, building a compost pile is essential. One of the main reasons is to participate in the rhythm of your land’s ecosystem, and your land will be healthier because you do this. It means studying your land, and seeing all the ways you can encourage nature’s loop of reduce, reuse and recycle. So in the fall when you clean up the garden, you do not want to be placing garden clean up, branches and bags of leaves in the trash. You want to return them to the earth. You also want to build a compost pile to create rich compost. Even if you do not have a garden, this valuable compost can be spread under shrubs, trees and sprinkled over lawns come spring. You can use it as potting soil for your indoor or outdoor plants. You can sell it to friends. When you own land, you become a steward of that land. It is your job to become a student of nature, and allow her to teach you how to care for your land so both you and your land will thrive.
I love building compost piles. I know in the spring when I dig down to the bottom, I will find gold.
The first step is to decide where to locate this compost pile. If you have a vegetable and flower garden, ideally you would want to place it near the garden for easy access. If there is not a suitable spot near the garden, you will have to wheel barrow compost from the pile to the garden. You will also be placing all your food scraps in the pile so consider your desired access for doing this. And pay attention to your wind patterns as it is best to place a compost pile downwind of your living space. Though a good compost is not going to smell bad, the manure used in the pile can attract flies. If your pile is upwind of your home, you may get a lot of unwanted flies.
Some people like to put the pile in a corner, but I prefer having access to at least 3 sides. Some people like to build a wooden bin, and I do recommend this if you want to keep dogs and other animals out of the pile. You can also build one in an open space, and this is good if you have a large property where you will be adding many branches, leaves and more. If you build the pile high enough, you will not have issues of animals trying to get to the food scraps you are adding to the center of the pile on a regular basis. You can build some steps out of wood to reach the top of the pile. On our farm we have huge compost piles in the woods for huge dead trees and such, then one can have a smaller compost pile near the garden.
You will begin by creating a box spring with branches. Make it a nice big square. The actual size you will determine with the space you have chosen, but the bigger, the better. Build up the branches at least a foot as this is going to provide the needed oxygen. You will edge the pile with green matter: leafy branches, grass clippings. etc. Then you will begin layering the center with straw, manure, more green if you have it and some nutrients. You will want to have all these ingredients on hand, ready to go. I highly recommend you have real horse manure over bags you buy at the nursery. Many nurseries will have bales of straw. You will need to purchase 3-4 bags of top soil, blood meal and kelp meal. You will also need to have a watering hose close by.
What you need before you build:
- piles of branches
- piles of green matter
- about 8 bales of straw
- lots of horse manure
- 3 wheel barrows full of topsoil mixed with blood meal and kelp meal
- watering hose
You will build the pile in layers:
- line the edge of the box spring with green matter
- add straw to fill the center
- add shovel fulls of the manure to cover the straw
- sprinkle on one shovel full of top soil mixed with blood meal and kelp meal
- spray with the hose and soak well (water at this point every time as the water creates the heat to start the decomposing process)
- repeat process and layers above numerous times until the pile is at least 6 feet high
- make a hole in the center of the pile when done and add food waste here
- if you build the compost in summer, continue to water it until frost
- let this sit all winter
- come spring start to water the pile
- saw a hole at the bottom on one side of pile to retrieve compost for the garden
- go feed your soil and plants with this nutrient rich compost for a happy, abundant garden
- feel good…you are doing a big part in keeping the natural ecosystem loop closed over the loop leaking with waste
You can keep adding to your pile all year round. Remember to water it up until frost, and again come spring. The water is crucial for decomposing as it helps create the heat needed for this disintegration magic. Your compost should not smell. If it does, the balance of nitrogen, carbon and oxygen is off. This why it is good to build the pile in layers so you will get an even balance between the materials. Green matter, manure and food waste are nitrogen rich while leaves, wood chips, branches and straw are carbon rich. If the pile has a rotting smell, you have too much of one so try adding the other to bring the ratio into balance. If this does not work, you can get a dry fertilizer mix and spread that on the pile which will help bring it into balance. Also, use a pitch fork to turn the pile for getting extra oxygen.
I would love comments on how other folks are building compost piles!