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Tech Nerd Tractor Convert
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Looking for recommendations on a good (and low effort) compost bin. I was thinking one of those drum types where you can just turn the crank once in a while.

I read through some of the garden forum stickies and did a general search on MTF on "compost". Many postings were about big open-air piles and rotating the compost using a tractor with a FEL (I have a lawn tractor but no bucket) :crybaby:, or manhandling it with a pitchfork (I can do that but a crank seems so much easier). I don't want to dedicate too much yard space to that so I'm thinking a rotating bin might be good.

Also where should the bin be placed in the yard in terms of shade vs sunlight and open to rainfall vs under tree cover? The wife says compost needs to be out in the sun, but if it's in a closed, rotating drum, will the enclosure trap enough heat itself or should I also put the drum out in the sunlight?

Also what about moisture.. am I going to have to get out there with a hose and add moisture once in a while? I read somewhere on MTF that compost should be moist, but not wet. Do they make compost drums that use natural rainfall to add moisture (and presumedly has drainage holes)?

By the way, I don't have a garden (at least not yet) but lawn cutting and stuff falling out of trees here (leaves, seeds, flowers) produces lots of organic waste that I'd rather recycle right here than create waste for a landfill (plus the effort of bagging, etc). I've got lots of flower beds to use this on. My soil is extremely sandy so turning under some compost in the beds might do some good.

My yard is about 1/2 acre. This year I'm mulching clippings back into the lawn as an experiment (I usually bag) but even so, I still get a large amount of moist grass "cake" on the mower deck every week that has to be scraped off and put somewhere (I mow dry but the grass has a lot of moisture content, at least in spring). I think more mulch actually sticks to the deck than gets blown back into the turf.

Then in fall there is a huge amount of leaf fall in my yard due to 4 large mature maple trees and being positioned on my street as a wind funnel so I get most of the neighbors leaves too. This produces about 10 30-gal trashcans worth of *mulched* leaves per week in peak season. I suppose that quantity would overwhelm a compost pile, but if it's beneficial to keep some of it for compost I'll certainly have some available.

Thanks in advance for your compost bin suggestions.:fing32:
 

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Paul, I'm a "pile" or "heap" kind of guy for compost. Neatness don't count much around here so at the moment I have 3 stages (piles/heaps) going. 2 are "finished" and one is the current loads of neighbor's clippings. (I mulch mine back in most of the time.:D) I get both my big Norway maples and a giant red oak leaves plus most of the neighbor's fall in my place. I also bag neighbor's across the street so by Winter I've got a sizable operation going. The Summer clipping compost added to the leaf pickup REALLY get's the heat going in that pile and finishes before January. Then I cover it with a nice brown tarp to keep the snow/water out until Spring.

A "bin" should be around 4'X4' at the least, a "pile" needs to be a little larger to provide it's own insulation. If the compost gets dry while it's cooking it WILL need some moisture. If you do a drum type you will be able to supply enough in half a bucket of water or less. DON'T get it soggy wet, just dampen enough so water will not come out of a handful when you squeeze it.

Shade or sun, the little bacterias will do their thing. THEY will make the heat inside quickly. Right now you can't stick your hand further than 5" inside of my new clipping compost, it's running about 160º.

No matter how you compost, the process will need air for the bacteria. This involves some kind of turning or as I've heard it called in some circles, "fluffing". I'm a "turner" not a "fluffer"!:D I use my front plow blade after the pile gets larger than 30 bushels or so because I'm plain bone idle and I love running the tractor w/blade.

Bins are cool looking, but you need a way to turn the bottom stuff to the top so keeping the pile in a single bin and turning can be labor intensive. A parallel empty bin or division is easier to fork/shovel over into.

I just guessing at this but I'm thinking that a proper working and well maintained "drum type" will work far quicker than a pile, possibly evening out the time element. But you sometimes will make more "makin's" than you can stuff in the drum so they will need to go someplace until used... There's no "right or wrong way" but there's ways to make any method run at peak efficiency.

BTW, I grow canna flower plants in containers and the only thing in the bucket containers is my pure compost. I just turned 4 trailer loads into a new flower bed of near pure clay. The stuff is magic for plant growth and soil amendment.

