This is my first-year composting and I love it. Next spring, I will be able to fill up our raised garden beds and be able to grow true organic vegetables. It gives me a sense of truly being connected to the whole life cycle of vegetable gardening. The cost savings is also a benefit saving us hundreds of dollars that we would have otherwise bought bagged soil at the store.
Rock Compost Garden Bin
One thing that occurred to me when I began to transfer my pool area into a garden was that we had a lot of useful resources already in the ground. We live in New England and our colonial ancestor farmers would sometimes think that their land was growing rocks. They would remove the rocks before plowing only to have to do the same thing again the next year. As I started expanding the area around the old pool site, I discovered a huge rock every foot or so. I soon had this huge pile of rocks in the middle of our future garden.
Before these rocks started to add up, I was just putting all our compost into a pile at the edge of our yard. The pile is about a foot away from a steep slope and as the pile got bigger some compost was sliding down the hill. This gave me the idea to border off the compost heap with all the rocks I was collecting.
This project was not difficult to design. I placed two rows of rocks in a “U” shape about 4 feet in depth and 6 feet wide. The most challenging part was fitting the rocks together so they would be stable enough when adding layers to a height that would contain the compost. Ideally, you want a compost pile that is a 4-foot cube for optimal decomposition.
The height of my walls are about half that but it should be high enough to contain the compost pile. The reason I made this bin extra wide is so that I have room to turn the compost and let air into the pile. I leave about a foot of space to allow me to rotate the pile back and forth throughout the season.
What to compost?
We let our pool area go for a while as we were not sure what we wanted to do with this area. At one point we just threw a bunch of wood chips we collected from a tree that we needed to take down. The area looked good for about two years and then the wood chips started to decompose, and weeds and grass overtook the area. Fortunately, weeds are a great option to put into a compost pile. This got my pile started especially since some grassier areas had big clumps of dirt attached.
Using food scraps gives me a good feeling that I am not being “as” wasteful. Yes, I am still getting rid of some food but at least I can re-use it. We keep a big coffee can with a lid next to our kitchen sink. We fill it with mostly “non-animal” content. This includes coffee grounds (with the filter), fruits, vegetables, and even pasta. We make sure that we bury this into the compost pile so as not to attract animals and keep the smell down.
Up until this point of starting a compost pile, I used to just burn my shredded paper. But now when I turn my pile every few days, I just sprinkle a bucket full of shredded paper into the pile.
Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio (Brown to Green Ratio)
The fastest way to break down your compost pile is to have a ratio of 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1-part nitrogen. During the summer we do not have many leaves (60-80 to 1 part) to add to the pile so I have been using sawdust and shredded paper, which is super high in carbon, 500-600 to 1. For example, let’s say that we add about 1 pound of food waste into the compost pile every week. The ratio for food waste (also coffee grounds) is 20 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. To bring the carbon level up to 25 parts we would need to add 5 more parts. If my math is correct that would be 1 pound (16 ounces) of food waste to about ounce of sawdust. To keep this simple I fill up a big coffee container, sprinkle a little sawdust, shake it a little, and then bury it in the pile. When the leaves come down in the fall, I will fill some bin up with leaves and forgo the sawdust. I know that there is a science to this but for now, I am just experimenting to just get the best soil for our garden.
Is my compost pile working?
I can tell that my methods of composting are starting to work because the pile has started to shrink. When I turn the pile with my garden fork, I can no longer see some old kitchen scraps are no longer visible. The most gratifying thing I see are worms. These are great little creatures that help break down the compost and leave vermicompost behind which is great for growing vegetables.
Use what you already have
As I started landscaping, I started to see a use for all the materials that I was digging out of the ground. There were so many weeds that needed to be pulled which led me to start thinking of a useful purpose and then gave me the idea of starting a compost pile. Then I would start digging some more and hit a rock, dig some more, and hit another rock. Then this led to the idea of building a rock wall, which led to the final idea of building a compost bin out of stone.
Why not use what you already have and save some money? I would love to hear some of the natural materials that you have used in your landscaping project.