Part Three: Maintaining Your Compost Bin

April 21, 2017

Here's our final entry in our three-part Composting 101 series. Find previous posts for part one here and part two here.

So you’ve built the bin (hopefully two) and stocked it with the right mix of greens and browns. Now what the heck do you do? Truthfully, not a whole lot; but that’s the beauty of it all! From this point on, natural processes take over and do most of the work to complete the mission for you. The only thing you’ll need to do is to turn the mix once a week or so with a pitchfork to keep the contents well mixed and provide some aeration. Do keep in mind, though, that the inner “core” will be the hottest location where most of the composting is happening, so you want to do your best to move the outer, cooler materials to the inside as you mix. This will keep things working as evenly and efficiently as possible. It will be clear when the process is done, as you won’t see any more pieces of raw material, only beautiful brown soil “gold.” Yay, Mother Nature!

Photo of fresh material to go into the larger bin for composting by Flickr user kitty meets goat.

Here's why you will have a better system with two compost bins rather than just one: Remember the tip from last time that you shouldn’t add more material to the compost once you have started the process? (Fresh materials will mean restarting the clock to zero, since the new materials will now take the entire length of time to decompose while the rest is somewhere closer to finished.) You definitely don’t want to be shoveling partially done apple cores, lettuce leaves, and banana peels into your garden along with the completely decomposed material. That’s a pretty big “yuck” factor to deal with. So what you do is start the first bin going as we talked about, and then whenever you have more material, add it to the second bin. When you have removed the completed compost material from bin 1 (and added it to your garden), start the clock on bin 2. Then re-use bin 1 for fresh material from that point on while allowing bin 2 to decompose. Keep going back and forth like that, and you’ll have a continuous supply of great compost as the years go on.

How do you know when it's done? Finished compost will no longer heat up, even after mixing. Your initial ingredients are no longer recognizable, and what is left is an looks like a rich organic soil.

A few last tips

  • Cover bins with a lid to keep any local critters looking for a free meal out of your compost. Avoid adding meat or dairy products, or cooked processed items like pizza crusts that will attract vermin. Stick to plant-based waste.
  • The more often you turn your compost, the faster the process will go. How soon? If you turn it frequently, you may see finished compost in a bit over a month. Less frequently, in 3 or more months.
  • You don't need to add worms to your compost, they'll be naturally attracted to the fresh compost you'll add to your garden. Attract more by adding a layer of coffee grounds!
  • Want to avoid flies? With indoor bins, food scraps should not be left exposed to the air. Instead, cover with a layer of brown material (such as soil, old compost, leaves, or wood shavings).

Now you're ready to start! Your own homemade compost will help make your garden the envy of the neighborhood! 

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