Couple of pix... first is the steam coming off the pile as it's being turned, second is just showing off with tractor and some of the compost.:D
 

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Paul, I'm a "pile" or "heap" kind of guy for compost. Neatness don't count much around here so at the moment I have 3 stages (piles/heaps) going. 2 are "finished" and one is the current loads of neighbor's clippings. (I mulch mine back in most of the time.:D) I get both my big Norway maples and a giant red oak leaves plus most of the neighbor's fall in my place. I also bag neighbor's across the street so by Winter I've got a sizable operation going. The Summer clipping compost added to the leaf pickup REALLY get's the heat going in that pile and finishes before January. Then I cover it with a nice brown tarp to keep the snow/water out until Spring.

A "bin" should be around 4'X4' at the least, a "pile" needs to be a little larger to provide it's own insulation. If the compost gets dry while it's cooking it WILL need some moisture. If you do a drum type you will be able to supply enough in half a bucket of water or less. DON'T get it soggy wet, just dampen enough so water will not come out of a handful when you squeeze it.

Shade or sun, the little bacterias will do their thing. THEY will make the heat inside quickly. Right now you can't stick your hand further than 5" inside of my new clipping compost, it's running about 160º.

No matter how you compost, the process will need air for the bacteria. This involves some kind of turning or as I've heard it called in some circles, "fluffing". I'm a "turner" not a "fluffer"!:D I use my front plow blade after the pile gets larger than 30 bushels or so because I'm plain bone idle and I love running the tractor w/blade.

Bins are cool looking, but you need a way to turn the bottom stuff to the top so keeping the pile in a single bin and turning can be labor intensive. A parallel empty bin or division is easier to fork/shovel over into.

I just guessing at this but I'm thinking that a proper working and well maintained "drum type" will work far quicker than a pile, possibly evening out the time element. But you sometimes will make more "makin's" than you can stuff in the drum so they will need to go someplace until used... There's no "right or wrong way" but there's ways to make any method run at peak efficiency.

BTW, I grow canna flower plants in containers and the only thing in the bucket containers is my pure compost. I just turned 4 trailer loads into a new flower bed of near pure clay. The stuff is magic for plant growth and soil amendment.

Couple of pix... first is the steam coming off the pile as it's being turned, second is just showing off with tractor and some of the compost.:D

Lots of info right there. thanks for taking the time to post that.

BTW Where are those two pix's you talk of?? :fing32:
 

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I composted in a plastic trash can last year. I drilled a bunch of 1" holes all around to allow air in, and turned it with post hole diggers. Woked well, but took a long time. This year I have been putting the grass clippings right into the garden as a mulch. I know you said you didn't have a garden, just throwing that in there. If you are going to do a garden next year you could plow, trench, dig holes etc where you will plant. Fill with composting material then cover with dirt. By next year the material will already be composted into the soil
 

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One of those drum composters would be fine for kitchen waste but it will never keep up with yard waste. You should see the size of compost pile I turn with a pitch fork.

How BIG is your compost pile?

Get some wood snow fence and loop lengths of it into circles. Once the compost reduces to a fraction of the original height, you just lift off the circle and set it in another spot to start another one.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
HH, thanks, lots of advice there. You're right that I might end up with more "before" material than the drum could handle. But then again, I suppose I could just look for a really big drum.

The "two bins side by each, one full one empty" sounds like a definite improvement over trying to turn a single bin with a pitchfork. That gets me thinking of two "floating" bins with bottoms and hinged to each other at the top of the two adjacent walls. When it's time to turn, just lift one bin (might require some sort of leverage due to weight) and empty it into the other bin. No pitchforking required.

That's quite a bit of steam coming off your pile.. do you also get smoke? I've heard large piles of grass clippings can actually spontaneously combust and cause a fire...

D-Dogg, what was the problem with the tumbler?

Justin, the trashcan idea sounds promising too. I've got like 4 spares.. and for turning the compost I could probably easily put one can on top of the other and just flip the whole mess. Obviously wouldn't be able to have a huge compost pile, but I suppose I could have multiple cans going at once. And in that case even with multiple full cans I would only need 1 empty can because when I flip a full can into the one empty can I would create a new empty, repeat as necessary.

