Saturday, April 30, 2011

Living Green in a Tin Can: #2 Making Compost

To make our compost bin we followed the directions, with a bit of ad libbing here and there, from an article in the current issue of "Edible Grande Traverse" titled Recycle: A Tomato in Every Pot and Compost in Every Backyard by Angela Stricker.  The article is about Robert Allen, gardener extraordinaire, who developed his innovative method for use on his property in Leland, MI as well as for use in the gardens at his local elementary school.  I have read about and used, in the past, many different methods for composting none of which worked as well as I would like. We will now give this method a try and see how it goes. I am planning to contact Mr. Allen as he, according to the article, willingly gives tours of his gardens, small orchard, and composting system.

In the first three pictures Doug is taking Mr. Allen's plan and changing it just a bit as he builds it into the ground rather than right on top of the ground.  Doug began by scraping and then digging the area where we will place the eight bales of straw.

Is the hole big enough for the eight bales?

The hole is just about right and so just before we put the bales in we covered the area with sheets of cardboard recycled from a few of the boxes left from our move.  As you can see in this picture, the space Doug dug out is deep enough so the bales of straw are level with the ground. Time will tell if this method will work as well as Mr. Allen's method of laying the bales on top of the ground. One thing for certain , digging a hole for 8 bales is a lot more work.

In following pictures I am adding the beginning ingredients to the brand new composting system.

Dumping the first load of veggie scraps and bits of paper into the compost bin.

Here I am adding a bit of damp sand to lightly cover the "mess".

A nice thick blanket of wet leaves which had been decaying under the snow since fall is layered over all.

It has been raining quite steadily and the compost and sand pile are very soggy at this point.  That's Daisy leaving the area following her daily inspection to see who might have visited during the night.

I will continue to add green (veggie scraps) + brown (leaf matter) material to the compost until the "bin" is full. When it is full it will hopefully heat up enough to turn this wet and soggy mess into a nutrient rich compost/fertilizer for use in our yet to be built gardens.


  1. Lindy! How did I miss this new blog? So great to catch up with what you're up to, I'm looking forward to the Tin Can series!

  2. Hi Sherrie - great to see you here :D Thanks for the comment.

  3. Hi Lindy, curious to see ow this composting method turns out for you.

    I am wondering if the original idea was based on the surface because that's where the worms are likely to be, is it because the rain-water will not pool or is it based on the "keep it simple" principle?

    It's great to be able to use bales of straw to make the walls of your compost heap, am afraid that would not work here with our average rainfall - you have the advantage there :)

    Good luck with the new blog - great to see you blogging again....

  4. Hi S :) - great to hear from you. I'm afraid I haven't visited your blog for quite awhile - just took a look - love the pics and will go back to read it.

    We actually have quite a bit of rain here so this compost thing is an experiment. I was concerned about burying it - water issues - but when D. gets an idea it is hard to dissuade him. As for the rain - although we get a lot our soil is very sandy and thus drains quickly. I will follow through with "compost updates".

  5. Hi, Chery. Thanks for dropping by. :D

  6. Great work! When your chickens get going you will find them in there picking and turning the whole mess for you! They are so industrious and will leave a little bit behind to help with the heating up process too!

    So much to do!

  7. Hi Lindy, I got here from checking your FB site to see if you had finally made it to MIchigan. Perhaps we could meet at a Farmer's Market soon! Ok, now to jump in on this conversation... In permaculture parlance you are making a sheet compost or lasagna garden bed, basically a worm bed that you can plant into. If you wanted to, you could build a series of these to plant crops into. No digging, no turning necessary. You may want to top it off with a few inches of finished compost mixed with soil so that's where turning might come in and yes, livestock could be factored in as part of the overall design. With the earthworks you are doing, it is a perfect time to think about berms and swales for water catchment and future edible landscape. You might consider hosting a Permaculture WalkAbout...

  8. Hi, Sharon, and welcome to my blog :D Thanks for joining the conversation as I obviously need all the help I can get. Even though I'm now "back home" I've been in the Sonoran Desert for a very long time. Gardening in the desert requires an entirely different set of "rules". I have a PDC from the Phoenix, AZ Permaculture Group but only part of what I learned can be applied here. I'm working on another permie map of our land but until the house has some perimeters it is almost impossible to take exact measurement from the house out. There is a hole in the ground but the enormous piles of sand and soil which were removed are surrounding the hole so I can't get close. I love your Permie Walkabout idea - please tell me more. I would love new, fresh ideas and would love to meet the local permie folks. :D