I used to be of the school of using composting bins that keep all the compost inside. You know … out of sight out of mind … and also so you can apparently keep the smell contained to one place.

I stand corrected.

After being up at the permaforest trust for 3 months and seeing how they were making compost large scale (turn around about 1 week I think) I was pretty inspired. They had theories about mixing a proper proportions of cow manure, mulch (grass), food scraps, and also ensuring that it stays in a proper square shape.

In an urban setting it’s a bit trickier to obtain cow manure (although I have realised that taking a short trip out of town you can usually find bags of free horse poop to supplement your compost with – or even horse tracks in town work). The idea behind making the compost initially into a square or rectangular shape was to ensure that the core of the compost can heat up to a proper temperature.

The biggest problem I have had with the compost bins is that my back ends up hurting from rotating the heap, AND to make proper compost you really need to rotate your compost every day to get proper amounts of air in there.

We gleaned a compost bin like the one above and I thought, “Sweet i know how to use these cause I used to use them back in Calgary and they are great.” So for about three or four weeks we kept adding stuff into the bin and occassionally I would try and mix the contents (and having back spasms afterwards because of the awkward angle you have to use to rotate). And it was quite smelly in comparison and I still thought that it was doing good.

Then one day I got thinking that the smell wasn’t quite good (cause a working compost actually doesn’t smell). I started thinking about my experiences at the trust, and also how my roomate Thom had setup his brick system and decided to stop using this stupid bin.

Frankly I wouldn’t go back. I finally succummed and removed the compost bin and built an open brick compost system around the contents inside. The contents were spread out in a square and then I have routinely been doing the following:

  • Adding woodchips – great source of browns to balance out the green manure (fruit & veg) you are adding — sourced from: my friend Matt found a wood turner that gives him woodchips for free which means it doesn’t end up in the landfill and helps your compost.
  • Adding manure – great source of nitrogen (not necessary but does bring good organisms to help break things down) — sourced from a rural area where they were giving it away for free! Or try a horse racing stable or something like that.
  • Daily rotation – turning the heap each day to bring in air is probably the most important bit.
  • Tarp ontop – great way to help increase the heat (black one)

The crew at the trust used to always measure the temperature of teh compost heap as it’s pretty important to get it up to a high temperature in order to properly break everything down. Our compost these days steams in the middle of the day when I take the tarp off, which is a pretty good indication that things are working.

As a test I put a pumpkin in there last week and it’s completely broken down (it was 1/4 of a pumpkin) in one week which is pretty amazing. And Matt (a good friend and mentor) said that if you can’t put your hand into the compost heap and leave it in there for very long then it’s probably at a good temperature. Today a bunch of us tried to keep our hands in and it was pretty much impossible after about 30 seconds.

It’s just interesting to me how previously I had these compost bins and how as a culture we tend to like to have everything really neat and clean. Personally, now that I’ve had an open bin I kinda like seeing all the organisms and bugs working in there breaking things down. It’s full of activity and all the food we are producing near it seems to be taking off more than the other parts of our garden.

And the best part about having fast turning over compost is that I can stick it right into the garden for my winter crop this year! YAHOOOOO!