A Home for Your Gnome

Gardening Advice from a Fan of Fun!

The Perfect Compost

May 6, 2024 | Maintenance, Sustainability

Creating a soil machine

Composting, a transformative miracle!

While I’m not usually a gambling man, I will bet you sometimes save the best for last. When I thought earlier today about how I might craft another rambling intro to this writing, I pondered using the “box of candy” analogy. But we all know that when one dips into a box of the mysterious chocolate-covered treats that sometimes comes in a heart-shaped box, we grab the ones that we at least think are the good ones and leave the filling extractors (aka – caramel centers) for another poor soul.

But then I devised a better “Save the best for last” tie-in. Christmas presents! There is an order in which gifts shall be revealed on this special day. It goes something like this if you buy multiple gifts for your loved one(s). “No, not that one! Open this one next.” The goal being to “win” Christmas (giving the coolest gift of all).

So, just where am I heading (besides trying to exceed my longest intro to one of these writings)? When I give a tour of our tiny garden, I too try to save the best for last. Is it the one-of-a-kind, repurposed sink that is now a water feature? No. Maybe the beautiful and productive raised veggie beds or the mini-meadow in the middle of the lawn? Nope. Must be the koi pond with the waterfall that has been running non-stop since 1988. Wrong again.

The ”best for last” winner in our garden is….(drumroll), our compost bin! Cheers are heard across my readership! I can hear all three of you! We love our compost! There is something so special about chunking various bits of organic waste into a pile and having this morph into rich, soil-boosting granules or wormy goodness.

I have to confess that my obsession might be the product of an ingenious design (why be humble?). Our soil-building factory began as many with some wire mesh fence material and a few posts. The problem (I usually swap that word with “challenge” but this was indeed a problem) was that our compost pile’s life began not more than four feet from an aggressive patch of bamboo. In very short order, the bamboo’s root found this nice source of rich, loamy, loose-growing medium and turned it into one massive root ball. Time to get creative.

I began by tearing everything down and starting over (this was still the best location for our future bin). After pouring a 4’ x 4’ concrete pad, I sunk some posts and constructed a new bin. The difference now was that the new structure was surrounded by roofing shingles sunk halfway vertically into the ground to act as a deterrent to bamboo root. Then it gets fun. I continued with placing some concrete cinder blocks in a row along the middle of the concrete pad. Then crisscrossed several steel fence posts horizontally across the blocks and onto some supporting 2” x 2” s around the interior perimeter. Next comes some of my old wire mesh from the old bin. The front slats of this new gem are removable as they slide up and out. Long story not as long, the result is a bin with 12” of an open void between the concrete pad and the lower layer of wire mesh. Result: I can just take a garden hoe and pull out ready compost as it eventually falls through the wire mesh. (The images will hopefully give you a better idea).

Our compost bin, at various stages.

The compost bin is also a great place to dispose of shredded secret government documents!
(Winking emoji here. This isn’t Mar-a-Lago.)

When it comes to compost structures, there is no shortage of options. Probably the most popular, ready-made system is one I’ll just call the “tumbler”. These are simple enough but of the several I’ve seen; none seems to get the attention they deserve (meaning someone actually goes out and gives them a spin. If these aren’t rotated, the result is often a wet, brick-like chunk of matter that forms in its belly and is pretty much worthless until it’s taken out and broken up. If you’ve yet to take the jump into composting, my advice is to do your research. Find the structure/system you think would fit best in your garden and one that doesn’t require a Ph.D. to figure out.

Typical compost tumbler.

As far as the formula for what can make a good compost, it’s pretty easy. Equal parts brown (fallen leaves) and green (food scraps, lawn clippings, and such). I personally don’t use much in the way of grass clippings since my mulching mower (Ego) has two blades and does an amazing job of returning the cut grass back into the lawn as fertilizer. When spring first hits and the grass is going gang-busters, yes, I’ll bag some of this by-product and add it to the bin just to add some green to the brown.

For those who think all compost stinks, I would say that if you’re going too heavy on the “green” (grass waste), then yes, it can become pretty pungent. But if you’re adding a variety of materials to the mix, you’re not going to have a problem with odor. Wood ash from your fireplace is also fair game. Since this is pretty alkaline, it helps neutralize the pH and keep the compost from becoming too acidic. One last thing, meat scraps are not desirable in the mix. Even though cooked meat will break down it does so fairly slowly and it may draw unwanted guests (rats, raccoons, etc.) to the bin which aren’t always the best garden guests.

Alright, gardeners, start your engines! Let the composting begin!

Till next time,


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