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Show me your composting setups! (pretty please)

 
Posts: 29
Location: Zone 5, Ontario, CA
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Greetings everyone!

I'm moving out of an apartment in the city to an old farm house on an acreage next month. Needless to say, I'm very excited and already dreaming up projects to start once all the priorities are taken care of (priorities = doing a million surprise repairs). One of the top things on my list is to build a compost pile. There appears to be a small (a bit larger than a trash can) compost bin by the garden but it seems laughably small for how much composting material we'll accumulate during the garden cleanup.

So, after scouring the internet for ideas, I wanted to ask you all what composting setups you've tried and like best. Bonus points if you live in Ontario or a similar climate (zone 5ish) where you've kept composting through cold winters. I'm renting and the landlords will still have access to the property on occasion, so ideally I'm looking for something that looks a little bit nicer than an open pile.

Finally, my noob questions -
1) Right now I keep kitchen scraps in the freezer. Can we add frozen scraps to the compost or will this just mess up the temperature of the pile?
2) What do you do with your compost pile when winter rolls around? Do you let it go dormant or keep it active?

Thanks in advance!
 
pollinator
Posts: 3562
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Hi Hayley,

First off, congratulations on your move. My much better half and I are looking to buy a house on a bit of land in the next few months out in the Quinte West area. Whereabouts are you?

If you want something that looks neat and tidy but takes a minimum of time to slap up, I would grab some pallets if you can find them and assemble them into an open cube. you can affix chicken wire to the top with a closure to rock the cube around to turn the pile without spilling, and you can affix a handle, or sockets for such, along one edge.

As to frozen additions to a hot pile, I would just leave them to melt on top for a bit if you're concerned.

As to the winter, I like to make sure that wherever I am making my outdoor winter additions is accessible but away from my door, depending on what garbage scavengers lurk about. But otherwise, adding scraps to a frozen pile just increases the size of the frozen pile. We have a pet Flemish Giant rabbit, and we use wadded raw paper for her bedding, so we have no problem adding carbon to our piles regularly. Ours start to cook as soon as the outdoor temperature allows the pile to thaw. If I add some liquid gold to it and if it's sheltered enough, it starts cooking almost no matter the outdoor temperature, although a blanket of snow over and around the composter certainly helps.

Incidentally, in the city where I am now, we use one of those small, black composters, and honestly, they function much better as ground-connected vermiculture bins, at least for us, considering the amount of carbon going into it.

In any case, good luck. The first change I will make to my composting when we get out there is to get four to six laying hens. No more oversized pieces, hello easily poachable eggs (fresh eggs poach the easiest and best, by far, and I love Eggs Benedict variations, including ones where I swap the Hollandaise for a good white sauce-based white cheese sauce, white cheddar, swiss, brie, or camembert).

-CK
 
gardener
Posts: 483
Location: Ontario - Gardening in zone 3b, 4b, or 6b, depending on the day
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I use a dog exercise pen to contain my pile. Fast, i had one on hand i wasnt using, and looks neater than just placing on the ground, and easy to move it over and turn the pile if i am ambitious.

Used to have a solar digester and quite liked it, but it froze in the winter in 3b.

Over the winter i compost in vermibins, plastic buckets i put plenty of ripped up newspaper in loosely,and fill with vegetable scraps, tucking it under layers of newspaper. They dont smell, i had these for years in an apartment without landlords or even roommates having a clue, and dont even bother to put holes in them. In the spring, youcan put their contents into the outdoor bin,  or if they are well degraded, put the soil directly on the vegetable garden. I do tend to get plenty of volunteer tomatos and squash in my vermicompost though.    
 
pollinator
Posts: 169
Location: Northwest Missouri
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My current compost scheme is to not compost. Sorta.

Food waste:
Anything that can go to chickens turns into eggs.
Anything that cannot go to chickens goes in what I call the "refuse bin." Essentially a cage that sits near the woods where I put all the biological nasties, including moldy foods and cat waste (I use pine pellets rather than litter.) That keeps the chickens and wildlife out while letting bugs and soil contact do the breakdown work.

Yard waste:
Currently all yard stuff is going into piles near the garden for soil building. AKA "composting in place." When I have the right materials, I'll put them in play. For example, yesterday I had grass clippings, woodchips, and chicken poo that I spread between plants. That way I'm blocking weeds, feeding plants, and building soil all at once. The chicken poo was pretty fresh, which is a no-no, but I used sparingly and mixed with the other materials.

The stuff above is my current strategy. A similar strategy was earlier this year when I accumulated material and made two huglekulturs with the additional input of wood.

A past strategy was an active compost cage where I layered grass, leaves, and chicken poo. But that was too much work for me, turning it and keeping it moist for little reward. Plus a tree ate it, which is a lesson in itself. https://permies.com/t/139281/Tree-Ate-Compost#1091920 . The cage from this misadventure became my refuse cage.

