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Composting the Easy Way

by Michael J. McGroarty

Having an ample supply of good rich compost is the 
gardeners dream. It has many uses, and all of those uses will 
result in nicer plants. However, composting can be time 
consuming and hard work. I place a reasonable value on my 
time, so spending hours and hours turning compost piles doesnít 
qualify as a worthwhile exercise, at least in my book. 
Nonetheless, I do compost, but I do so on my terms. 

I built two composting bins. Each bin is five feet 
wide, five feet deep, and four feet high. I built the bins by 
sinking 4Ē by 4Ē posts in the ground for the corners, and then 
nailed 2 by 4ís and 1 by 4ís, alternating on the sides. I left 
2Ē gaps between the boards for air circulation. The 2 by 4ís 
are rigid enough to keep the sides from bowing out, and in 
between each 2 by 4 I used 1 by 4ís to save a little money. 
The bins are only 3 sided, I left the front of the bins open so 
they can be filled and emptied easily. 

I started by filling just one of the bins. I put grass 
clippings, dried leaves, and shrub clippings in the bins. I 
try not to put more than 6Ē of each material on a layer. You 
donít want 24Ē of grass clippings in the bin, you should 
alternate layers of green and brown material. If necessary, 
keep a few bags of dry leaves around so you can alternate 
layers of brown waste and green waste. When we root cuttings 
we use coarse sand in the flats, so when itís time to pull the 
rooted cuttings out of the flats, the old sand goes on the 
compost pile. In or little backyard nursery we also have some 
plants in containers that do not survive. Rather than pulling 
the dead plant and the weeds out of the container, and then 
dumping the potting soil back on the soil pile, we just dump 
the whole container in the compost bin, this adds more brown 
material to the mix, and is a lot easier than separating the 
soil and the weeds.

Once the bin is full, the rules of composting say that 
you should turn the material in the bin every few weeks. There 
is no way that I have time to do that, so this is what I do. I 
pack as much material in the bin as I can, before I start 
filling the second bin. I pile the material as high as I 
possibly can, and even let it spill out in front of the bin. 
Then I cover all the fresh material with mulch or potting soil, 
whatever brown material I can find. Then when Iím out working 
in the garden I set a small sprinkler on top of the pile and 
turn it on very low, so a small spray of water runs on the 
material. Since I have a good water well, this doesnít cost me 
anything, so I let it run for at least two hours as often as I 
can. This keeps the material damp, and the moisture will cause 
the pile to heat up, which is what makes the composting action 
take place.

Once I have the first bin completely full, I start 
using the second bin. As the material in the first bin starts 
to break down, it will settle, and the bin is no longer heaped 
up, so I just keep shoveling the material that I piled in front 
of the bin, up on top of the pile, until all the material is 
either in the bin, or piled on top of the heap. Then I just 
leave it alone, except to water it once in a while. The 
watering isnít necessary, it just speeds the process.

Because I donít turn the pile, I canít expect all of 
the material to rot completely. The material in the center is 
going to break down more than the material on the edges, but 
most of it does breakdown quite well. 

The next step works great for me because Iíve got a 
small nursery, so I keep a pile of potting soil on hand at all 
times. But you can really do the same thing by just buying two 
or three yards of shredded mulch to get started, and piling it 
up near your compost bins. If you do this, you will always 
have a supply of good compost to work with.

Shredded bark, left in a pile will eventually breakdown 
and become great compost. The potting soil that I use is about 
80% rotted bark. I make potting soil by purchasing fine 
textured, and dark hardwood bark mulch, and I just put it in a 
pile and let it rot. The secret is to keep the pile low and 
flat, so that it does not shed the rain water away, you want 
the mulch to stay as wet as possible, this will cause it to 
breakdown fairly quick.

So I keep a pile of rotted bark mulch near my compost 
bins. When both bins are completely full, I empty the bin 
containing the oldest material by piling it on top of my rotted 
bark mulch. I make sure the pile of rotted mulch is wide and 
flat on top so that when I put the material from the compost 
bin on top of the pile, the compost material is only 5 to 10 
inches thick. My mulch pile might be 12í wide, but it may only 
be 24 to 30 inches high. Once I have all the compost on top of 
the pile, then I go around the edge of the pile with a shovel, 
and take some of the material from the edges of the pile and 
toss it up on top of the pile, covering the compost with at 
least 6Ē of rotted bark. This will cause the compost material 
to decompose the rest of the way.

Once you get this system started, you never want to use 
all of the material in the pile. Always keep at least 2 to 3 
cubic yards on hand so youíve got something to mix with your 
compost. If you use a lot of compost material like I do, then 
you should buy more material and add to your pile in the late 
summer or fall, once you are done using it for the season. 
Around here many of the supply companies sell a compost 
material that is already broken down quite well. This is what 
I buy to add to my stock pile. But I try to make sure that I 
have at least 3 yards of old material on hand, then Iíll add 
another 3 yards of fresh material to that. Then in the spring 
Iíll empty one of the compost bins and add the compost to the 
top of the pile.

The pile of usable compost will be layers of material, 
some more composted than others. Kind of like a sandwich. So 
what I do is chip off a section of the pile from the edge, 
spread it out on the ground so itís only about 8Ē deep, then 
run over it with my small rototiller. This mixes it together 
perfectly, and I shovel it onto the potting bench.

Having a pile of rotted compost near your compost bins 
is great because if you have a lot of leaves or grass 
clippings, you can throw some rotted compost in the bin in 
order to maintain that layered effect that is necessary in 
order for the composting process to work well.

Sure this process is a little work, but it sure is nice 
to have a place to get rid of organic waste anytime I like. 
Then down the road when I have beautiful compost to add to my 
potting soil, I am grateful to have done the right thing 
earlier, and I know that I have wasted nothing.
If you have questions for Mike McGroarty visit his website, 
http://www.freeplants.com and post them on the message board 
where you can learn lots of gardening tips and communicate with 
other gardeners. While at his website you can learn how to 
start your own profitable backyard nursery. If you would like 
a copy of Mikeís booklet, ďThe Secret of Growing Landscape 
Plants from ScratchĒ, send $4.00 to: Garden Secrets, P.O. Box 
338, Perry, Ohio 44081

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