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Jun 3, 2009 08:03 AM

Compost your kitchen scraps, help save the earth and save money!

Composting is becoming more and more popular, in fact you can head to your Local Sam’s Club and snatch up a plastic compost bin for about $150.00. Why would you want to spend $150 on a compost bin when you could very easily build one yourself? I actually built my own compost bin for free! I am delighted that I built it because now I won’t sense the pangs of environmental guilt as I jettison all the produce remnants into the dark void we call the garbage disposal. I don't want to forget to mention the hundreds of pounds of used ground coffee, newspapers, egg shells and tea bags that just go into your trash and then into the local land fill. I read that 67 percent of the United States home garbage waste is compostable. For those of us that pay monthly for the weight of garbage that is picked up at our curb, if we compost, this is extra cash in our pockets. You are also helping reduce the environmental impact and you are getting dark gold for your garden. For my fellow food mongers who are concerned about how far food travels and purchasing the best local food from local growers...then it would make sense that we also be concerned where those scraps end up in their journey. If you like me have a large yard, then you may want to consider building the contraption I am speaking of. I fabricated mine by going to my local hardware store and asking if I could have 3 of their pallets, of the same size, that they receive their shipments on. The best news is that the pallets are free! Most of the time retailers are happy to give anyone the pallets - just to get rid of them. When you get your pallets, just nail the sides together and you will have your very own environmentally friendly compost bin. Since I have a lot of kitchen scraps every day, this size is what works our family. You may decide to build a different size based on your family size and compostable items. The size most people will need is a 3' x 3'. All you need is just to make a box, with untreated wood, that allows air to flow in and out of it....just like the slats in the pallets I brought home from the hardware store. This small one is great for people who don't have large amounts of scraps from their kitchen and this can easily be moved from areas of your yard to others very easily. The top is covered to discourage critters from thinking its a restaurant. Airflow is critical and will allow a good exchange of oxygen thus reducing the opportunity for the unpleasant aroma associated with composting to begin broadcasting from your compost bin. I started this bin in the compost will be ready for use in October. You will be surprised at the amount of kitchen scraps you can reuse in your compost bin for your fall-winter planting. Face it, it's not rocket science to build the box, nor is it rocket science placing the scraps into the bin. The bin needs a balance of nitrogen - which includes items such as grass, coffee ground and weeds - and a balance of carbon which are things like shredded newspaper (that use soy ink), pine needles and shredded paper. Check out these links for more info about composting.

Here are my top 5 tips for creating a good compost that reduces your household waste and may keep money in your pocket.
1. Decide on the size of your bin. 3’ X 3’ or 4’x4’ are what most people decide on.

2. You will need a bag of dirt (40 pounds works nicely) a bag of compost and, if you can find them...some red wiggler worms... These can be purchased at your local bait shop or hunting shop.

3. Find a location away from your home and preferably in an area that will receive minimal sun. The absence of significant sunlight will keep your compost pile from drying out and thus arresting the composting process.

4. Place dirt and compost on floor of the bin. Then begin throwing your red wiggler worms around the top of the dirt and compost. (I included the compost and dirt to provide a very attractive environment for the worms in the area to want to live in your compost bin. If you don't want to purchase those three items you can certainly omit them.

5. Make sure you give items in the bin a turn at least once a week ....but daily is preferable. At the bottom of this article, I have included a list of the items that are beneficial to the composting process.

6. Add a sprinkle of water from a hose every other day or as needed to make the items in the bin moist. You want to avoid making it wet. The goal is to make sure that it is moist. The moisture aids in the composting of the materials and will keep the worms alive that have decided to take residence in your new bin.
7. Try to chop up your scraps from your kitchen and shred newspaper or paper if possible. The smaller the pieces of the scraps you place in the bin, the quicker they will compost.

When the compost is rich and dark and does not clump in your hand, but crumbles away and you can not identify any of the original components that you placed in it…then it is done. If the compost smells or is too wet then it needs a little more time.

Here is the list of items that can go into your bin: vegetable scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds with paper filters, grass/yard clippings, leaves, egg shells, non treated sawdust, cardboard, hay, straw, corn stalks, shredded newspaper (printed with soy ink) or regular paper, dryer lint, cotton and fireplace ash. You can also add seaweed, algae, and hair. Yes hair! It contains lots of nitrogen.

Things you don't want to put in your compost bin include meats, dairy foods, bones, pet excrement, diseased plants, grease, oils, mayonnaise or peanut butter.

Regardless whether you buy your bin or you make your own, remember that all big results in life come from small changes that we purpose in our everyday lives.

