Owl Creek Farm » Plans & Getting Going » How to turn compost

How to turn compost

by Amy

Last year we put in the new compost bin that we picked up at Costco. It’s made in Canada from recycled plastic and not very pretty to look at, but that’s ok. Functional is good enough, pretty is just a bonus. I left it alone for a full year, only adding material. It has been nearing full, so it was definitely time to work on it.

Owl Creek Farm How to turn compost

Before I get too far down, I want to mention for those of you who don’t compost:

Why Compost?

Compost is important for many reasons, but the most basic is also the most critical: if you throw your food scraps in the trash, they get layered in landfills, sandwiched around plastics and other materials that won’t break down. It’ll be hundreds of years before they become part of the life cycle again.

Compost Meme

Soil is the reason we are alive today. We literally owe our entire existence to a 6″ or so layer of top soil. It’s only fair that instead of degrading the quality of live-giving dirt with unneeded chemicals and the genetically engineered plants created solely to survive those chemicals, we instead build it up. It’s not so difficult, either: with low cost, effective, and healthy methods, like composting, as well as cover crops, crop rotation, and other no-chemical means, we improve the little (or big) plot of soil we are responsible for, which becomes a never ending cycle of healthier plants, healthier compost, and healthier soil. Which should be clear: this creates a healthier YOU!

If you live in a city, there are very often programs with the city to put out your compost to send to be composted properly and then sold back to locals. Or maybe you have a gardener or farmer friend, offer them your scraps. Anything to keep that compostable material from being trapped and unable to continue the cycle.

Ok, back to our compost.

We had nearly the same bin in Oregon, also bought at Costco but made in the US. This is the only photo I could find of it, from 2008 – look at all that snow! We haven’t gotten many snowfalls like that in Alberta for the last few years. It’s pretty rare and weird for Salem, Oregon to get more than a dusting.

I like this particular style compost system because it takes up very little room and with a little effort and elbow grease, it’s not difficult pulling the bottom layers out to either use, or place the material on the top of the compost to rotate it.

Owl Creek Farm 2008 Compost Bin

This particular bin has holes all over all sides. With compost, as long as there is airflow, you can be pretty hands off with it. If the bottom layers get no air, you’ll want to turn it regularly – every 2-6 weeks. I had a theory that with our ultra cold climate, it might be better to just leave it alone from fall to spring to let it retain as much heat as possible. It seems to have worked pretty well, and even just 10 feet from the back door, there was never a noticeable bad odour, or any odour, really, even after everything thawed. Last year, I added a bunch of dirt from the container gardens for additional kinds of bacteria, and organic material, to help break down the amount of kitchen scraps it was getting.

I somehow found the time yesterday, between the off-the-farm-job, helping the kids with online schooling, and getting dinner going, to rotate the compost. I had the wheelbarrow ready in case the top collapsed as I pulled out the bottom layers (using a pitchfork or shovel, whichever you find easiest) and put them on top, but it was nicely compacted and stayed in place until I replaced the bottom covers and started mixing the previously-bottom-now-top-layer into the previously-top-now-middle-layer. Doing this dropped the level down to almost half. For the  rest of the warm summer, I’ll turn it over more often to help the rest of the bigger bits break down faster.

Owl Creek Farm How to turn compost

Turning the compost yesterday was not only a reminder that I am over 40 – the last time I did this I was under 30 – eek! – but it helped boost my confidence a little bit more that I’m getting the hang of living in this climate. Winter is so long here, it’s easy to put off thinking about summer projects, but with compost, it needs a little thought put into it all year, especially if the bin needs aeration, and to keep from layering too much of one kind of material. After about 6″ of kitchen scraps, add a layer of dried leaves, straw, or similar non-vegetable organic material.Owl Creek Farm How to turn compost

One thing I didn’t do this past year, that I will do going forward, is to cup up large chunks of food. Corn cobs, whole onions and potatoes, and similarly dense foods, were not broke down like the rest of the food scraps. Living where we do, up to 1/2 of every bag of each gets chucked, even newly bought bags, so to get them broke down faster in the bin, they’ll need cutting. The would eventually break down whole, but the corn cobs we put in last summer were barely starting to deteriorate.

One last thought – I do plan to make a second composter with a different system just to try out. I have a lot more room on our farm than I ever did before, so why not! Do you have a system you love and would recommend?

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