Who doesn’t like free gardening supplies? Compost is probably one of the biggest costs to gardening, if you’re buying the bagged stuff but you can get your own compost and it really isn’t that expensive, especially if you get started on composting right now! Read on to find out more in the Frugal Gardening Series.
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Wowzers it’s been a busy few weeks with work then catching up with family and friends. After 3 weeks I can finally sit down and write! If you’ve been following me on Facebook you will have seen some of what I’ve been getting up to behind the scenes!
We’re well on the way with the garden redesign here with 6 new raised beds so far! The Cluckers enjoy helping in the garden by eating seedlings or jumping into the raised bed I’m filling to help out with worms and bugs. I hope to have all 18 in before the season gets underway. Here’s two I’ve already planted up:
I’m rapidly running out of compost to fill the raised beds and I’m already busy working on making more and raised beds can get expensive with store bought bags of compost. To make the compost stretch a bit more, I’m using hugelkultur methods with old logs, brush and chicken coop bedding which are added to the raised bed as a bulking material. These materials will compost over the next few seasons releasing nutrients to the soil.
Composting can help reduce your carbon footprint as well as providing all of your plants needs for growth without needing to add additional nutrients for the season!
Composting is the ultimate frugal gardeners’ tip to share. There is so much you can do with compost such as mulching your garden beds, containers, hanging baskets, trees, shrubs and flowers, making compost tea to use as a liquid feed and tilling into the soil to add nutrients and humus.
YOU CAN START COMPOSTING EVEN IF YOU DON’T HAVE A GARDEN
Yup, you read that right! You can start composting right now, even if you don’t have a garden and I will show you step by step how you can get started composting with whatever you have available.
The great thing about composting is that you can work it to your schedule. If you are able to get lots of material together and can turn the heap every few days, you can hot compost and have finished compost in as little as 18 days! If you can’t turn the heap or get the materials together you can layer the material in a compost bin and leave it. After 6 months to a year, you will have compost at the bottom of the pile.
The easiest way to get started composting is to collect your kitchen waste in a small container or an inexpensive lidded, 5 gallon bucket. I use both, a small crock for the Bokashi and the 5 gallon bucket for the normal heap.
Compost is free soil amendments for your garden. It is a free source of nutrients to feed your garden soil which in turn feeds your plants. Strong, healthy plants can resist pests and diseases without a barrage of chemicals. Why wouldn’t you want to start composting?
Composting can help reduce your carbon footprint as well as providing all of your plants needs for growth without needing to add additional nutrients for the season!
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT COMPOSTING METHOD IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
There is a ton of information available to gardeners and I’m sure if you ask 10 gardeners about composting, you will get 20 different answers!
Let’s ask my good friend and Frugal Gardening Series writer, Erica from Owning Burton Farm; Hey Erica, how do you compost?
Emma, I have about three different composts going at any given time.
Sometimes I throw peels and eggshells directly in the huge pots on the back porch and (eventually) plant right on top of it. Like most gardeners, I always have several pots in various stages of planting.
When I’m feeling especially ambitious, I put a banana peel, an eggshell, and the day’s coffee grounds into a pickle jar and fill it with water. I let it sit on the counter for a week to “brew” compost tea which I pour on my plants on the patio. It seems to help them not feel so sad they don’t get all-day sun.
I dump my daily coffee grounds, my weekly boiled egg shells, and all the banana and mandarin peels into whatever bowl is sitting at the sink. My husband dumps it in a bucket on the back porch every day, and when it’s full, he walks the five gallon bucket down to the compost pile. He also puts the chicken and goat poop in the pile when he cleans out the barn. The pile is sitting on top of a couple of pallets for air flow and has an L-shaped wall of metal sheeting, braced by a few posts.
We don’t turn it regularly. We really don’t pay it much attention. Sometimes wild animals get into it. If we’re watering the garden and it looks dry we might water it a little. But mostly it decomposes just fine on its own into beautiful compost. Once we go to use it, I might have to pick out a large chunk or two that isn’t ready, but it can just go back in the pile til next time.
I’m sure we could have a larger, more robust compost pile with a little effort. However, I save out most vegetable peelings for the chickens and pigs, as it increases their fresh nutrients and reduces their feed consumption. And we let grass clippings fall to the ground as mulch. Any leafy tree trimmings are given to the goats–they cleared an amazing amount of crape myrtle branches in an hour!
