Pile It On!

Our readers share their "recipes" for great compost piles.


We asked for your secrets of making good compost quickly. Here's our pick of the crop:

Sandy Padilla: I don't have any real secrets for composting; mostly kitchen scraps and garden refuse (no weeds), but I love doing it. My husband couldn't believe how excited I was when I bought my first bin composter; now I have two! I also use grass cuttings and dry leaves. Every so often I get dried horse manure from the ranch our kids live on. That really heats things up. We have a camellia that never flowered and looked so sickly I was going to remove it. I started tossing a little compost under it and after a couple of years it not only looks green and healthy, it has beautiful flowers.

Winter Garden: During the long Fairbanks winters, I let worms eat my garbage. I have two bins of red wigglers in my garage. I use shredded newspaper and junk mail for bedding and bury my kitchen scraps. In the spring I have a wonderful source of compost -- worm castings -- long before the outdoor compost piles have thawed. It's easy.

Renee: One of the best ingredients for compost is hair. You can collect this at your local salon. Hair is rich in nitrogen and can speed up the composting process. I prefer a two-bin, side-by-side system that is big enough for me to get right in and dig and transfer. One bin holds usable compost while the other is in progress. Always make sure that there is a good population of worms in the compost bin to encourage speedy results.

Karon: My secret to composting is exactly what you said: Pile it on! My kids take rabbits and goats for 4-H projects, so we have plenty of manure mixed with straw that we throw on the compost pile along with kitchen scraps, leaves, etc. Late in the spring, when we clean out the barn, we pile the used bedding in the garden to use as mulch between plants. Then in the fall, after everything is harvested, we dig in this mulch. I believe the secret to turning scraps and manure into good useable compost quickly is to mix it with DIRT. The organisms in the soil are ready and willing to do this job. I found that rich soil helps defeat bugs and diseases. The plants simply outgrow the damage!

L: We don't have enough clippings and leaves around my house yet, but what we do use is a lot of kitchen scraps, eggshells, old potting soil, old dead plants, shredded newspaper, and such. We took five crates to create four walls and a base for circulation. Free materials are always a good idea! I read in an herb book that yarrow works well to speed up the composting process. I have also heard that a bit of lime does the job also.

Pete: I put all the usual stuff in my composter but also add dryer lint and dog hair! Grass clippings seem to make it heat up the best though.

Esther Budd: I have a bunny bin -- which is exactly what it sounds like! It is constructed of three pallets nailed together to make a three-sided box with the front opening supported with one 2x4 cross beam. Atop the bin is a "town house" rabbit hutch. The upper section is enclosed to allow for bad weather and sleeping and the middle section holds food and water. Since rabbits won't soil their beds they only relieve themselves in the middle section and their waste falls through the grate cage floor to the compost bin below. The rabbit "fertilizer" really speeds up the decay of garden compost. I like the bin made from pallets because it lets air get to the compost, it was easy to build, and the pallets are free. I also want to encourage people to adopt a rabbit or two from your local humane society because THEY need good homes and YOU need a good garden. You won't regret it, as a rabbit will literally give back all you put into it -- and you and your kids will love them!

Kyle: My condo yard is about 12 feet by 32 feet and doesn't leave much room to compost. I have a small hole dug somewhere in the yard all the time to put in kitchen vegetable trimmings. When the hole is filled with layers of veggies and dirt, I start another one.

Jules: I keep a decorative colander on the cupboard that I throw the compostable kitchen scraps into during the summer and take them out nightly (when I remember!). I also throw in the extra leaves, clippings, and garden weeds (before they go to seed). I try to water it when I remember and turn it at least twice a summer. We have hard, cold winters here "up north" in Minnesota so that is the best secret for breaking things down fast! Let them sit under a 5-foot snowdrift all winter and they are ready to use in the spring, as long as the pile didn't get too deep!

Melissa: My garden and bedding plants receive a blend of grass clippings, newspapers, leaves (from the previous fall), shredded-up tree branches, and any food waste (excluding meats). I do not have a specific box. I usually pick a part of the garden for my "heap" and add to it all winter long. I have organic gardened this way and let me tell you...it works!

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