So needless to say, there's a LOT of different ways to compost. The best way for you is whatever you feel is the least effort and easiest rewards.



 
Posts: 187
Location: New England
52
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Our first compost pile was made from pallets, 5 of them to be exact, in the shape of an E. We use spikes of rebar pounded into the ground to hold the pallets. When the bottom edge rots, turn the pallet upside down, "thread" the pallet back onto the rebar and you're good.

I found at a thrift shop a few years ago a "dirt machine" plastic composter. We use that for food scraps these days, keeps many critters out of it year 'round. The old compost piles are now composting what takes a long time to break down: sawdust from the root cellar boxes, jerusalem artichoke stalks, etc.

Compost is spread over the vegetable garden in fall and again in late spring. We've always added coffee grounds year round but used to stop putting veggies in it Labor Day - Memorial Day to discourage predators looking for the scavengers and discourage the vermin/scavengers from living on our place all year.

J
 
Posts: 29
Location: Southern NH
4
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I am currently just using open piles.  However I agree, I made the best compost with my pallet system.  I would add to a chamber until it was full.  Then I would flip it over a spot and begin filling the first chamber with new material.  By the time compost came out of the other end it had turned 5 times.  At that point it was added to a large pile to age until needed.  One thing I would say though, the pallet system provided some spots for snakes and critters to nest - they like the heat.  Haven't had that problem with the open piles.
Compost.JPG
[Thumbnail for Compost.JPG]
 
pollinator
Posts: 2077
Location: 4b
495
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Brian Michael wrote:I am currently just using open piles.  However I agree, I made the best compost with my pallet system.  I would add to a chamber until it was full.  Then I would flip it over a spot and begin filling the first chamber with new material.  By the time compost came out of the other end it had turned 5 times.  At that point it was added to a large pile to age until needed.  One thing I would say though, the pallet system provided some spots for snakes and critters to nest - they like the heat.  Haven't had that problem with the open piles.



That looks much like the way I do it and I have had great results.
 
Posts: 76
Location: SE Indiana
63
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The majority of my composting is just picking a spot in the garden to pile stuff up. Generally have at least two spots so I don't have to carry stuff too far. Once or maybe twice a year I toss the big stuff into another spot and plant something. It's easy and seems to work very well.

For general kitchen scraps I have a 3' by 4' bin made of hog panels. The floor is about a foot off the ground. At the ends are concrete blocks with T posts laid between and a section of hog panel laid on them. Sides are just sections of hog panels fixed at the corners to more T posts. first layer on top of the bottom panel is small tree branches to help reduce the size of size of the openings in the panel. Then goes in some grass or weeds or whatever I have. Kitchen scraps are tossed in and when they make a whole layer some more weeds or sticks or something goes in. Every once in a while I toss in more branches or bigger pieces of rotting wood.

Lots of stuff falls out through the panels and is easily scraped up and tossed back in. I never actually turn or move the whole thing and I don't worry about temperature or things like that . Since the bottom is a foot off the ground I easily just scrap up the more composted stuff that falls through the bottom and either use it in the garden or toss it back on top. If I want more compost at a time I just give it whack or two with the shovel and more falls out.
 
Posts: 21
Location: East Tennessee, zone 7A-ish
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When we lived in the city, we used a couple of 55 gallon drums with holes punched in them to compost. We just dumped stuff in one until it was full, then let that sit and finish, and started filling up the other.

Now that we're out in the country, my husband built a double compost cage out of some chain link-like panels/gates he had on hand. Each side is about a 4 foot cube; and the entire front of each side swings down flat to the ground, making it easy to use a wheelbarrow to dump things in or harvest finished compost. It's also designed so the whole thing can be picked up (no bottom for complete soil contact) and moved.
IMG_0872.JPG
My husband loves me.
My husband loves me.
IMG_0870.JPG
One side down.
One side down.
 
gardener
Posts: 3101
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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I use chickens mostly.
I pile in  anything I want and they eat it or shred it.
I rake out the un-shredded bits and turn the rest with a garden fork.
IMG_20200907_153555.jpg
Chickens at work
Chickens at work
 
pollinator
Posts: 629
Location: Huntsville Alabama (North Alabama), Zone 7B
89
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Hayley,  Here is what I am currently using.  Got this from the Elaine Ingham videos.  I added the ground cover so it would not leak out the sides.
I will modify this into squares so I can have three 5 by 5 by 4 foot tall compost heaps going and then I can use my front end loader to mix them up.
I get the horse panels from Tractor Supply but almost all places carry them.
I cover with a layer of dirt at the recommendation of Dr. Redhawk.