Any suggestions you have on how we could improve our lazy-composting operation are welcome!
Conversely, I have a traditional cold compost bin and use Bokashi composting methods to reduce my waste further and to help speed up the process. Occasionally I will hot compost if I have the materials available.
My parents cold compost tea bags and banana peels in a little container to use for their container garden. I think it is probably all tea!
I have a friend who worm composts and has a cold composting bin and I’ve seen other people save materials for composting from friends and neighbors to hot compost too!
Take a look at my quick infographic below to see which compost method might be right for you or read on to find out in detail.
BEING A GOOD NEIGHBOR
Urban homesteaders have it a bit more tough than country farmers. City ordinances and HOA rules might put a damper on a large compost pile so do your due diligence and research what is allowed in your area before you put one in.
Keep the compost bin or heap (if you can have one) away from neighbor’s property lines if you can to stop any smell or potential pest problem migrating over to your neighbors.
I CAN HAVE A COMPOST BIN
If you can have a compost bin there are many to choose from but there are some questions you should ask yourself when looking to buy or build a compost bin.
What will I be using the bin for?
Are you going to be using it for all your grass clippings or just your kitchen waste?
Are you going to build it yourself?
If you’re handy with tools you can easily build a compost bin from wood or old pallets. Tumbling composters can be made from large drums too.
Here are some ways to build your own composters:
Can you turn it?
I’ll be honest, I really dislike turning the compost pile! I’ve started letting the Cluckers get in and do it and rope in my family to help but turning the heap helps it break down and stop pests or vermin from setting up home in it.
Also think about how you will turn the heap if you are needing to climb into the composter to turn it you are less likely to turn the pile than having a cover to lift off the heap.
If you don’t want to turn the heap or can’t then a tumbling composter might be what works for you.
How will this be emptied?
This seems like a daft question to be asking but think about how you will be emptying the composters you are looking at. It will spare you from problems later such as the following below I had to deal with.
Can you get a wheelbarrow underneath the opening hatch? I’ve had to empty tumbling composters with a bucket underneath and then the compost went all over the ground underneath and was lost.
Do you need to get on your knees to slide open the door at the bottom and scoop out the compost with a hand trowel? Some of the plastic composters with a sliding door at the bottom are like this because the door is too narrow for a spade or shovel to go in the opening.
Can you open up an entire side? If slats can be removed to open up a side you can easily get in to take the compost or turn the heap a step over can be cumbersome if you need to empty or turn.
Now you’re thinking about composters, let’s take a look at some types of composting which use a compost bin.
COLD OR TRADITIONAL COMPOSTING
Let’s start with the easiest and most used composting method! Traditional compost bins, heaps or piles are simple to make. You place a base of twiggy material in first to help provide air then you add you compostable material as you get it.
For best results you need a good mixture of fresh and dry compostable material also known as greens and browns or nitrogen rich and carbon rich materials.
Check out some things from around the homestead which you can compost below. First up is the browns which are carbon rich:
Greens are rich in nitrogen and break down quickly:
You can turn the material in bin to add in air and mix up the materials to help it all break down or you can leave it. Eventually it will shrink down and the compost will be at the bottom.
Traditional compost bins are really easy to make. If you are super frugal why not take a look at Erica’s idea below:
Hey, I had an idea about using an old bookshelf as a compost bin. Obviously, if it’s in good condition, by all means, refinish it, but if it’s not, I think a bookshelf would be an awesome compost bin. There are sections you can fill with your compost and as you turn it, you put it into the other sections. But since it’s a reasonable size, it won’t be too overwhelming a chore. I’d be curious to know if anyone had actually tried it and what they thought about it.
Speedy breakdown of material occurs with hot composting and it is with this composting method which you can have compost in as little as 18 days and heats up to 120 – 170°F that’s up to 77°C!
Hot composting maintains roughly the same volume of compost as the amount of material which is put in. The catch is that you need to have the materials available at the start to create a large pile and you need to turn it.
If hot composting appeals to you there are a couple of methods to do it:
Mulch and shred your materials.
Build the compost heap with a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. The heap needs to be about 5 ft high (1.5 m high).
Leave the heap for 4 days.
Turn the heap from outside to inside every 2 days for 14 days.
Shred/chip/mulch your materials
Mix the green and brown material together. Add a shovel full of finished compost or native soil during mixing.
Lightly water each layer as you build the pile. You may need to cover the heap to maintain moisture if you live in a dry area.
