I've always admired people who compost. It seems so green and earthy and a necessary element to have under your "green living" belt. When you're laying your "green lifestyle" cards on the table, it's hard to show your hand without the composting card sitting happily between the homemade cleaning products and reusable grocery bag cards. But I'll admit to always being extremely intimidated by composting. Having a rotting pile of food in the yard seems like such a bad idea, but so many people pull it off that there has to be something to it. I'll also admit to not understanding the layering and watering necessary for a successful compost. Oh and I have a huge phobia of maggots and I am just so sure that a pile of trash will somehow equal maggots. All of this caused us to remain a compost-free household, up until this past weekend.
I've been teetering on the compost idea since we started gardening. Compost is good for the garden and unless we keep driving to our friend's house for a trash can full of horse poo, we knew we'd have to come up with something ourselves. The thing that just tilted the decision in favor of composting is our soon-to-be chicken addition. We have to do something with all that chicken poo. I keep hearing over and over again to just add it to my compost pile for some nitrogen-rich garden yumminess.
I knew that having an open compost pile would not be an option. I have small children and a very curious dog, so having an open bin was out of the question. Then I eyed up the barrels that you can buy to make composting easy for suburbanites, but the high price put those out of our league. I searched online and found many sites explaining how to make a compost bin out of a garbage can with a tight-fitting lid. This was right up our alley.
We happen to have a brand-new trash can that Farmer B bought for horse poo retrieval and I figured this would make the perfect compost bin since we won't need horse poo anymore if this all works out. And if it doesn't work out, we can still use the holey garbage can for yard waste.
I grabbed Farmer B's power drill and put the wrong drill bit on it (FYI - a drywall bit works even though the man in your life might tell you it's the wrong drill bit for the job, thank you very much) and just drilled finger-sized holes all over the can - about every 6 inches or so. I read that it's important to put holes in the bottom of the can too. You should elevate your can on some attractive cinder blocks like we did, or you could always be crafty and build a little platform for it out of wood. Some people say you can even put a tray under your bin to catch the compost drippings for your garden. We're not doing that because I know it would become the sole source of water for the dog.
I keep reading about the brown/green ratio necessary for successful composting. Apparently you put a layer of brown, like leaves, chipped branches, brown paper and mulch and then a layer of green, like your kitchen scraps or grass clippings, and then wet the whole thing down and repeat. You avoid anything meaty if you want to keep it from smelling vile. Every week or so you should tip the can over and roll it around your yard to mix up the compost, then roll it back to its perch and repeat the process until at some point you have compost. This is why you need a tight-fitting lid and a bungee cord to ensure it doesn't bust open.
To get started, I threw a bunch of garden soil in the bottom of the can because I read somewhere that soil is a good start if you don't have sawdust. Then I tossed in some mulched-up leaves. I have yet to figure out if a "layer" is 1/2 inch of "stuff" or 5 inches of "stuff." After those layers, I've been tossing in my leftover raw fruit and vegetable peelings from the kitchen. Finally - because the internet told me to - I ripped up some newspaper and put that on top and sprinkled the hose on it too.
I went out there today to add some more kitchen waste to the pile and when I opened the lid a veritable army of fruit flies came swarming out at my face to attack me. That was so delightful. I read online that fruit flies are to be expected if you have rotting fruit in the bin. I tossed in my kitchen waste and then added some more leaves and put the hose on it all again. Once again - do I hold the hose on it for 5 seconds or 5 minutes? I have no idea. I've read that your compost pile should feel like a damp sponge. Who are these people who are digging their hands in this crap and comparing it to sponges? Blech!
It's funny. I have no natural feel for gardening or composting. But I feel quite confident with raising animals and kids. Let's hope when these little chicks appear next week that I'll do something right. I've never had chickens before, but yet I feel confident that I can pull it off. I don't feel so confident that I can make compost out of the crap in that trash can.