Lessons in Composting

I’ve been learning to compost over the past year or two. Can it really be as easy as throwing things in a pile and waiting for them to turn to dirt? Here’s what I’ve learned.

The Construction
·         Acquired discarded pallets from Craigslist
·         Attached them together with L-brackets, one for each side, one for the bottom.
·         Used a staple gun to line them with landscaping fabric (to help hold the soil in)
·         Used a hinge to attach the front pallet, allowing it to swing open.
·         Create the starter pile: I used a couple bags of soil and leaf rakings as starter substrate and acquired some red worms from a coworker and added them to the mix.
My compost... black, happy, in-progress compost on the left, raw materials/dirt on the right.

The Execution
·         Posted the do’s and dont’s of composting on the fridge
·         Set a plastic tub by the sink to collect kitchen waste.
·         When tub is full, it is taken outside to the compost pile:
o        I dig a little hole and fill it with the waste…
o        then I cover it back up with dirt.
·         Turn the Pile with a big shovel: I play this part by ear. It isn’t needed often - the worms do most of the work.

The Tips:
·         Make sure the pile doesn’t dry out too much – I watered it a few times during the hot dry summer.
·         If you give yourself access to the openned end of the bottom/base pallet, you can slide a large try in there to catch compost tea in when the rain soaks through. I was not smart enough to design it this way, but I wish I would have been!
·         Did you know worms can overwinter in an above-ground pile of dirt? They could at my house.
·         As long as I kept the waste covered up with a nice layer of “browns”, there was no compost stink and no flies.

The Mistake!
It worked really nicely, for over a year. Just stellar. Rich dark dirt from a happy worm metropolis.


I had heard that you can put eggshells in compost, and I finally got up the courage to try it. I put what I thought to be clean, dry eggshells into the compost for a few weeks in June. Then one day, when I dig my little compost hole, I notice that there are what appear to be some type of large beetle larvae swarming the eggshells that I uncovered. ACK! OMG! No more eggshells in the compost for me – not ever. Maybe you guys can do it right. But I won’t do it anymore. That was gross. Like a scene from The Mummy or something.

Not long after this, my worms disappeared. I don’t know if they got too hot or too dry or the larvae ate them, but they’re gone. Sad face. I really had to slow down how much waste I was putting into the compost with the worms are gone. Some of our produce rinds had to (gasp!) go straight to the dump. Shameful.  

Completed compost, freshly added to the flower bed!
The Recovery!
Magically the worms reappeared. It took a long time – so long that I was thinking of going out to buy some, say, 2-3 months or so. I still don’t have as many worms as I used to. My guess is that there were some egg sacks remaining which hatched.

Reaping the Rewards
I built several new garden beds this spring and used almost all of my compost. I left a small amount for my new starter and then started over the same as I had the previous year. By fall, I had created enough  that add a load to an existing bed as a soil amendment.

I am currently using the right-hand bin as a “raw materials” bin. We dug a large hole in our yard to install a doggie waste device (I am strange, I know) and all the clay that we dug up is in this bin. I am slowly adding the clay into the compost pile, so that the worms can eat it up and mix it together with all the good stuff.  So far, so good.

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