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Composting for Beginners

There are many among us who have green thumbs and maturing gardens.  But, for the beginners among us, can you share with us how you started your compost pile?  Where can you go to learn more?  Samantha emailed:

I read the recent post on using compost for the garden, but I'm just starting out and wondering if there is an old post for favorite methods for starting a compost pile. I have questions such as: which kits to buy, to worm or not to worm? Also wondering if anyone's ever used a pet waste composter.

Metro has some great local resources on composting

What are your recommendations for tips and tricks on composting at home?  Books that are must-have resources?


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i really like steve solomon's method in 'growing vegetables west of the cascades'. it's very low on equipment (says you can do it on the bare dirt!) and you basically just make piles and then mix 'em at some point. he also gives basic instructions for adding pet poop and even roadkill. it's scandalous but i'm fascinated.

My sister has just started composting her dog's waste. My neighbor has also been doing this. We are gearing up for it as well, though we have two big dogs so we might do it in stages. :-)

Here is the basic process, and as far as I know it's just for DOG waste:
1. Take an old garbage can and drill a dozen or so holes in the side.
2. Cut out the bottom (A keyhole saw works great for this.)
3. Dig a hole in the ground, deep enough for the garbage can with just a couple inches of the top sticking out (so you can put a cover on it).
4. Toss some rocks or gravel in the hole for drainage and position the garbage can so it's a little higher than the soil level.
5. Place the lid on top (you might want to paint it with something like Dog Waste Composter.)
6. When you scoop some poop, put it in the hole and sprinkle in some septic starter (available at hardware stores) and add some water.

My neighbor is concerned about the level of the water table here in Oregon. She mentioned she put in at least 6-12" of packed straw at the bottom of hers as well, to help the filtering process and slow the rate of release.

I've read that you can put the composted waste in your yard but of course NOT on anything edible like your garden beds.

Cat waste is a whole 'nother issue. It can be very toxic to pregnant women for example. I would recommend being cautious, using your intuition, and going slowly with composting any animal waste.

don't overthink compost. it is, above all, a natural process. pick a place outside, start a pile of stuff that is plant based, and you're now officially composting. you can start with just yard waste, toss some fruit/veggie waste in there too, or go whole hog and get obsessive about greens and browns and turning and watering and starters and tumblers and all of that jazz. but composting will work no matter what, it's just the efficiency of the operation that will vary. you can home compost most everything except meat, oils, dairy, and pet waste (except as mentioned above). the smaller the bits, the faster it will work, so a whole head of broccoli will take longer than if you chop it up before tossing it in. most everyone struggles with getting enough "brown" (i.e. dead stuff) in their pile, but we've found that shredding our grey-board (i.e. cereal boxes) and newspapers instead of putting them out for recycling helps a lot. worms are nice, but we took the "field of dreams" approach to them . . . we built it and they came.
and, to respond to the earlier post, if you think it's done, spread it out where ever you're trying to grow something! i sift through mine and have a "finished" tub that i use for everything from potting plants to amending existing beds (scratching it into the top layer of soil).
i think composting is really the most amazing and wonderful thing and i'm so glad that there are so many piles out there. compost on, mamas!

yea, worms! it seems complicated at first, but is so easy once you get the hang of it.we started with a yogurt carton full of worms, and now have several thousand worms that easily (and without any stink) take care of the food scraps of three adults and six children. we love our worms, and it is great way to get the kids involved in the care of the garden. you can even start a worm bin in a rubbermaid container in the basement. so easy - let me know if you want advice getting started.

We are just about to enter the world of composting, my husband is going to build me a worm bin from recycled wood. We found directions for many types online. Before that though I was eyeing wood bins made by a small company in Camas (That sound very passionate about worms!) I think they are pretty reasonable in terms of price. They also have tons of great information on composting with worms. The website is www.northwestredworms.com.

ooh, one of my favorite topics! I'm with Melissa in that although you can certainly try to build the perfect compost pile, you can also just do it and it will work for the most part. We don't build ours with any great care - just add grass clippings, kitchen waste, leaves, whatever as we have them, water well, and top with finished compost so it doesn't stink. We do have a two-part bin and when it gets fullish I sometimes fork from one side to the other, turning and mixing and watering again - we also have a lid so it doesn't drown from the rain, and so the dog can't get in. Plus the front boards are removable for easy access. So the one thing I would say is that it's important to get the right amount of water - like wrung-out sponge, they always say. And turning will make it go faster, though some say the finished product is not as high in nutrients if you turn it a lot.

We also have recently started adding things like plain cardboard. We do compost little bits of oils and dairy - I think the main reason people say to avoid those things and meat is because the critters will try to get at it, and it might stink. We also add some more woody stuff if we have it - like sunflower stalks - and chop them up as best we can. They take longer but will eventually break down.

My dad sifts all his compost, which results in a nice fine result, but I'm too lazy for that. :)

What about indoor composting? We had a composting bin outside but got rid of it because of a problem with rats and I'm hesitant to give it another go. I recently came across a spendy indoor composting bin but wondered if anyone else had experience with composting indoors.

Anyone out there want to dish about compost?
Why you love it, why you haven't done it yet, best methods, worm bins, etc. Has anyone tried the NatureMill indoor electric composter?

I'm hoping to educate and inspire newbies in a forthcoming issue of FOODday.

Shoot me an email (lesliecole@news.oregonian.com) with your comments!

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