Turn the pile every 4 to 7 days moving material from the outside to the inside.
Shred your materials.
Build your pile 4 ft wide by 4 ft high
Mix the materials together as you build the pile.
Water the pile so that it feels like a wrung out sponge
Turn the pile once a week moving material from the outside in.
A compost thermometer can help you record temperatures so you can monitor the heap cooling down.
Ideal materials for hot composting include:
Browns, carbon rich:
- Wood shavings
- Wood chips
Greens, nitrogen rich:
- Chicken manure
- Horse manure
- Grass clippings
- Vegetable and fruit off cuts and peelings
Bokashi composting is a 2 parts; the first is a fermentation stage, the second is composting.
Bokashi is an anaerobic bacteria which ferments the waste in a low oxygen environment. You can be super frugal and make your own Bokashi bran!
Bokashi composting can handle all your kitchen scraps including meat, fish, dairy, cereals, pasta, baked goods, cooked foods, raw foods, bones, coffee, tea and even oily or greasy foods if added a little at a time.
During the fermentation stage, a liquid is produced that can help unclog drains, be used as a liquid fertilizer when diluted in water (about 1 cup of bokashi liquid to a 2 gallon watering can) and also as a compost activator.
Once fermentation is complete, add the contents of the bucket to a compost heap in the middle and leave for 2 weeks then turn the pile. The pile will heat up and compost really well.
To find out more about Bokashi composting read my previous post Why You’ve Been Composting Wrong All Along.
BUT WHAT IF I CAN’T HAVE A COMPOST BIN?
Perhaps you have a tiny garden or a concrete patio or even an apartment and think you can’t compost? Think again!
You may be able to compost using other, smaller composting methods like a wormery or an indoor electronic kitchen composter. You may also be able to trench compost too.
This type of composting is great for small spaces and urban homesteads.
Wormeries usually don’t smell and produce worm castings and a liquid fertilizer called worm tea.
There’s lots of materials which can be composted by worms such as:
- Banana skins
- Leafy Vegetables
You can’t feed your worms the following:
- Citrus fruits
- Oily or greasy food
- Hot peppers
- Poisonous plants
Worms can work through an impressive amount of food but always check that they are actively working on the food scraps you have added before giving them more.
ELECTRIC KITCHEN COMPOSTING
Technological advancements never cease to amaze me. There are gadgets and gizmos for pretty much everything and sometimes came from an unexpected source of development!
Kitchen shredders cut up your kitchen waste into smaller bits for the wormery or the compost heap. Smaller pieces mean greater surface area for microbes and composting bugs like worms to work on which mean faster composting!
Kitchen composters are an exciting new advancement in composting technology. They shred waste and use heat to break down whatever you put in it and in as little as 3 hours you have compost which can go straight out into the garden!
These machines aren’t huge and are able to handle a variety of materials like:
- Small bones such as fish or chicken
- Vegetable scraps
- Fruit peeling and cores
- Cooked food
You want to provide a good mixture of materials in each cycle to ensure a good variety of nutrients but also to avoid gumming up the shredding mechanics.
Kitchen composters can handle 2-3 pounds of material and work by grinding up the scraps, heating them and drying the waste out. This material can then be added to the garden or container gardens as a soil amendment and are a great choice for urban homesteaders or gardeners who like a less messy composting option.
Trench composting or composting in place is where you dig a pit or trench in the garden, place your compostable materials in the trench then backfill with the garden soil and leave for several weeks.
Worms and soil microbes will work to break down the waste providing a nutrient rich area to plant in.
What ways do you compost at home? If you don’t already compost are you going to try?
Did you catch the other Frugal Gardening Series Posts? If you didn’t take a look at the posts below so you can get in the know of all of the frugal gardening tips we’re sharing!
Check out the latest video on frugal gardening:
Stay tuned to find out more even tips and tricks Erica and I will be sharing over the upcoming weeks in our posts to help you have the best frugal garden ever! You can also find out more frugal tips, Down the Garden Path weekly updates behind the scenes and embarrassingly frugal confessions from yours truly on Facebook and see the series videos over on YouTube.
You can also find me on Twitter if you’re into that. Erica and I also have a Frugal Gardening Pinterest Board that you can follow which is chock-full of Frugal Tips for you to peruse during lunch or coffee breaks.
If you have any tips to share with me or other readers please share them in the comments or at the Misfit Gardening Community Forum, we would love to hear your ideas and tips.
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