Create a Compost Pile

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1 Go from waste to WOW. How can you dispose of yard, garden and kitchen waste and create a valuable natural soil additive at the same time? With a compost pile! In a compost pile, you create an environment where plant waste materials decompose quickly and leave behind nutrient-rich organic material. Finished compost is added to the garden to improve the richness and the texture of soil. What You ll Need. Purchased compost bin OR compost bin materials such as: wire fencing, sturdy lumber, hay bales, cinder blocks, wooden pallets, etc. Raw materials (See Step 3.) TROY-BILT chipper/shredder Water hose Shovel Pitchfork Perforated PVC pipe (optional) Compost thermometer (optional)

2 1 Choose the right location. Your compost pile can be located anywhere that common sense suggests. But be aware that the heat and moisture generated during the composting process can damage wood siding if the pile is located directly up against a structure, and that the macroorganisms (bugs, etc.) that are at work in the pile may move into the house or garage if you locate the pile too near. Here are some other things to consider when choosing a location. Easy access for adding material and tending the pile Easy access to water for wetting down the pile A level, well-drained surface Distance from pine trees (too many pine needles will slow the composting process) Some people prefer a sunny location, reasoning that added heat will speed the process 2 Set up or build your compost bin. This step is, in fact, optional. A bin or container for your compost pile is not strictly necessary, because you can create your pile directly on the ground in a loose and literal pile. You may choose to buy or build a compost bin, however, in order to keep the compost pile looking neat and to better retain heat and control moisture. There are several different types of composters that you can purchase. Some are containers that you spin or roll to turn the compost. Some are standing bins or sets of bins that are designed to allow you to turn the compost by stirring or re-stacking the contents. If you purchase your bin, follow the instructions and set it up in the desired location. If you decide to build a homemade bin for your compost pile, don t worry that you need to put a lot of design or engineering skill into the project. The concept is very simple, and there are very few rules. A compost bin should be about 1 cubic yard in total size 3 feet wide x 3 feet deep x 3 feet high. You must have easy access for adding raw materials and for removing finished compost. You need to be able to turn or thoroughly stir the pile.

3 Keeping these things in mind, you can build a bin from many different types of materials. Here are just a few ideas: Create a three-sided bunker out of stacked hay bales or cinder blocks, leaving one side open for turning the pile and for removing your finished compost. Build a square bin from sturdy lumber, leaving gaps between boards for air circulation. Make one side removable for access. Make a square bin by standing wooden pallets on their edges. Wire the corners together. Use wire fencing to build a square bin or simply shape the fencing into a large circle and tie the ends securely together. (To turn the compost in this type of bin, you simply lift off the fencing circle, set it next to the pile and re-stack the material in the circle in its new location.) 3 Gather the raw materials. While some avid composters are very specific about the materials they use and the ratio of different materials to one another, most gardeners use some simple rules of thumb for what to put into the backyard compost bin. Try to maintain a loose balance of carbon-rich materials (fall leaves, old straw, cornstalks, sawdust, etc.) and nitrogen-rich materials (grass clippings, garden waste, vegetable waste, manure from farm livestock, etc.). If you don t have a lot of nitrogen-rich material on hand, plan on adding a handful or two of organic fertilizer with each layer of raw material. Some people like to add a thin layer of soil every so often to ensure that enough microbes are at work in the pile. Pine needles should be added only in small amounts or not at all, since they decompose very slowly. Do NOT add diseased or insect-infested plant material, perennial weeds or vines. Do NOT add kitchen scraps that contain meat, fat or bones. Do NOT use yard waste or grass clippings that have been treated with herbicides.

4 Prepare the materials. Build the pile. To help your compost pile activate more quickly, materials should be chopped or shredded to be 1 2" in size or smaller. Leaves should be shredded so that they decompose more quickly, and so that they don t mat together in the pile. A TROY-BILT chipper/shredder can really help with this step. Simply run leaves, twigs, cornstalks, etc. through the machine and add the shredded material to the compost pile. Or use a TROY-BILT chipper/shredder/vac to clean up fall leaves and simply empty the collection bag onto your pile. (You may want to leave some larger material unshredded for use in Step 5.)

5 6 Cover. (Or not.) Some people insist on covering their compost pile. Others simply refuse to do it. Our opinion is that a cover should be used if you need it to control the moisture content of the pile. In other words, if things are drying out too quickly, use a cover to retain moisture. If the pile is too wet, use a cover to keep off the rain. You can use a simple black plastic garbage bag, or cut a tarp to fit and attach it to one side of the bin so that you can flip it on or off easily. Secure the cover with a rock or log so that it won t blow off. 7 Keep an eye on things. After a few days, your compost pile should begin generating heat as the composting process gets into full swing. You can check for heat by thrusting your hand into the center of the pile but be careful! An active compost pile can reach an internal temperature of 150 F or more. You may want to use a compost thermometer, which is long enough to stick into the pile. Technically, you want the pile to reach at least 120 F, but your main concern is to simply check that it is, in fact, getting warm. If your compost is not generating heat, there is not enough nitrogen to activate the process. You can mix in nitrogen-rich materials or add a few handfuls of organic fertilizer. Then wait a few days and check again. Also check regularly to ensure that the pile is evenly moist. Spray with water if it s drying out. 8 Mix it up. Once the pile starts working, you will want to turn or stir the pile every few days or once a week. This ensures that all the materials are eventually mixed into the center of the pile, where the composting process is the most active. Turning also ensures regular aeration and allows you to easily monitor moisture content. Depending on the type of compost bin or pile you are using, you may simply need to turn a handle to mix your compost. Or you may have to use a pitchfork or a shovel to stir, turn or re-stack the compost. 9 Come and get it! When the contents of your compost pile resembles dark, rich, crumbly soil, and the raw materials can no longer be identified, the composting is complete. The process can take as little as a few months if you are diligent in your maintenance, or up to two years. In either case, the end product will be worth the work or the wait! Your flowers and vegetables will thrive with the added nutrients and the improved soil texture that you get from adding compost to your garden soil.

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