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Gardening - 2023

Just Plant It, NY -  Back Yard Composting

Composting, the verb, is the act and art of recycling and reusing kitchen waste and garden refuse, along with all kinds of other organic materials to create compost the noun, something akin to soil. It is the magic of making something wonderful out of stuff we throw away. I just harvested a whole wheel barrel full of compost and have spread it on my raised rows in my garden as a soil amendment.

There are many types of composting systems – The Three Pallet system, the Welded Wire Bin, Containers, Barrels that spin, Lasagna layering in a pile, Vermi, and many more for you to consider.Your objective for composting and the amount of compostable material you generate will help you determine what system is the best for you. The location you choose could also have an influence on the type of system you pick. Some are easier to look at than others. Remember that water is needed for composting, so choose a site with access to water.

At home, I have been using the Welded Wire Bins for about 4 years now with great success. I use two, one that is sitting and one that is being added to. This year I am going to try a compost container and one welded wire bin. The container I am trying looks like a cone shaped barrel with a removable top and no bottom. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

Welded wire can be purchased at just about any hardware store. You will need 4 ft. high wire, 7-8 feet long. Fasten the ends together to make a 4 ft. tall circle and you are ready to start.

Place your bin where it will stay for at least a year, with access to water. I rarely water my welded wire bin, but I know I will have to with the container I am now experimenting with. Both the welded wire bin and the container are located under the lilac in the hedge. A spot easily reached with the garden hose where they blend in to the landscape and are not exceptionally noticeable.

The recipe for composting is water oxygen, nitrogen and carbon. Always remember the ratio of carbon to nitrogen is 3 to 1. Carbons are browns – such things as dead leaves and plant material, hay, straw, paper, and more. This is the largest ingredient and you need a lot of it! Nitrogens are green – such things as plant scraps, garden debris, etc. So, for every inch of nitrogen you will need 3 inches of carbon, plus oxygen and water.

To start, place a 3 – 4 inch layer of good-sized sticks that crisscross in the bottom of the bin. The stick layer helps the decomposition process by allowing air movement to come into the bottom of the bin, as the material in the center heats up during decomposition, the warm air will rise up through the pile. The sticks allow the cooler air or oxygen to be drawn into the pile from the bottom.

For my container bin with solid sides, I start the same way with sticks. As the pile deepens, I have a long handled tool that has ears at the end. The ears fold up when I push the tool down into the compost and fold open when I lift up. This will allow me to fluff and get air into the layers inside the container. I will really need to do this and be diligent about it as the sides of the container are solid and air or oxygen will need to find a way in. The welded wire bin is able to draw oxygen in as needed from the bottom and sides and does a lot of aeration on its own.

Next, layer in 3 inches of carbon; I use dead leaves.Place these in a nest shape over the sticks with the edges an inch or two higher than the center. Place kitchen scraps and other nitrogens in the nest and spread them evenly inside the nest. Add 3 times the carbon compared to the nitrogen you just used and once again create the nest shape with the edges raised, ready for the next layer of nitrogen. Be sure to keep the carbon layer on top as you allow the pile to sit while you collect nitrogen for the next layer. The carbon layer acts as a cover and smothers any stinky smells.

By following the recipe and the ratios of 3 carbon to 1 nitrogen, you will be amazed at your composting success. I am always surprised and happy as heck every time I harvest my compost.

There are many things that can be composted and many things that should not be. Do not put dairy products, food oils or products with food oils in them, meats, bacon grease or other greases in your compost. Oils and greases coat and kill the microbes and bacteria that are essential for decomposition. Meats and meat products will attract unwanted wildlife and create odors you might not be able to cover with a carbon layer. I also will put in weeds but not weed seeds.

Water your bin when it is dry. The microbes, bacteria and even worms like to work in a bit of moisture. A welded wire bin is exposed to the elements and is watered every time it rains. It only needs water when there is no rain for 4-5 days.

If you take note, you will be able to see how much your compost settles down as decomposition occurs inside the bin. The material on the outside of the welded wire bin will not decompose, but inside the bin a lot is happening as organic materials decompose and break down. The outside layer that does not decompose can be used as a carbon start for your next bin.

I use 2 bins. One bin is being added to while one sits and decomposes. I usually stop adding to one bin after garden clean up in the fall, September/ October. That bin sits all fall, over the winter and into the first warm days of spring. I actively compost in the other bin I am using all winter.I harvest the bin that has been sitting in April.

To harvest a compost bin, I tip it over and shovel up all the wonderful looking compost that is inside the pile. I place to the side the carbons that were on the outside that did not breakdown. Once the compost is harvested, the next pile can be started. I often use over the same sticks for the bottom and use the carbons that did not decompose to start the first layer.

I use the finished compost in my veggie and ornamental gardens as a soil amendment and additive. It can be spread on your lawn and added to potting mix for containers. It is not a fertilizer but it will help with soil texture and will draw in the microbes, bacteria and worms you want in all your healthy soils in order to have healthy plants.

For more details and information, go to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County’s website at http://cortland.cce.cornell.edu/

Under the Gardening tab, look for the Compost links at the bottom of the page. You will find a wealth of composting information there.

Be sure to look for the Introduction to Composting and the Composting Demo video that are next in the Victory Garden Video series. The name of these gardening articles and videos is changing to Just Plant It, NY. Just Plant It, NY is a Cornell University sponsored program for beginner gardeners (and experienced ones too) that are gardening on a budget. Go to this website http://gardening.cals.cornell.edu/ , type in the search box Just Plant It, NY and you will find a lot of gardening information, projects, and more.

For answers to your Horticulture questions and further information, you can call the CCE Cortland office at 607-391-2660, or email cortlandcountymastergardeners@gmail.com.

Good luck composting!

Look for more Victory Garden articles and videos.
The next one will be about Composting.
For Horticulture questions please call the Cooperative Extension of Cortland County 
at 607-391-2660    ~    Remember don’t plant too early!
This article is written by Claudia Hitt 




Lisa Woodruff
Horticulture Program
607-391-2660 x409

Last updated January 7, 2024