Compost Made Easy: Double Bin Method
Compost, particularly your own compost, is probably the best soil amendment for your garden. The natural ingredients of compost do something for the soil. For one thing, dressed with compost, the soil looks good. This might not be scientific, but I think if you can make your soil look good, it probably is good.
Benefits of compost and composting:
- Soil conditioner; loosens the soil and makes it breathable and helps to retain moisture
- Adds nutrients to the soil naturally
- A way of disposing of (recycling) organic waste from your yard and garden and even from the kitchen
Composting is a natural process and is happening all the time. Plant life is miraculously sustained by the soil in which it grows, but when the plant dies it is consumed by the very soil that once sustained it, taking back some of what it gave as the plant decomposes. By composting, the soil wins and so do we. Since it is a natural process, it is easy; very little effort needed.
What it takes:
- Organic material in a pile—spent plants from the garden, cooking and table scraps
- Grass clippings don’t work well in the Double Bin method. They require frequent turning and mixing to prevent matting.
- Leaves are excellent for composting but tree limbs and twigs not so much. They will decompose but it takes a very long time. Limbs and twigs should be shredded to ½ inch or less and then they make great composting material.
- Some mature flowers turn woody and will not compost well unless shredded
- Moisture—without adequate moisture the compost pile will not decompose. It will rot (dry rot) but will not become the dark treasure we want for the garden.
- Here in the dry heat of Utah, water has to be added to maintain the essential moisture content
- In other areas of the country where rain is more frequent and the humidity is high, nature takes care of the moisture, but if she doesn’t come through and the pile begins to dry out, adding water will keep the process going.
- Heat—decomposition occurs more rapidly throughout the summer with the natural heat of the sun. However, the process generates its own heat and so it continues even when temperatures drop.
- Nitrogen?—It is suggested that the addition of nitrogen aids in the decomposition process. I’m not sure if that is fact. I have done it with and without and have seen no difference in the time or quality of the composting.
This is spring, 2020--ready to use compost on the left.
There is a myriad of different composting gadgets on the market, all of which probably work. The method I use, the double bin, is inexpensive, requires no turning or mixing, per se. It is simply two bins side by side. The bin on the right receives all the raw organics and is much larger than the bin on the left. During decomposition the organic mass will reduce by roughly 50%. This method is a 1 ½ year cycle that yields useable compost every spring as follows:
The contents of the bin on the right are the leaves and garden debris from the fall of 2019. 2020 spring cleanup was added as well as spent tulip and daffodil tops. Other weeds and plants discarded during routine garden maintenance will be added. Moisture is added and monitored until October.
- October/November (or when leaves begin to fall and the garden is spent) the contents of the bin on the right will be transferred (shoveled, which turns and mixes) to the bin on the left where it will continue to compost until spring of 2021.
- October/November 2020 leaves and garden debris will be piled high into the freshly emptied bin on the right.
- Spring, 2021, the bin on the left will be filled with ready to use compost, a year and a half after the process began in the fall of 2019. The new compost pile will be ready for transfer in the fall of 2021 and the cycle continues.
The new compost can be used immediately or as desired throughout the growing season. The bin you see on the left is empty because with the garden space and flowerbeds in my yard, I cannot produce enough.
Caution: Be careful not to deposit weeds and flowers with mature seed heads. The heat generated by the compost is not enough to kill the seeds and they will be spread with the compost. Last year I made the mistake of throwing all my spent poppies into the pile with the seed pods intact. I estimate more than 100 thousand poppies germinated in my gardens this spring. No way of knowing exactly how many. Most have been taken out, but 100s if not 1000s are growing and will be a sight.
Composting can be very rewarding. The look, the smell and the feel of new compost is a touch of heaven for a gardener.
W. T. Svedin