The following article was adapted for the web from Composting: An Easy Household Guide by Nicky Scott and The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins. J.S. McDougall is the Web Editor at Chelsea Green Publishing.
There are a bewildering amount of different composting systems and bins available on the market. This article will help you choose which bin or system suits your lifestyle, your family, your house, or apartment.
Composting systems broadly fall into two types:
The compost bin that most people are familiar with is the plastic 'Dalek'-type bin. Sizes vary from 50 gallons to over 175 gallons; some have access/inspection hatches, and they come in a variety of colors. These bins are available through some sanitation departments, water companies, garden centers, and on-line.
Because uncooked fruit and vegetable waste is dense and wet, one way to deal with it is to aerate it by putting it in a tumbler. A tumbler consists of a drum mounted on a stand; they either tumble end over end, or around on their axis. They are also useful for dealing with perennial weeds and for mixing materials. However, they take up a lot of space. The coarse compost they produce can be used directly on the garden or can be placed in a covered pile in your garden to enable it to mature to a finer product.
The most common digester is the Green Cone. It consists of a basket, rather like a washing basket, which is buried in the ground with a double-skin cone, which is all that is visible above ground. This makes it difficult for rats to get in. The material breaks down and is pulled into the surrounding soil by worms. A digester is more of a waste-disposal option, since you don't harvest the compost.
Green Cones are available on-line and at some big garden centers. See Solarcone, Inc.
Level 2: COMPOSTING SYSTEMS FOR THE ENTHUSIAST
As your confidence and understanding of composting increases, you will want to increase the range and amount of materials you compost. Certain materials present us with challenges, and just about anything in large quantities can be a challenge. Once you feel more confident you can move away from making compost in a plastic container and make your own compost heap, or even a 'hot heap.'
THE HOT HEAP
This system gives you the opportunity to make much larger quantities of excellent compost quickly to use on your garden. It's also fascinating and fun.
When the heap is built, cover it with some old plastic sacks to keep in the water vapor that will be given off and some old carpet that will help to keep the heat in.
Level 3: A CERTIFIED (AND CERTIFIABLE) COMPOSTER - Web Exclusive!
For those of you who want to climb to the top of the compost mountain, you will need to get there through humanure. Well...not through humanure...but by composting your--and your family's--waste. This is the ultimate in compost creation and it has many benefits to boot. And yes, I mean more than just the poop jokes.
(Drawing courtesy of Dennis Pacheco.)
The humanure pile, like the contents of your toilet bucket, must always be covered with a clean organic material. On top of the clean organic top layer, you should place some sort of wire fencing to keep larger rodents out of the pile. This is especially necessary if you choose to combine your humanure and food compost.
Using the Compost
Once a compost bin is full and ready (after a year of aging), you can begin to use the compost for agricultural purposes.
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