If you're handy, pallets and chicken wire can be used to make a great compost bin
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Time for a pop quiz: How do you turn green and brown and into gold, and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time? The answer is home composting, where plant-based food scraps (green) and yard debris (brown) turns into nutrient-rich garden compost.
Gardeners consider compost to be gold because of the goodness it provides to plants, and because it recycles food scraps, you’re eliminating the environmental cost of sending them to the landfill.
Summer is a great time to set up a compost bin. For composting outdoors, all you need is a large bin outdoors, a small lidded container for collecting food scraps in the kitchen, and a tool to mix or “turn” your compost pile, such as a shovel or pitchfork. From personal experience, one of the easiest ways to start composting is to attend a composting seminar hosted by the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District (CCSWD). They sell composting bins and accessories at reasonable prices, both at their seminars and at their Garfield Heights office.
Secure lids to keep determined raccoons from raiding your compost bin in the middle of the night
The first question most people have when considering home composting is critters—won’t a pile of food scraps in your yard attract rodents and raccoons? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, but there are ways limit their access.
When I purchased a bin from CCSWD, I put down a sheet of hardware cloth on the ground extending several inches around the bottom and also lined the inside of the bin with hardware cloth to cover the air holes. As far as I can tell, this has prevented any mice or chipmunks from living in the bin. After a determined raccoon woke me at 1 a.m. with their noisy attempts to remove the bin lid, I added bricks and a large branch on top, which has kept them away. (The compost bin currently sold by CCSWD has a screw top lid to address this issue.)
If you are handy, there are loads of DIY ideas using old containers and fence or other scrap material. My neighbor built a compost bin from old pallets and lined it with chicken wire to keep the scraps in and the vermin out.
The next question people have whether a compost pile will have a lot of creepy crawlies. Again, the answer is yes—and that’s exactly what you want!
A healthy compost pile has all sorts of lifeforms, from worms and beetles to microscopic bacteria and protozoa, breaking down the waste into compost. In my experience, all you have to do is put the compost bin on top of soil and the right creatures will find it. A location that gets some sunlight is best because heat is also an important ingredient in composting.
Will you have creepy crawlies in your compost? Yes. Will it be smelly? No.
Finally, a common concern is if the compost will smell bad. The answer to that should be no. If everything is in balance, a compost pile will have a pleasant earthy smell, like a forest after it rains.
If it smells rotten, then the pile is likely too wet, too compacted, or unbalanced in the amount of greens and browns. Try turning it over with the pitchfork or shovel to add air, and add some dead leaves or shredded newspaper to restore balance.
The CCSWD can help with troubleshooting too; they have a great guide on their website or you can call (216) 443-3749 for help.
In future columns, we’ll talk more about what can—and cannot—go in a home compost pile as well as services like Rust Belt Riders.
But like so much of gardening, the hardest part of composting is getting started. With a little planning and knowledge, however, you can set up Mother Nature to do her own beautiful thing and turn your waste into gold.
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