I have neglected to turn this pile over and will soon build my next generation compost piles.
20200908_132225.jpg
Horse Panel covered with ground cover
Horse Panel covered with ground cover
20200908_132236.jpg
Layer of dirt on top.
Layer of dirt on top.
 
Hayley Stewart
Posts: 29
Location: Zone 5, Ontario, CA
5
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Wow! Thank you so much for showing me your setups and strategies! I'm definitely feeling the chicken envy right about now, too. Oh and Chris - I'm out in the Guelph area.
The property I'm on has a bunch of outbuildings with old supplies left by the previous owner so I'll have to see if there are existing materials on hand I can use to get started. Otherwise I'm definitely feeling a lot of these pallet designs or simple cage structures. Y'all are so creative. I also really want to try building some hügel beds or variations where you add the materials directly to the soil to break down.

In any case, feel free to keep posting - and I'll be sure to share the results for whatever I end up doing.

 
Hayley Stewart
Posts: 29
Location: Zone 5, Ontario, CA
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Chris Kott wrote:Hi Hayley,

First off, congratulations on your move. My much better half and I are looking to buy a house on a bit of land in the next few months out in the Quinte West area. Whereabouts are you?

If you want something that looks neat and tidy but takes a minimum of time to slap up, I would grab some pallets if you can find them and assemble them into an open cube. you can affix chicken wire to the top with a closure to rock the cube around to turn the pile without spilling, and you can affix a handle, or sockets for such, along one edge.

As to frozen additions to a hot pile, I would just leave them to melt on top for a bit if you're concerned.

As to the winter, I like to make sure that wherever I am making my outdoor winter additions is accessible but away from my door, depending on what garbage scavengers lurk about. But otherwise, adding scraps to a frozen pile just increases the size of the frozen pile. We have a pet Flemish Giant rabbit, and we use wadded raw paper for her bedding, so we have no problem adding carbon to our piles regularly. Ours start to cook as soon as the outdoor temperature allows the pile to thaw. If I add some liquid gold to it and if it's sheltered enough, it starts cooking almost no matter the outdoor temperature, although a blanket of snow over and around the composter certainly helps.

Incidentally, in the city where I am now, we use one of those small, black composters, and honestly, they function much better as ground-connected vermiculture bins, at least for us, considering the amount of carbon going into it.

In any case, good luck. The first change I will make to my composting when we get out there is to get four to six laying hens. No more oversized pieces, hello easily poachable eggs (fresh eggs poach the easiest and best, by far, and I love Eggs Benedict variations, including ones where I swap the Hollandaise for a good white sauce-based white cheese sauce, white cheddar, swiss, brie, or camembert).

-CK



This is super helpful, Chris. Thank you for your pointers and good luck on your move too! Eggs benedict is also my favourite thing to eat and I feel like a real lush for never making it myself. My neighbour keeps chickens so I will have to test your theory on the fresh eggs being easy to work with.
 
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I prefer open piles for the quality of the compost and simplicity of the setup.

I have used plastic bins, bays made of pallets, and cages made of wire all based on what I have seen from many different publications. In my most recent move two years ago I settled on open piles. I like that I can turn my compost from all sides. I can shift piles over when I am ready to age them. I don’t have dry spots where fire ants can nest or weedy spots that I cannot reach. I can lay my sifter down next to a pile to sift out big bits for my seedlings. The easy access allows me to turn frequently. This has been the best compost I have ever made.

I combine fresh grass clippings from my neighbors with aged leaves to make a long pile. Then I add kitchen scraps and yard trimmings every day until the pile is just the right size. If we don’t get rain, I keep the top moist. If the pile gets too large, I get exhausted moving it, so I have developed a sense of size based on my energy and strength.

I turn the large-enough pile to the right a bit and start a new pile just like before. I continue the process only adding to the fresh pile always shifting over the aging piles. The oldest piles, if unused, are combined farthest to the right. The freshest pile is to the left. To clarify, I only add new scraps to the freshest pile until it is a manageable size . As I shift and turn each pile to the right, I will shift any large uncomposted materials back into the
fresher piles to the left.

As others have posted, I like the idea of composting directly in your growing beds if that is an option for you. Your growing beds will benefit from nutrients leaching out of you pile though I do wonder about salt accumulation. I do not have enough growing space to try that in my suburban property.

I will try to post a picture, but it never does justice to the cycle and compost quality.

For reference, I am in zone 7. Compost makes fast here in the summer and slows down but does not stop in the winter. So I keep the process rolling all winter, but without grass clippings I can afford to add more table scraps for longer before I shift my piles rightward.

 
Jason Schmidt
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Here's a follow-up photo. The "freshest" pile that I'm adding to is in the foreground. The farthest pile is ready to use. I'm about to get a new load of leaves and grass clippings to form a new fresh pile. Please use the wheelbarrow for scale.
IMG_7000.JPG
Open pile compost set-up.
Open pile compost set-up.
 