If you have any questions about how to make your own compost bin or about any other article included on my blog, please contact me at

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  1. Ruth, this is really helpful! Have wanted to start a bin, and these are great instructions on how to do so!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Angel Food

      Actually it's very easy and I am glad that I am doing it. I have my kitchen scrap bowl when I cook and then it goes into the bin in the morning or that night. I actually am very surprised how much garbage we throw out that can be used right at home and be used to plant flowers or grow vegetables. Thanks for the comment. I have other pictures on my blog if you want to go to it and check it out.

    2. You do not need to build anything. I have two mounds. One is done and ready to go, the other is in progress.

      Some notes - newspaper has lots of chemicals in it. Consider that before adding it to the pile. If you have raccoons and really want to add the egg shells be sure to thoroughly wash the shells before adding them to the pile. You do not want to attract cats or coons. They make a huge mess and sometimes leave you a little gift. Ahem.

      I do not add paper. That goes in the recycling bin. I also have the piles in about a half day's sun. it sits under a fir tree, but only because I try to limit the rainfall on it in the winter. I live in a rainy area.

      I also did not add any dirt. Just grass, leaves, veggies. I did not add worms either. They found their own way there as they searched for food. My pile is LOADED with them.

      Layering: Grass clippings then kitchen waste spread evenly over grass and then grass on that. Right before you mow each week lightly water the pile, turn it , put your kitchen scraps on then put fresh grass on top of that. Water a few times a week.
      Introduce thinner (like not thick leaves such as magnolia) brown leaf matter by hoovering them up in the mower. They will get cut up by the mower that way. When you pull rotting leaf matter from plants come Spring cleaning, just dump those on the lawn and mow them up. Winter you probably will not mow. No matter. Simply pull the top off the pile, dump your kitchen scraps in and turn. Water if you do not get rain. We do, so I don't. You know you are in business when you plunge your hand into your pile and it is very very hot in there.

      Turnings purpose is to reintroduce oxygen to the pile and to expose those dry grass clippings to the inside of the pile where all the action is.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Sal Vanilla

        True you don't have to build anything but most of us want it enclosed and concentrated in some ways.

        I use these cheap plastic enclosures that are only about $15. I started with 1 and expanded to 4 piles with 2 plastic enclosures each (for a bigger pile; higher heat) as my operation grew. Now I get about 3 cu yds a year which is GREAT for my adobe clay soil!

        That's a double enclosure with a cardboard fruit flat on top for size reference. And those plastic wraps are easily attached with screws and wingnuts for a single or double enclosure. They're sturdy and have been in use for between 5-10 years.

        They're also very convenient if you mean to movr your pile from year to year. Not a bad idea if you don't have to stare at them because a pile "works" about 9" down into my extremely heavy soil.

        1. re: rainey

          Wow. How are you turning that mammoth pile? You know what you need? Chickens!

        2. re: Sal Vanilla

          I remember turning my first piles religiously because I was so eager to get the compost.

          Now all my piles are passive and I can break down one or two each spring without any woek at all!

        3. AMEN!

          Here's my kitchen system. I LOVE it! And the trash can liners are washable, reuseable ripstop nylon I made to fit my cans.

          The hotel pan is broad enough that I can peel directly into.

          7 Replies
          1. re: rainey

            1-2 cups of organic flour works great as a compost 'starter' instead of buying one. also rotate between brown (dry things like paper and grass clippings) and green (wet food scraps) to keep a good balance.

            if your compost smells and is overly wet add dry ingredients.

            we compost 8 months of the year, the rest of the time there is too much snow to get to it, and not enough heat in the composter to do anything, so no point.

            we don't really look after our compost that well, and because of that we have not been able to use much of it, but at least our food scraps did not go in the garbage.

            1. re: cleopatra999

              Bet if you dug under your passive pile you'd find some rich, dark stuff that your flower beds and veggie patch would just LOVE. All you have to do id top dress around existing plants (the worms will work it in) or put a trowel- or spadefull in a planting hole. Besides giving your plants excellent nutrition it also helps immunize them to local soil-born disease.

              I get so excited when I handle fresh compost I've "made".

              1. re: cleopatra999

                These are Great Ideas....You mean organic flour works as a starter?

                1. re: ruthlessruminations

                  yup that is what I was told. have not actually tried it yet. my local garden store (staffed with a bunch of old hippies...LOL) passed on this tip. the bags of starter that you buy are basically just a starch/glucose and don't waste the money.

                  1. re: cleopatra999

                    I've never used a starter. Besides, once you get started and break a pile down, you'll have the larger bits that didn't get fully composted like large branches and tree roots and clumps of leaves. When you toss them in the bottom of your next pile, they already have whole universes of the bacteria and fungii that will go right to work on the new stuff.

              2. re: rainey

                It looks fantastic! I am so glad someone else is composting! I love it!

                1. re: rainey

                  You made that yourself? Very nice.