LLigetfa, yeah, that thread is one that I found while searching MTF for compost stories. If I had another acre and a FEL I might be in that boat.

Snowfence sounds like a clever way to make a bin.. but how do you turn the compost? Or do you not need to turn it because using snowfence makes the pile able to "breathe" all the way to the bottom?


Learnin' a lot about compost here.. cool.
 

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I did this to get the most out of the land and space.I dug out around 1 to 2 feet deep where i wanted to dump my organic mater and use the soil i removed for maintenance in other areas of the lawn.This works well to save space,but may be a problem if your soil doesn't drain that well.In my case the hole never fills with water.Half of the comp pile is used for new dumpings and the other half for withdraw.I put all kinds of stuff into the pile including plain cardboard.
 

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LLigetfa, yeah, that thread is one that I found while searching MTF for compost stories. If I had another acre and a FEL I might be in that boat.

Snowfence sounds like a clever way to make a bin.. but how do you turn the compost? Or do you not need to turn it because using snowfence makes the pile able to "breathe" all the way to the bottom?
A FEL would be nice but a pitch fork is all I have. Saves me the price of a gym membership too.

With the snow fence cylinders, yes they get enough air through the slats to do most of the composting but after you lift them off, you still need to turn it once or twice.
 

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The Magnificent
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The first problem with the Compost Tumbler is the single barrell (though they do make a double barrell model). What do you do with the waste that accumulates while a full batch is cooking?

I was never able to get to the 140-160 degrees using grass clippings, shredded office paper, and ash from the fireplace. Even adding the starter enzyme.

Also noted the drum tended to want to rust.

Finally, materials aren't always in season. During the winter, you have lots of ash, and lots of grass in the summer. So unless you have separate storage for materials, the drum gets filled with a poor balance of materials.

I would up taking several batches of junk to the dump.

Now I just pile grass, leaves, pinestraw, and ash into an area of the yard and turn it periodically. I never develop the steam as shown above, but the compost does work. My pile is so full of worms, I suppose I am actually vermiculturing rather than composting.
 

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Here is a follow-up to this thread. I'd say the compost tumbler works pretty well other than a couple of issues: The 2 week turnover time that they claim is pretty optimistic, and the timing of having ready compost during early spring planting when you need it. I am going to plant some annuals today (rain has really screwed up the timing on this) and should have plenty of good compost to plant with. Next year I plan to make some compost in the fall, and bag it for later use for the early spring planting. It seems to really swallow up the grass clippings. You might get a 2 week turnaround by getting the right balance of leaves, grass clippings and other matter, but I haven't found it, yet. The problem is it needs nighttime temp to be consistently 60 degrees or above, and that is impossible around here in early spring.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Here is a follow-up to this thread.
That thread was right on the money, thanks MH. Not sure how I missed it the first time.

Can you post that make and model so I can research it? I'm also curious about approx cost but I can probably look that up if I know the model.

By the way, ran across this interesting article comparing tumbler types and talking about keeping the contents balanced (at least 40% brown matter for carbon content).

Hey, there's a thought. I have a 20 lb dog. Should I be composting the dog "deposits" also?

Those of you who saw this thread may think I'm obsessed with that topic. It's just coincidence..really!
:beatdeadh
 

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Only if you want rats in your compost. Never use the feces of a meat eater in your compost. all kinds of nasty stuff in it. Now this is a good place to put horse manure and most horsey people will be glad to give you a truckload or two.
 

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Well, any organic material can be composted, ours included. The break down times just go up. I believe that composting manure of animals that eat meat takes at least two years to be sure that there is no parasites or viruses etc. I would stick to yard waste.
 

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I was never able to get to the 140-160 degrees using grass clippings, shredded office paper, and ash from the fireplace. Even adding the starter enzyme.
I think adding ashes to compost before its time, actually slows the composting process. The change in PH inhibits the enzymes.