Posts: 93
Location: Chipley, FL
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Here's my current setup.



The wire fencing tubes are latched together by bending the wire... but those are starting to break from repeated use so I will be using small carabiners to hold them together soon.

I don't turn, I just fill one gradually with mostly mowed grass (it's what I have mostly as biomass) and when it's full let it sit while I fill up the other.  When the second is full, I pop the first open, pitchfork the semi-compost out across the top of what you can see on the ground, then let the chickens work it.  I'll occasionally shuffle some down towards the coop (slight slope) so that the more done compost ends up down there, and the less done is up at the top near the piles.  Seems to be working fine.  Less turning than my old 4-bin side-by-side system.
 
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I do the wire circles but I also have a huge outdoor worm bed. It’s one of those square Rubbermaid double wall composers.  I gave them each a counter bucket with a hinged lid  so all neighbors throw all their food waste and pulp paper in it. I sift it twice a year. I use most of the castings and sell the worms. I sold 10 pounds this spring and 5 of the 9 pounds I harvested a few weeks ago. @ 20.00 a pound it’s worth the effort. Plus it keep food waste out of the landfill. The worms move deeper if the ground freezes but if there is food, they eat almost any plant and also paper, they repopulate quickly when they surface. Freezing is not a problem here in Oregon.  
 
gardener
Posts: 3151
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
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I do a variety of things:

1. A metal garbage can with holes drilled in it and sunk 1/3 of its height into the ground specifically for things I don't want to compost where rats or raccoon will give trouble.

2. Holes in the garden where the compost will direct feed the surrounding plants. This works if really wet stuff, but not for drier stuff or larger quantities.

3. ARK raised bed with a compost tube - in my climate these only seem to work if I've got rinse water or ducky water to pour in as well as veggie scraps or the plants just don't get enough water to be productive.

4. Chicken digester - our chickens are mostly in portable shelters, but when it's really wet in the winter, we use mulch and veggie scraps to manage their deposits.

5. Long windrows: there are times of the year where we generate large quantities all at once, particularly in the summer when I help out a friend by taking a trailer-load of fresh horse shit every 2 weeks. The problem for me was that the pile would get too wide for its height. Then one end would be half decomposed and I'd end up dumping more on top so I never had finished results. There is no way I've got the time or strength to "turn" these piles, nor enough soft "soil" to cover them as mentioned above (solid clay more like it). They'd end up covered in a tarp, which would solar degrade, so I was looking hard for a better system this year.

6. Pictures below! I went to a version of a pallet system: A) tied together with used baling twine (watching it carefully so I garbage it before it starts to solar degrade, but I can get it free from locals). B) expandible so if I need another one I just add it - I'm up to 5 since the start of "horse shit season". C) I cut skids for the front, filling them in so I don't get shit on my pants when filling, but not so high as I can't manage the lift-over easily. D) since it's tied, I can untie if I want to shovel it out. E) Someone abandoned old pond liner in this area before we bought and I'm using scraps of that instead of tarps. It's heavier so it doesn't blow,it will tolerate the sun better, and it seems to help the pile stay hotter. F) It appears to be doubling as deer fencing - too wide for them to jump, so I'm planning to expand the program specifically with that in mind. E) When it's finished, I can remove the pallets, and plant right into the "dirt" - I'm thinking pumpkins next year! It will have improved the clay soil underneath, so if I can get the junk that's in the way to the south moved this winter (rocks, old wood, Himalayan Blackberry...) I can build next years 5 feet further south to work on that clay, and put more permanent beds where the compost is this year.
new-compost-row-of-5.jpg
It keeps on growing!
It keeps on growing!
 
pollinator
Posts: 154
Location: Missouri. USA. Zone 6b
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I have used pallets or logs to encircle to compost piles. First picture showed the one that I kept going throughout the winter, noting the snow had melted from the heat released. I planted a fig tree in that spot this year.
Second picture is my future garden area that I am composting in situ to build up soil underneath. I have done a quarter and sow some covercrop mix. With hot composting, I should be able to get the whole 16'x16' ready before winter time. Not so pretty right now but the garden will be next year.
P1100159.JPG
Composting in winter
Composting in winter
new-garden.JPG
Composting on site
Composting on site
 
Posts: 45
Location: Noosa Hinterland QLD, Australia
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I recommend the Johnson Su bioreactor. Just google and you will find out how to build the unit.
It is so powerful that it can just be used to inoculate seeds and produces great results.
Have research papers on the university website.

Cheers
Anthony
 
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Here is a video of our Composting Toilet Install on our RV.  https://youtu.be/cAMpCeSA1UI
 
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