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By Sue Scott
Spring is teasing us and has triggered the urge to get outside and get our hands dirty. For some of us that urge never goes away and we find gardening activities to help take the edge off.
I have spent the winter tending my bounty of house plants and learning about composting in an enclosed bin.
Growing up on a farm and living with an avid gardener, we always had compost piles. In some of the places we have lived I have been able to have a compost pile, but where we live now, that is not feasible. We live on a corner lot with high visibility to our entire yard so there just isn’t a good spot to put a traditional compost pile.
Mike knew I had been wrestling with this dilemma and that I had been looking into options. On Christmas morning there was a very large, very heavy box under the tree with my name on it. It was a tumbling composter – I was not expecting it, but it was a very nice surprise! It is a black, round bin with two chambers that stands on legs. The black color helps to heat the compost and accelerate the breakdown. The two chambers is a nice feature that allows me to have a new batch decomposing as I’m using one that is ready.
My new composter has been put together and is in use, but first I researched what I needed to know about an enclosed tumbling composter. Here is some good information and guidelines to follow about composting in general.
The secret to heathy successful compost is getting the balance of carbon and nitrogen correct. The ingredients of compost can be divided into two categories, brown materials and green materials.
The “browns” which is the carbon part of the equation consists of things like dried leaves, sticks, shrub prunings, straw, hay, pine needles, eggshells, coffee grounds and filters.
The “greens” or nitrogen part of the equation consists of vegetable and fruit peelings, grass clippings, tea leaves – loose or in the bag, green plant cuttings, flower cuttings, lawn and garden weeds (only if they have not gone to seed), and garden plants only if disease-free.
The correct ratio of carbon to nitrogen is two parts carbon to one-part nitrogen or two parts browns to one-part greens.
There are some things that should not be composted. Noxious weeds, meat, bones or fatty food waste, poultry and fish, dairy products human and pet feces and treated wood should not be mixed into compost. These things slow down the compost process or are dangerous because of the chances of poisoning or disease. Some of these also attract unwanted animals to your compost pile/bin.
With my tumbling composter, I needed to add a shovel full of garden soil to introduce the needed microbes to help with the breakdown of the materials.
You may need to add water to the compost. The materials need to be moist to breakdown. One good way to gauge if you have the right amount of moisture is to grab a handful of compost. It should feel like a wet sponge. Another way to tell if you have the right moisture content is to smell the compost. It should smell earthy and natural. If it smells rotten, stagnant or “sewerish” it is too wet, and you should add dry browns (carbon) to your mixture.
The final ingredient for successful compost is air. If you have a compost pile, you will need to turn and fluff the material to aerate the pile. With my tumbling composter, I just have to turn the bin every few days.
Your compost is ready to use when it is dark and crumbly and mostly broken down and has a pleasant, earthy, soil-like smell. At this point you have a valuable commodity to feed and improve your plants. Now you just need to dig your hands into that rich compost and start spreading it on your established flower and vegetable beds, new planning areas and even your house plants and watch them thrive.