6 things you need to know before you add a compost bin to your garden

Turn kitchen scraps, yard waste and garden trimmings into the rich organic matter known as compost.

6 things you need to know before you add a compost bin to your garden

About compost

Packed with vital nutrients, compost is made by mixing a huge range of materials together, dampening them well and letting them decompose in a pile or bin.

  • Turn the mixture from time to time to add air, and after several weeks—or sometimes months—you'll have the finest soil amendment nature knows how to make.
  • Fold crumbly compost into garden soil or use it as mulch around trees and shrubs.
  • You can even sift it through a screen and scatter it on your lawn.

1. Build a compost bin

  • Build a compost bin from new or salvaged building materials: chicken wire, wood pallets or concrete blocks.
  • A garbage can makes a compact, manageable compost container if you use a nail to fill it with holes to admit air and allow excess moisture to seep out.

Whatever materials you use, be sure to build open slats or punch air holes to allow oxygen to enter and speed up the decomposition process.

2. Use shipping pallets

Use shipping pallets to make an animal-proof bin.

  • Assemble four pallets into a square and hold them together with bungee cords.
  • Better yet, make two pallet bins side by side.
  • That way, you can pile fresh materials into one side and use the other for almost-finished compost, which benefits from frequent turning and mixing.

3. Improvise

Make a lightweight compost container by reusing large plastic potting soil bags.

  • Poke about 20 holes in the bag with scissors, fill it with moist material and tie off the top. Leave the bag in the sun to allow heat to facilitate decomposition and shake or turn it occasionally to mix the contents.
  • Take the finished compost to the garden in a wheelbarrow and use it right out of the bag.

4. Check your community resources

  • To help divert kitchen and yard wastes away from landfills, many cities have active composting programs.
  • Some will even provide you with a sturdy bin at little or no cost.

5. Good things for your compost pile

  • Chopped cornstalks
  • Chopped leaves
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Grass clippings
  • Hay or straw
  • Immature grasses and weeds
  • Manure from vegetarian animals
  • Shrub trimmings

6. Non-compostables to discard in the garbage

  • Diseased plants
  • Invasive weeds
  • Meats and sweet, fatty foods
  • Pet wastes (rabbit manure is okay)
  • Vegetation treated with chemicals
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