Composting is one of my favorite activities. It is the “original” recycling (think about nature and the woods doing it all the time), it is something every human can do and it can be as difficult or simple as you would like to make it.
There are many good resources for composting instructions (building bins, materials to use, science, and ordinances) that will fit almost every life style. Here are a few resources.
When creating an active compost system think about these basic ideas:
What you need for composting:
Open air ~Spreading yard waste throughout a wooded area
Piled ~Pile in yard or woods. Not to high, because after all you don’t see leaves, and woody debris piled in the woods.
Fenced ~As simple as wire fencing, pallets or other fencing material to keep it corralled
Contained ~Built enclosure to aid in moisture control, heat, keeping out unwanted critters and more visually appealing for some neighborhoods
Carbon – ~Brown & Dry See attached list of materials
Nitrogen – ~Green & Moist See attached list of materials
Air ~To create a more active pile and to get finished compost sooner it is important to turn materials. This also cuts down on odors by “refreshing” the pile
Water ~Not too wet or too dry. A good compost pile should feel like a wrung out sponge
Heat ~Optimal temperature is around 130° – 150°. Or dig a 10” hole in the pile and put your hand inside. If it is steamy and warm/hot it is probably doing well.
Microorganisms ~They are the critters that are doing all of the work.
See attached sheet for who your best composting friends are.
Materials to Use
- Algae • Coffee filters
- Bone meal • Corn cobs
- Coffee grounds • Cotton/wool/silk scraps
- Eggshells • Grass clippings (dried)
- Feathers • Hay
- Flowers • Leaves (dead)
- Fruit and fruit peels • Paper/Shredded
- Grass clippings (fresh) • Peat moss
- Hair • Pine needles
- Manure • Sawdust
- Seaweed • Straw
- Tea Leaves • Tea bags
- Vegetables and peelings • Wood chips
- Weeds • Wood ash
This list is far from complete. Anything organic can, in theory, be composted — some more easily than others. But common sense suggests a few exceptions. The following materials may cause problems in a backyard compost pile.
Materials to Avoid
- pet wastes can contain extremely harmful bacteria
- meat, fish, fats and dairy products are likely to smell as they rot and may attract four-footed visitors
- insect-infested or diseased plants may persist in the compost
- materials contaminated by synthetic chemicals or treated with herbicides or insecticides should never be used
- weeds with mature seeds, and plants with a persistent root system (like crabgrass, ground ivy, or daylilies), may not be killed by the heat of the compost. !!NEVER COMPOST INVASIVE SPECIES-Purple Loosestrife, Garlic Mustard, etc.!!!
- leaves of rhubarb and walnut contain substances toxic to insects or other plants so most people choose not to compost them.
Here are a couple of my compost bin designs along with the basic supply list for building them yourself. If you would like us to build them for you the prices are:
New Lumber – Cedar $200.00/delivered in West Michigan
Reclaimed Lumber $100.00/delivered in West Michigan
New design turning a barrel into a compost bin! I am working with
the West Michigan Environmental Action Council on this product.
Built it yourself supply list for wooden compost bins:
Compost Bin Materials list
MSU Extension – Soil testing kit
Testing Kit Fee Schedule-
MSU Extension – Questions/Answers
WMEAC – www.wmeac.org
Wall Street Journal compost system testing video/Hosted on
Sierra Club website
Wall Street Journal compost video follow up
Gardener’s supply company
Gardener’s supply company – How to choose a composter
Red Worm Composting Video
Clean Air Gardening Website