In past years, I would dump my ashes in a different place and only combine it with the compost after it was cooked. Last Winter, I decided to skip a step and dumped ashes directly onto the compost pile and it turned the pile cold. There is no steam coming from the pile as I turn it and I'm not seeing any worms either. There were no mouse nests in the pile either. The foxes are not happy. Not going to do that again.
 

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..........
Can you post that make and model so I can research it? I'm also curious about approx cost but I can probably look that up if I know the model.

............
It is the Compact ComposTumbler. Link
 

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Some comments on compost comments:

I've never had a fire, I think it's too humid around here for that to happen. I've heard of wood chips combusting though.

When it's time to turn, just lift one bin (might require some sort of leverage due to weight) and empty it into the other bin. No pitchforking required.
Not near as good as a total "mixing". All dumping will do is put the top at the bottom and not mix the center. You might get a bit of "tumble" but I think for speedy action a full mix works better.

"I was never able to get to the 140-160 degrees using grass clippings, shredded office papaer, and ash from the fireplace. Even adding the starter enzyme."

Dont' put ANY fireplace ash into compost. It will reduce the bacterial effect. Some "office papers" are fairly removed from the original "organic chain" and won't compost well. Newsprint paper used to be OK but today I'd leave it to sunlight reducing mulch uses. You need ONLY organic nitrogen (green) and carbon (brown) materials. Use ash sparingly (VERY) directly in the garden/lawn if you must. Google "wood ash garden" for some very informative reading. Wood ash upsets nitrogen content in soil if used too heavily. I believe a recent post mentioned the total application to lawns as "one 5 gallon pail of wood ash per 10K sq.ft. That's pretty thin application.

All compost operations will vary according to the materials you have at the moment, amounts of compostables, weather and moisture control.

>IF you are composting directly ON THE GROUND under trees, try to move the pile slightly every turn a pile width away. Otherwise the tree roots will quickly grow up into the bottom of the pile taking nutrients. My maples are notorious at this and ruined my first year's efforts.
 

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Some comments on compost comments:

Dont' put ANY fireplace ash into compost.
...
I believe a recent post mentioned the total application to lawns as "one 5 gallon pail of wood ash per 10K sq.ft.

>IF you are composting directly ON THE GROUND under trees, try to move the pile slightly every turn a pile width away. Otherwise the tree roots will quickly grow up into the bottom of the pile taking nutrients.
My comments on your comments on compost comments:

I learned my lesson on not putting ashes directly on the compost pile but I disagree with your cited ratio on application. After clearing land for farming, we could always see where we had the large burn piles because the crop there grew twice as high.

When initially turning a pile, I do move it from location A to B but after it has reduced considerably, I just go over it with my roto-tiller. Invariably, I have to remove all the roots that get wrapped around the tines. I killed an Elm that was near my compost doing that but once I remove the dead tree, I will have more room for compost.

I've thought of suggesting laying down a large piece of outdoor carpet and putting the compost on top of it. Then one could just grab one corner and roll the compost from A to B and only have to pitch fork it half as much. My pile is way too big for this method.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Well I haven't ordered a compost drum yet, but while at Home Depot on one of my "buying more things than I intended to" runs, I ran across a Biostack composter on clearance for $70.




So, as you can probably guess, I bought it. This one was branded "MiracleGro" not Smith and Hawkins but it appears to be the same unit.




Basically it's 3 plastic frames about 3 foot on a side and about 10 inches tall, each frame consisting of 4 interlocking lightweight (and hollow) wall sections:




The frames pop together by hand (no tools required). They were a little flimsy, but it's not like it needs to support any weight itself so I don't see this as a problem:




You stack the 3 frames on each other and then top them off with a lid hinged at the center:





Set it up next to my existing "pile" (yes, puny by comparison to some piles you guys have posted pics of) and forked the contents over, then topped it off:






Turning the pile should be easy enough.. take off the top section and set it on the ground next to the current bin, fork some compost over till full, move over the next section, repeat 3x and put the lid on in the new location.

Not as easy as turning a crank on a tumbler, but I figure once I get a tumbler I'll need a 2nd area for staging anyway while the stuff in the drum cooks so this biostack thing will serve that purpose eventually.
 
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