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Composting Beginner: Do's and Don'ts? — The Grow Network Community
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Composting Beginner: Do's and Don'ts?

angelaclay509@gmail.com[email protected] Eastern Washington Posts: 49 ✭✭✭

Urban dweller... sorta ok it feels like it but live in a smaller city and I am packed into my neighborhood like sardines. I won't give up on having something growing and having a composting bin. Any suggestions?


  • shllnzlshllnzl Southwestern UtahPosts: 1,457 ✭✭✭✭

    You can buy or build small composters. You could also try worm composting where you feed your scraps to worms and add worm output to your soil.

    My husband said we didn't have room for a composter. We do have a small area of dirt that has had native soil dumped on it after my first planting died. I have since added used houseplant soil and used coffee grounds and tea leaves. There is still a sprinkler in the area and the wind is helpfully blowing in leaves. I figure to turn the soil from time to time and essentially use the whole area for compostables until I am ready to plant the area.

  • ines871ines871 zn8APosts: 1,290 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Hi @angelaclay509 - Thank you ! for at least now stating 'some context', so you can get more relevant responses. In your "potted Tomato" thread, us 8 responders were left to only guessing... using our own contexts which obviously does not match yours. So it is up to each member Asking... to give responders 'enough essential' info, okay :)

    Now when you exist in either an apartment, or some other "sardine"-space, in 2 ways you are Fortunate ! as it gives you opportunity to 1. Nurture the most Nutrient-rich...SPROUTS INside, as well as 2. grow (if on the ground-floor, or an Open-balcony) VERTICAL... You learn to make much better use of every inch of space. And best yet, forget a space-hogging compost bin. Here are TEN+ Creative 🤩 ideas https://balconygardenweb.com/plastic-bottle-vertical-garden-soda-bottle-garden/ Have Fun ! Angela

  • chimboodle04chimboodle04 Posts: 286 ✭✭✭

    I second the worm composting bin idea - this can be done in a relatively small space with little investment at the start (depending on how elaborate you want to go). They are good if you are producing compost material by the handful rather than the bucketful and will provide you with great planting material and "worm tea" to use as liquid fertilizer. Potential problems may be fruit flies or smell, both of which can be fixed by making sure you put the right materials into your bin (lots of info on this online...sorry, don't have a resource handy just now...). You also will want to make sure the bin is in a place where freezing temps will not be a problem. We regularly fill four large compost bays from our suburban lot, and still we are looking to add vermicomposting specifically for use with our potted plants and starts :) Best of luck!

  • angelaclay509@gmail.com[email protected] Eastern Washington Posts: 49 ✭✭✭

    @rainbow thank you for responding! It was my first real forum response. I am introverted online lol! Extroverted in real life.... so I was a little nervous. Now that all the jitters are out of the way... I appreciate you responding. I will look at the link that you posted and see what good information I can glean from it.

  • angelaclay509@gmail.com[email protected] Eastern Washington Posts: 49 ✭✭✭

    @chimboodle04 thank you I will look into some kind of compost bins when I am ready. I think I am in the season of researching and collecting ideas. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

  • angelaclay509@gmail.com[email protected] Eastern Washington Posts: 49 ✭✭✭

    @shllnzl thank you so much for the great ideas. I am sad to see the summer winding down... I will look into the small composting bins.

  • shllnzlshllnzl Southwestern UtahPosts: 1,457 ✭✭✭✭
    edited August 2019

    @angelaclay509 You're welcome. It is always better to get information and think before acting. Good luck.

  • ines871ines871 zn8APosts: 1,290 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Hi again @angelaclay509 - you're basically Extroverted in an obviously-Kind way too ? - We would make Good neighbors. For real !

  • bejer19bejer19 IllinoisPosts: 59 ✭✭✭

    I too am in an small urban space in near "sardine" conditions. I do have a small yard and a community garden plot and have had some success with composting that I thought I'd share. I definitely still need to make improvements on my system and am always looking for other ideas though, so I hope others look here and share what's been working for them.

    I have 3 compost areas, all of which contribute some and work with varying levels of success.

    #1 - Worm composting inside in our "breakfast nook" area near our indoor growing spot. I have had a worm bin for years, sometimes I do a great job with it, sometimes I neglect it for weeks, it always produces a small amount of excellent compost. I've mostly had luck using this compost diluted in water on my houseplants and indoor herbs. I occasionally harvest a surplus which I then dilute in water and use on out door plants in pots. I've never taken any to my community garden plot. Overall this method works great for a small amount of daily kitchen scraps. It works best if everything is cut or blended into small pieces, but it has also worked if I don't do that. I can't add a lot of allium bits to it or it gets... weird/off.

