With the help of earthworms and microorganisms, you can turn leaves, kitchen scraps, small branches, and other plant debris into rich compost -- the most effective soil amendment there is. Best of all, it's free. Composting is one of the easiest of all gardening chores. Doing it properly means having the right size composter in the right place and feeding it the right stuff.
In this guide, we'll explain how composters work and provide you with ideas and plans for several types you can build yourself.
Consider these parameters when deciding where to put your composter. It needs to be where it is not visually obtrusive and not upwind. Site it in a convenient spot; you don't want to travel far in the winter with kitchen debris. It's helpful if the composter is close to where you will be using the compost, such as the vegetable garden or potting bench. If you are using a composter that requires daily attention, put it where you can see it. That way you will be more likely to turn it as often as recommended.
The ideal size for a compost bin is 3 feet high, 3 feet wide, and 3 feet deep. One compost bin may not be enough for your needs, so you should know how much debris you generate. Track the amount of biodegradable kitchen waste (vegetable matter -- no meat, bones, or cooking oil) and yard waste you generate in a month during the growing season. To do this, get the largest plastic trash can you can find and put all your waste into it. When it fills, dump it where the compost will be. Keep track of how many times you empty the trash can in a month, and use that figure as a guide for determining the number of compost bins you need. As a rule, have room to store two months' worth of debris per bin. With three bins, by the time the second one is full, the first one will be delivering compost and the third one will be ready to fill.
Continued on page 2: Three Bin Styles