By Amber Veverka
Spring gardening season is just weeks away and it’s time to think about boosting your soil’s fertility to get the best potatoes, pansies, snap peas and more.
If you’re still tossing lettuce leaves, carrot peelings and eggshells into the garbage and hauling leaves to the curb in bags, why not turn all that waste into vitamins for the dirt? You can do it with a cheap compost bin that takes less than an hour to set up.
Some city dwellers may be nervous about composting because they worry all that decaying stuff will attract rats, raccoons and other unwelcome backyard guests. Carol Buie-Jackson, who owns Birdhouse on the Greenway in Charlotte and has taught composting classes tells people they have little to fear.
“If you do it right, you’re not going to attract raccoons and vermin,” she says. “If you’re using leaves and garden debris, raccoons are not going to be attracted to that. If you’re putting in scraps from your kitchen…the secret is burying it well so it doesn’t attract anything.”
You can buy a composting container, including high-end models that spin so you don’t have to stir the contents yourself. But you can also do it economy-style, with nothing more than heavy-duty wire from a hardware store
Hardware cloth or other wire is easily secured with zip ties to form a simple compost bin.
secured into a cylinder with zip ties. Or use a plastic trash can with plenty of ventilation holes drilled all around the sides. Another homemade option: A three-sided bin made from discarded wooden pallets secured at the corners with heavy wire or screws.
Once you’ve got the container, locate it in a sunny spot and add your material. You want to alternate “brown” ingredients – leaves, straw, some shredded paper or cardboard – and “green material” – vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells and poultry manure if you have chickens. Leave out dairy, meat and greasy foods and avoid heavy loads of grass clippings as they smell very bad when they’re rotting. A good rule of thumb is to have anywhere from twice as much “green” material to “brown” or a 50-50 ratio, according to the Clemson Extension Master Gardener Program.
“Get re-bar or a broomstick in there, poke a hole about a foot down and put the scraps in there and cover it well,” said Buie-Jackson. “It’ll decompose really rapidly.”
Wet the pile so that it feels like a wrung-out sponge, and keep it that moist when there’s no rain. Churn the pile around with a rake, shovel or pitchfork every few weeks and when it’s a brown, crumbly mixture and you can’t recognize individual bits, it’s time to add it to your garden. If you live in an apartment or don’t generate that much kitchen waste, you may want to try vermicomposting – composting with worms. Read here about how to make a low-cost worm bin.
Check out Buie-Jackson’s how-to video on composting.