    #2 - A two chamber spinning composter that lives in a sunny patch outside my back door. This is a new additional to our garden set-up and I don't have a full picture of how effective it will be in the long run. It definitely holds and breaks down food and garden scraps. It can get dry easily so I water it nearly every day in the summer. We filled up the first chamber in about 4 weeks (it was breaking down as we added) and have started on the second. No usable compost as of yet, but the side we've stopped adding to looks fairly promising. Might end up burying the results under some of last years soil this fall for the community garden. I'm hoping each chamber will produce enough compost to cover about 25 square feet.

    #3 - An old garbage bin (with flip top) with bunches of small holes drilled into the side. This was our original compost plan and it is the most imperfect. It is hard to get enough oxygen in, it is significantly harder than anticipated to turn, and because of that gets smelly and weird. Also sometimes the holes get clogged. It does however make compost! It's very slow. The bottom few inches turned into compost in about 18 months. I'm hoping to come up with a better system that is more easily accessible and easier to care for using this same piece of equipment. So far it has not been of interest to the vermin in the alley like a more open bin would be. If I can get this handled, I'm hopeful that I will have enough compost to top dress all of my growing space every year!

    With all of these methods I would say I use about 8 square feet of horizontal space, so at least these methods don't take up much room! Am looking forward to better production though and less outside input for my garden!

  • Karyn PenningtonKaryn Pennington Posts: 71 ✭✭✭

    @angelaclay509 - Please check out Amber's "New to Composting" also in this Composting & Soil Fertility section. There is some good info in there and I did a long post about the different things I do that I don't have time to repeat here -- it's, for some strange reason, actually in the other post 4 different times.

    In a nutshell composting is an ongoing process -- I'm in suburbia with close neighbors and 4 doors from a State park, so I do NOT want to attract any critters. This year I did a few different types of digging composting -- Trench composting where you dig a trench and plant on either side of it. That's where I planted sweet potatoes and boy oh boy, have they taken off. Then I also did a pit compost pile and planted winter squash on top of it -- What I learned from that is, it's ok to dig a pit to compost a bunch of stuff, but I really think you need to wait a season to plant on top of it (dig in fall, plant in Spring) because the winter squash sprouted and spread like crazy, but EVERY SINGLE squash would grow to about the size of a softball and then mysteriously fall off the vine. I'm seeing no sign of critters or disease -- it's just the weirdest thing, but I'm blaming the compost that is still decomposing underneath.

    Anyway, do look up the other post it has much relevant information. Also, keep in mind that it will take you a few seasons to see what works for you. I started with a bin and stuff would decompose, but it just seemed to take forever and I'd forget to spin, etc. I still use it, but it's only 1 of about 4-5 things I do.

  • angelaclay509@gmail.com[email protected] Eastern Washington Posts: 49 ✭✭✭

    @Karyn Pennington thank you for sharing all these gems... I have to come up with my plan and do my research this winter.

  • angelaclay509@gmail.com[email protected] Eastern Washington Posts: 49 ✭✭✭

    @bejer19 wow I’m going to screenshot this post.... there are days when I wish I could move to a bigger spot...I am going to soak in these suggestions and definitely have a stellar growing season for 2020😍😍

  • ines871ines871 zn8APosts: 1,290 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Hi again @angelaclay509 can you say what greater ? benefit you see in either a "wormbin" ? or a "composter" ?, that you think you could not have in a >compost TEA container< that while doing all the work for you, will make & yield & reward you with a quality of Nutrition & yummy tastes... unlike what you may have known. - Just curious... 🙂

  • angelaclay509@gmail.com[email protected] Eastern Washington Posts: 49 ✭✭✭

    @rainbow honestly there is so many ways to compost... I never heard of a compost Tea Container. That actually sounds more up my alley since I am a tea drinker. I will research that thanks.

  • ines871ines871 zn8APosts: 1,290 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Hi @angelaclay509 - "Compost tea" has nothing to do with any tea you might enjoy drinking.

    It's called TEA simply because of its Beige --> to deep dark brown color. The richer the Liquid in biological nutrients..., the richer its Benefit for your plants. -- And the Container it is in, can be any size and anything, altho people who use this such as me, use a 30-gallon Trash barrel, (of which in our case we have up to 8 such) because of all the plants that WANT this food...

    How you make it, is by simply Collecting rainwater, (or in our case mostly from the hose... because this water originates from a several 100 feet DEEP well loaded with vital MINERALS that plants need to feed you well.) Into that you simply dump any dead or spent plants with healthy soil attached, & leave them to completely rot down, & as they do, the color of this Tea will darken... Just before Feeding this tea to the garden, I take a big stick, or broom handle & stir it all up, so the stuff on the bottom rises to the top. - Our plants are SO happy receiving this Nutrition... that, if you know they are as Alive as they truly are, you can "see" their aura/essence jump for joy 🙂!!