                  For kitchen scraps I use a plastic bucket I keep the garage. In the kitchen I use (even though it is ugly) a giant plastic coffee container to put the scraps in as I work and then dump it at the end of the day to the garage bucket. If I am peeling, I just peel to the sink and then dump them in the can. I also have chickens. I set some scraps aside for them (usually fruit including tomatoes).

                  I am on the constant lookout for a nice looking and properly sized, easy to clean earthenware pot of some sort for the kitchen compost collector. My never ending quest.

                2. Compost tea, by the way, is an excellent fertilizer. It's basically steroids for plants.

                  To make mine, I fill a nylon stocking (knee-high, cheapest I can find) with finished compost. (Note that this works best with compost that got hot while it was decomposing; it's got the right kind of bacteria for the tea.) Put the stocking in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water, along with 2-3 tablespoons of unsulfured molasses. (As in bread baking, the molasses will provide food for the microscopic critters in the tea.)

                  Aerate with an aquarium pump for 3 days. You can use a submersible pump. Or, you can do what I did -- by the cheapest non-submersible pump you can find. Attach a foot or two of flexible tubing to the pump's output, and run that into the bucket. The tubing will float, so weight it down with a couple of washers or the like.

                  After 3 days, you've got the best and cheapest fertilizer out there. It doesn't have a long shelf life, though. You should use it within a day or two. If it smells 'off,' it is.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: mudster

                    I'm definitely going to try that with my worm compost. I have an awesome little worm farm that my SO found online. It doesn't take up much room ( 16" x 16" x 24" ) and really produces! I keep on my back porch and feed those little suckers about a quarter of all my kitchen scraps. The rest go to the bin we built this year out by the veggie garden. Do you think refrigeration would extend the life of this stuff?

                    1. re: calliopethree

                      Actually, I've often thought that refrigeration might help, but I know that if I tried storing compost tea in the fridge, I'd magically end up sleeping on the couch, so I've never tried it. If you do, please report back!

                      1. re: mudster

                        I've got our party fridge on the back porch, affectionately known as the "beer n bait" fridge ; ) And I have already got the pump so I'm starting my brew tonight! I'll let you know how it goes with the refrigeration. Thanks.

                    2. re: mudster

                      Hi Mudster,
                      I tried this the day you posted it. Can I just use as much as I want on flowers and vegetables or do you recommend a certain amount when I use it?

                      1. re: ruthlessruminations

                        It's not a "hot" fertilizer, like fresh manure would be, so you can basically use as much as you want. I'll often just fill up a jug and give all my veggies a good watering with it. It's also a very good foliar feed.

                        I'd maybe be a *little* hesitant to use it on flowers that are in full bloom, because it's going to be very nitrogen-rich and might therefore encourage them to grow, rather than bloom. But that's your call!

                        Also, this might go without saying, but as tempting as it is to drink the stuff -- don't.

                    3. I've been a composter for many years, and here's what I've found:
                      While ideally you want the compost pile to get hot, if you don't have the right balance, it's still okay; the worms will find it and do the work for you.

                      I used to have a wood box contraption that had 4 sides. It was difficult to work it because of the angle. Now I have a 3 sided box. Last year's compost is in the back -- and usable. The newer stuff I just toss up front for next year. (I had long envisioned setting up a 3-box system, but this low-tech system seems to work just fine!)

                      I found peanut shells remain in otherwise finished compost, so I no longer compost them. If the deer and woodchucks want to eat my leftover cabbage, I say fine -- at least they're not eating beans from my garden!

                      I thought red wiggler worms were for indoor composting. I'm in the Northeast, and those critters would freeze if they were used outdoors.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: NYchowcook

                        I just started my composters about 3 weeks ago. One is on the ground the other is in a big orb on wheels so it can be spun to mix it. Do i need to add anythging to the orb since it isn't in contact with the ground to get things moving?

                        1. re: lovethedirt

                          I can't say I've ever seen anything on that particular topic. But if it doesn't have any contact with natural soil, I'd get a spadeful of earth from your garden. Make it something rich from where things are growing and dropping leaves. The bacteria and other beasties present should get your compost started.

                          That process of introducing natural flora and fauna to the pile is called inoculating it.

                          1. re: lovethedirt

                            Bacteria will find it regardless. Earthworms won't. They're a pretty important, though not strictly necessary, part of the process. You could always buy some red wiggler worms, though. They're easy to find online (though a tad expensive). A cheaper route would be to call around to some bait shops. Some carry them.

                            1. re: mudster

                              I found some worms on my first phone call to a fishing shop here in town. I'm putting a few spade fulls of great dirt and a carton of worms in my composter this week. Thanks for your input!

                                1. re: lovethedirt

                                  Or you could get them from your yard.