Our patio garden: the compost

In my last post about our patio garden, you may have noticed the three plastic tubs adorning our outdoor space:
 
the compost tubs
 
Well, they aren’t just around for looks, those tubs are our compost system, and hold fruit and vegetable scraps in varying stages of decomposition. There are lots of reasons we love the compost, but mainly we like it because it will provide us with new soil to use in our plant containers, and because by largely removing the food scrap component from our garbage can, we have to take out the trash much less often (the bag fills up more slowly and it rarely develops a smell). I hate taking our the trash so this latter perk is especially nice for me.
 
When we first decided to start our compost system, we looked around for actual composting containers and were disappointed with the results. Composters were either expensive, or much too big for our available space. Fortunately, Mr. C&V came up with a solution that cost us less than $25. I went to our local hardware store and found three 20 gallon storage tubs, which were fortuitously on sale for $7 each. Once I brought them home, Mr. C&V broke out the drill and we drilled holes in the top, sides, and bottom of each container. The top holes were placed approximately every 2 inches, while the side and bottom holes were placed in 4 inch intervals, with 2 rows per side.
 
We then began filling one of the tubs with a mixture of newspapers (to provide carbon balance and soak up moisture) and kitchen scraps. By “kitchen scraps”, I mean fruit and vegetable matter, plus eggshells. No meat or bones, as I’ve heard entirely too many warnings about their potential to attract “vermin” (read: rats. No thanks). The scraps go into this little pot on our counter, and then move out to the bin whenever the pot is full:
 
IMG_3255
 
After several bad experiences with using plastic to hold kitchen scraps in the kitchen, I’ve decided I’m no longer interested in using anything other than metal or glass. Plastic containers invariably start to look dirty and develop nicks, tears, residual odors, and so on. Glass and metal do not. Whatever you use, keep it covered to hold in the fruit flies that will probably (sorry) start breeding.
 
Out in the tubs, figuring out the right mix of newspaper and scraps can be a bit tricky. We initially overshot on newspaper and it took a while to bring our first box back into balance. I have been told in the past that if your compost smells you probably need more carbon (wood or paper), but to that I would add the caveat that your compost should also be well mixed to keep odors down. Newspaper, it seems, is especially prone to clumping. I’m finding I have better luck balancing the newspaper:scraps ratio by mixing regularly and keeping an eye on moisture: ideally the compost will be a little damp. If it’s dripping, more paper, if it’s drying out, more scraps. The ratio I’m currently working with is to tear 2-4 pieces of newspaper into strips and make a layer in the tub, then leave it and spread scraps over the top until the newspaper is no longer visible:
 
compost, phase one
 
I’d say we’ve got one or two more loads of scraps to go before this later is done. When the newspaper layer is covered, I use a trowel to mix up the contents of the entire bin, then tear up a few more sheets of newspaper and start a new layer.
 
Our first bin filled up about six weeks ago, since then we’ve been leaving it to decompose and rotating once a week:
 
IMG_3216
 
To rotate the compost, I use a combination of a small garden trowel and my hands (with gardening gloves on, of course). I find that the newspaper tends to clump up and the best way to keep it evenly distributed throughout the mix is to get in there and break things up by hand. Don’t worry, if you wear gloves it doesn’t feel gross at all.
 
The compost tends to shrink in volume as it decomposes, our first bin was about three-quarters full when we stopped adding to it, and the volume has now shrunk by nearly half. Despite the large number of vegetables we consume, we’re clearly not going to be producing massive volumes of soil anytime soon. I guess you do need a yard (and the associate leaves, grass clippings, etc.) for some things.
 
Our third bin is currently holding our paper supply, trowel, and gloves, we were initially thinking we might have three bins of compost going but given the rate at which the first bin has been breaking down that might not be necessary!
 
garden storage
I’m hoping to have our first bin ready for use within the next month or two, just in time for use in our planned fall container garden!

Question: Do you compost or have you tried to?

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