    Aside blessing us will all the Flowers in my 55 foot Rainbow, additionally you can grow all the Yummy foods... as in dozens of photos I've already shared in this TGN group, which earned themselves so far 80 Ribbons at the State fair. That is not so much because I am good, but the Credit goes mostly to the Compost tea their Biology flourishes in. Really there's no end. Now do you understand ? 🙂

  • SuperCSuperC Cook at Wahlburgers The Frozen Tundra in the Northern MidwestPosts: 287 ✭✭✭

    Are there composting bins available in the winter months? I mean, does anyone know how to compost in the winter? What do you use?

  • Karyn PenningtonKaryn Pennington Posts: 71 ✭✭✭


    Depending on your climate, you can bury stuff while the ground is still workable. I also use my worm bin (indoors) all winter and when I have excess worm food (scraps that I throw in the food processor), I freeze that in a big bag -- if I have room in the freezer. Then in the Spring, I will again bury it (the stuff from the freezer) in a trench and plant on either side of it. I also keep a large pile covered all winter and turn it as soon as it's thawed out enough. So, composting definitely slows down in the winter, but it doesn't stop.

    I hope that helps/inspires.

  • dianne.misspoozdianne.misspooz Posts: 104 ✭✭✭

    Great composting tips everyone! I'm not a regular composter like the suggestions here. What I do is, I fill up my raised garden beds with hay, leaves, mushroom dirt, shredded paper and grass clippings. I leave it to breakdown over the winter. That's it. Considering that I have THE WORST nutrient deficient dirt on the planet, worms have come out of nowhere and are hanging out in my raised bins so I think my once a year composted bins are working. Keeping my fingers crossed!

  • Merin PorterMerin Porter Editorial Director Southwest Colorado (Zone 6a)Posts: 732 admin

    Love this! I used to do more "proper" composting than I do now -- currently, most scraps either go in the worm bin or to the chickens. But I still want to get a real live composting pile going again. Or, and this is more likely in the near future, trench composting in the garden...

  • dianne.misspoozdianne.misspooz Posts: 104 ✭✭✭

    I plan on doing trench composting as well. It seems the easiest... yep, I'm lazy. lol

  • ben stacyben stacy Experienced Gardener - Gardening Website & Blog Owner Hallsville, TexasPosts: 5 ✭✭✭

    I tried a little experiment this year. Not having enough compost to supply a new raised garden bed, I chose to build a little bed right on top of the ground with a technique I learned from David the good In one of his short videos.

    With things being financially tight this year and weather issues throughout the first part of our spring planting season here in Texas I tried something new with the little time I had between storms.

    First. I covered an area with cardboard boxes to stop any grass from growing through.

    Next I mowed up some yard debris (small twigs,grass and leaves) that had been over wintering in my yard from last season and just threw it on the ground on top of the cardboard layer.

    I placed about a foot of the freshly mowed yard debris which I was intending to build a new compost pile from on top of the cardboard weed barrier I had created.

    the next step I opened up 2 rows in it with a rake and filled them up with the remainder of compost that I had made for filling my raised beds.

    I had a sack of store bought potatoes that had started sprouting prior to the idea so I processed them to plant.

    After the next round of thunderstorms stopped after about a week I planted these potatoes in the compost rows I had created in the small leaf garden I had created .

    To my surprise the potatoes grew extremely well and are almost ready to harvest.

    The moral of this story is that composting works and does not have to be hard to do. I had created a little raised garden bed just doing what I normally do any way which is mowing. Check out this Image!

  • t_levinat_levina Posts: 5

    Karyn, regarding the winter squash problem you had, I always plant my zucchini and squash on top of a compost pile, however, there is a descent layer of soil / well aged compost where roots of those plants initially grow. The other thing is that all cucurbits family loves to be planted on hills. Also , it could be boron deficiency

  • tinarocktinarock Posts: 21 ✭✭✭


    I hope you were able to start a compost pile this year with all the information you gathered last year.

    I am in zone 7 and I have a compost pile, and I also have a compost tumbler. It took me years to understand the right way to use the compost tumbler but i finally have it figured out. I put in it grass clippings from when the lawn is mowed, and autumn leaves, and organic matter left over from when i make tea and herbal infusions. But the most important thing you must add is Compost Starter or inoculum. It is something that makes the items in the tumbler break down into dirt. Without that, you just have a mess in the compost tumbler.

    This year I added my own home made dirt to some of my raised beds. What I learned from that: Yes it's good to throw in the stuff from the compost tumbler, but I also had to add some dirt like Maine Lobster Compost or Spent Mushroom compost, and then mix everything together. Plants grow best with rich dirt full of nutrients. So mix it all together.

    In my compost pile, a lot of old dirt from potted plants has piled up there, and various plant parts from yardwork. I have never actually used anything from that compost pile, but a number of plants have decided to live on it and they like it very much. Since I am an herbalist, I would not call these volunteers "weeds". I have used them in herbal preparations. The volunteers include ground ivy, plantain, evening primrose, dandelion, yellow dock, comfrey, red clover, and various others. These are all very useful plants. But they make the dirt unsuitable for propagation to my raised beds, since I am not growing that type of plant there.

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