After 25 years, it was time for compost bin renewal
By Glen Argan
For the last few years, I have been planning to upgrade our compost bins behind our fence to include a third box. That would enable us to double our capacity for building compost – one bin would always be empty and two of them full.
Yet, as I looked at the sight of the two existing bins, it was clear that the one on the right would also need to be replaced. The photo on the left shows its decrepit condition on May 1 (2019). I built both bins more than 25 years ago, and the right bin would no longer hold together. Until I took it apart on Sunday, I didn’t realize that it had also shrunk in height, just as my own body is also shrinking.
(I have saved the boards from the old bin, planning to use them when we make our next hügelkultur.)
Over the long weekend, I built two new compost bins (shown in the photo below, taken May 21), which will now give us the requisite threesome. Alas, the two new babies make father compost bin look as old and decrepit as he is. So now, sooner rather than later, father will need to be replaced too. That will leave us with a holy trinity of compost bins which create life-giving compost out of leaves, kitchen scraps and some grass.
For years, I have garnered enough leaves for the following season by collecting them from neighbours during the fall raking season. Last fall, in anticipation of the compost bin upgrades, I drove my Toyota Matrix through our Holyrood (Holy Cross) neighbourhood, filling the hatch several times with large bags of autumn refuse from hither and yon. Using motorized transport allowed me to be more selective in the quality of the leaves I chose to take home.
The design for my compost bins I took from Let It Rot, the 1975 sure guide to all things composting. The book is still available, now in its third edition, which shows its lasting value as a resource for home gardeners. I opted for the New Zealand compost box, shown on Page 39 of the first edition. It is far superior to the bins that you can purchase from gardening stores. Getting proper compost requires a sizeable pile, aeration and adequate water, all of which the New Zealand box allows you to provide.
In my view, a box is much better than a simple pile since a pile can spread, and it is more difficult to build it up to the one-metre height necessary to get your compost to “cook” – that is, build up enough internal heat in the pile so the materials will break down into usable compost.
To the design in Let It Rot, I added a cylinder made of chicken wire (hardware cloth) which I use to introduce air into the middle of the pile.
In my new bin, I also laid down some leftover linoleum at the bottom of the pile to prevent weeds from growing into the pile. I don’t know if this was a good idea. Maybe some readers have comments on this.
Turning the compost from one bin to another several times over the summer involves time-consuming manual labour. Many gardeners may not want to add this work to their gardening routine. For me, the labour is a bonus. I have recently retired and am able to make the time for turning two compost piles. This work is also another form of exercise which is helpful for my increasingly creaky body.
I encourage everyone to start a home compost pile. It’s a good way to keep kitchen scraps and other organic materials out of the landfill and to put them to good use in creating a more abundant garden.