When I began dreaming about what I wanted my homesteading life to look like, sustainability was a major factor. I envisioned a life where everything on the farm would benefit one other, and I began researching how to compost.
Every good homestead needs a compost pile, right? I mean… what better way to practice sustainability? It’s a place where you can dump all of your non dairy and non animal food scraps and waste to turn it back into nitrogen rich soil! If you are growing herbs, fruits, or vegetables, a compost pile will be your biggest treasure. And this is what we keep our compost scraps in on our kitchen counter. It locks in odor and when it is full we just toss it in the compost pile.
There are many different compost containers that you can find online. If you are not looking to have a giant compost bin like I am, you can find some that are super easy to use because all you have to do is turn the handle once or twice a month to mix it all up. Here is an example of one that you can buy on Amazon that I have heard great things about. Store bought tumblers are an excellent choice if you have neighbors who live close by and you don’t want to bother them with the smell.
How To Build a Compost Bin Using Wooden Pallets
Earlier this week I ran over to my daddy’s farm and picked up a ton of wooden pallets that he had laying around. I already had a small compost pile going, but when I realized that I wanted a bigger garden, I knew I needed more compost. All I needed was five pallets that were about the same size, and a husband who would be willing to screw them together. These pallets are old so the wood was difficult to get a screw through. Otherwise I could have put this thing together myself.
I wanted my compost bin to have one pallet on each of its side with two pallets being used as the wall on the back side. Then I wanted only one pallet on the front side so that it would leave an opening to walk into. This also makes it easier for the chickens to get into the compost pile, which is a welcoming addition to composting. Your chickens will actually scratch through it so often that they will help keep it turned for you. Here is a photo of the beginning of my compost bin showing one side and the back wall.
Each pallet has a solid side so they are easy to connect with one another with screws or even string. But I definitely needed help getting the screws to go through the wood, so my husband obliged. Once we had all five pallets pieced together exactly like I wanted them, I took a shovel and dug around in the dirt to loosen it about 8 inches into the ground. You can see where I loosened the dirt in the next photo, but this allows the earth worms to get into your compost pile. Earthworm poop is gold on a farm. Isn’t this glamorous? LOL
What To Put Into Your Compost Pile, and What Not To Put.
Now that you have your compost bin put together it is time to start feeding it. Like I mentioned above, the first layer of your compost bin needs to be about eight inches deep of loose dirt. Once you have your dirt loose, it is time to start layering your brown and green material. So let’s discuss what that means first. Take a look at the graphic below. This graphic is my favorite graphic that I have ever found to show what falls under the brown material (which is rich in carbon) and the green material (which is rich in nitrogen). One of my favorite accounts to follow on Instagram is Taylor over at @lostandfarmed, and she was nice enough to allow me to use her graphic for this blog post.
How To Layer Your Material
When layering your material, you always want to have twice as much brown material as you do green. If your compost bin starts to get really stinky, this is a good indication that you need to add more brown material. The carbon from the brown material mixes with the nitrogen from the green material, and eventually you are left with soil that will prove its worth all year. When you add compost to your garden soil, your plants will produce bigger, healthier produce! WINNING!
Okay okay I’m getting off track. Let’s go back to how to layer your material. Like I mentioned above, your first layer is going to be about eight inches of loose soil. The next layer needs to be brown material. I personally had quite a few Amazon boxes laying around, so I tore them up into smaller pieces and laid them on top of the soil. The next layer then needs to be green. It was time for me to dig up my vegetable garden and dispose of the squash and tomato plants that were no longer producing. I tossed those bad boys right on top of all of those pieces of cardboard boxes that I tore up. Then I handed my twelve year old a machete and told her to start chopping them up. Is there anything better than child labor?
Once she finished playing with the machete, I raked up a ton of leaves and tossed them on top of the green stuff. Then I walked away. Well… actually I placed a tarp on top of the compost bin, then I walked away. Here is the final product:
Why Did I Place a Tarp on Top?
You want your compost bin to go into a shady spot. If it gets too much sun it might dry out and the cooking kind of comes to a halt. I live down here in the deep swampy south so the heat and the sun would dry it out within just a few hours. So finding a cool shady spot was necessary.
But one of the things that we also deal with down here in the deep swampy south is that winter is our rainy season. While you don’t want your compost bin to dry out, you also don’t want it to flood. It started raining today, and the rain is supposed to last for about four days straight. The tarp will help protect my compost bin from getting soaked! And if looks like it is going to dry out, it is a lot easer to spray it slightly with a water hose than it is to wait for it to dry.
Technically you don’t even have to do anything to your compost bin other than feed it layer by layer, making sure to add twice as much brown as you do green. But if you want it to produce compost even faster, go out there with a pitch fork once a month and stir it around. If you have chickens, they will help this process too. In about six months time, you will have garden ready soil from your compost. Don’t be alarmed if you see steam coming out of the pile. The carbon and the nitrogen are cooking with each other, and the inside of your compost pile will reach a whopping 150 degrees. THIS IS GOOD. Just feed it your layers, and toss it around once a month or so. Keep it moist but not soaked, and don’t let it get too dry. That’s it! It’s that simple.
Oh! One more thing I should mention… NEVER place dairy or meat products into your compost. These things grow bacteria that we do not want. Same thing goes for dog or cat poop. We do not want their parasites. Chicken poop and cow poop, even horse and goat poop is okay. But not dog or cat. A good rule of thumb is that if an animal eats meat, keep their poop away from the compost bin. See why I absolutely love that graphic above? Go ahead and Pin it so you can refer back to it. It makes composting pretty easy.