2012
12.30

A while back, I asked a few people if they had any experience with composting. Some did, but mostly I got ‘No, but if you do – I need pictures and updates!’ So, here’s the update:

I did a good bit of research, and knew right away that I wouldn’t have any success without the use of a ‘tumbling’, dedicated composter. There are several options in this regard – some homebrew ones made from blue barrels, whether suspended in a frame or sitting on rollers – those looked unappealing simply because of the effort required to install a ‘hatch’ in them. Looking at commercially available units, I figured out very quickly that they’re not cheap. However, this is definitely an area where you get what you pay for. Or in my case rather, you get what someone else would pay full retail for, for much less…

A little craigslisting, and I seemingly found a ‘fell off the back of a truck’ store in Atlanta. I actually believe it to be a ‘shipping issue and returns liquidation warehouse’. I’m guessing that if you have to return something to Amazon, it probably goes straight to a place like this. They had a Lifetime 65-Gallon composter, which normally goes for ~$130, for $60. I ran over and snatched it up:

Lifetime 65-Gallon Composter

Lifetime 65-Gallon Composter

First step was a parts inventory:

Composter Parts Laid Out

Composter Parts Laid Out

At which point, I quickly realized why this package had been returned: Two of the pieces that make up the legs were wrong. Luckily, without the lower pieces, the unit is still operable. At most, I need to cut a piece of lumber to stabilize the distance between the legs.

Composter Legs Mismatch

Composter Legs Mismatch

I should mention some of my motivation in wanting to compost: When I brew, I end up with around 10 lbs of spent grain that I need to dispose of. There are several options when disposing of it, but none better than composting, in my opinion. This is a picture of my ‘mash tun’ (converted igloo cooler), which is what you put grains and hot water into for a given amount of time so that the enzymes in the grain convert starches to sugar, and then the ‘wort’ (unfermented beer) is drained off (and then gets boiled with hops and additive spices, cooled, and then has yeast added to it. Once the yeast is done, it’s beer.) The used grain has to go somewhere after this whole process…

Mash Tun Next to Composter

Mash Tun Next to Composter

Another benefit is being able to do something constructive with the waste from my woodworking shop. I’m fairly particular about what from the shop I put in it. I can’t use the ‘dust’ from my dust collection system, as it contains dust from cutting plywood. The glue that is used in plywood is particularly nasty stuff, and from what I hear the chemicals won’t do your soil any favors. The same thing goes for pressure treated wood.

[pressure treated wood:] A lot of people don’t realize that pressure treated wood is wood that has literally been put into a pressure chamber with special chemicals so that the chemicals are forced into the wood. The stuff is rarely ‘dry’ when working with it, and should NOT be used on indoor projects as the chemicals continue to ‘seep’ out of it. I just note this because a lot of the lumber in the big box stores that is popular with beginning woodworkers or weekend warriors (2x4s, etc) is pressure treated. Avoid it for anything indoors. (with the exception of the bottom plates of walls built on slabs ;) ) – There IS plenty of NON pressure treated stuff one aisle over though, so just be aware of the difference.

With all that being said, what I mostly put in from the shop is my planer shavings:

Planer shavings in composter

Planer shavings in composter

It’s also worth noting that the whole endeavor of composting is to create very nutrient rich soil (or soil additive) that can go back into the garden (or planting containers in my case). And when you consider the cost of fertilizer and soil, the whole thing is quite worth it, as the most common thing to put in to the composter is kitchen scraps.

In the last several months that we’ve been putting ‘compostable’ kitchen scraps aside [not in the garbage], we have reduced our ‘take the trash out’ interval by at least half – mostly because of the lack of any odor build-up. I also feel MUCH less wasteful, knowing that, ‘if the half of an onion that I kept in the fridge turns’, it can just go into the composter and turn into tomatoes or peppers next year.

This is a meal or so’s prep scrap, as well as a couple coffee grounds worth, etc. We just accumulate the stuff in a dirty bowl or some such container, and then the composter is literally just out the back door of the kitchen:

Kitchen Scraps

Kitchen Scraps

For those who don’t drink coffee, you can typically get grounds from local coffee shops for free; it’s a worthwhile thing to go pick up every once in a while.

I also threw a bag of mulched leaves in while I was clearing the yard in the fall. That was quite the ‘mass’ when it first went in, but has subsequently ‘fallen’ a good bit. Being a newbie at this, I’m hoping I’m keeping my green to brown ratio correct (nitrogen rich vs carbon rich items).

Kitchen scraps on leaves

Kitchen scraps on leaves

Other things that I would note:

- Regardless of this composter being a commercially designed one, it is still pretty hard to turn over, but it’s not unbearable. I can’t imagine maintaining a compost pile with a pitchfork though!

- Regarding the lifetime 65-gallon (and this is probably just because I haven’t stabilized the distance between the [incomplete] legs), the rotation locking pin is still in the way when ‘out’, so I have to push the whole unit to the side to get it to not interfere with turning the composter. Again, I need to fix the legs, and this will probably go away.

- I’m also trying to maintain the right ‘moisture level’ of the compost – not too damp, not too dry.

- The Lifetime 65 seems to keep water in its ‘walls’ (They are open cell plastic extruded panels). This caused some confusion for me, as I initially thought the sound of the water sloshing in them was coming from the compost itself, which made me think it was far too wet.

- I’m not sure if I need to add any other ‘things’ such as worms, etc. – Clearly I have some research to do, but the compost itself is breaking down. I did throw in a little bit of soil that was left over from my last planting. I figured if there were enzymes, bugs, or other such things that should be in soil, that would make a good starter. I guess it’s like good yeast, right? – keep some from the last batch to put forward…

Anyways… can’t wait to use the finished compost in the spring!

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  1. Love it. Thanks.