I now proudly present Compostings Cheap Aerobic Composter Method. (No patent pending. This method has been done by billions of people before me and you can find it all over the place.)
What you need:
- A cheap garbage can. Mine is plastic with wheels. The wheels come in very, very handy. Get that kind if you can.
- A drill. Or a nail and hammer. Or some kind of pokey thingy that can pokey through plastic (or aluminum if you go that route). You’ll note from the pictures that my drill is hand cranky which makes me cranky. Use a real drill and save yourself some labor. I just couldn’t find mine.
- Nitrogen contributors. Green stuff. Grass, veggie leftovers, etc.
- Carbon contributors. Brown stuff like cardboard. Newspaper strips (not brown, but you get the idea). I don’t like to use colored newspaper because I believe (with absolutely no science probably to back me up) that the colored ink is icky.
- Water. Life-giving water.
- About 30 minutes. (Took me about an hour because I kept searching in between hole pokes for a real drill.)
The Incredibly Uncomplicated Process
- Drill holes in the garbage can. We’re trying for aerobic composting and the little buggies that will do the work need air. Let it flow. Get holes on all sides and the top and bottom. The bottom holes will also allow extra water to drain.
- Begin adding your ingredients in layers. I started with strips of newspaper. Then I added some cardboard and some leaves. Then (and this ingredient is not necessary, but it’s like starter for bread dough) I added some fairly composted horse manure. You should add your green layers like vegetable matter, grass clippings etc. Since I used manure, I am going to let this compost for a long time. I won’t use it until next year to be sure every pathogen is dead.
- Build your layers like a club sandwich or a lasagna. Keep alternating. You want about equal parts of carbon and nitrogen contributors but don’t sweat it. Nature finds a way.
- You could fill it all the way up leaving 6 – 12 inches of space at the top at this point. For me, I’m going to use this as an active composter throughout the next couple of months and I’ll be adding our kitchen scraps.
- Either way, once you’ve got it filled to where you want it, add some water. Don’t be water stingy. Get it good and wet. It shouldn’t be swimming by the time you are done; it should be like a wet washcloth.
- Put the lid on and tip the can over. Roll that thing a few times to make sure the junk inside is getting to know one another.
- That’s it. Set it up someplace with some sun exposure but don’t sweat that too much either. It’s also good to raise it a bit to let the air flow through the bottom. Place it up on blocks.
- Once a week, roll it and add some water. The aerobic bacteria will consume the air, nitrogen and carbon and start to die off. As they do that, the thing heats up. You can check the temperature (160 f) and if it starts to drop, you know you are running out of your workers and the rolling will reintroduce air. The goal of the rolling is to kind of get the outside parts that are rich in oxygen into the center. Don’t sweat it. Just roll the thing. It will work. Over time, as the nitrogen and carbon are consumed, the heat won’t be so heaty. It’s all part of the composting thing. It just means that the next round of organisms are rolling in to do their part.
- In about 8 weeks you’ll have some nice compost. Once the temperature has cooled, it’s ready to use. It can be a good idea to actually let it stew longer now outside of the garbage can. Put it in a pile and wait for the worms to come in. They’re a good indicator of your compost. If they’re in it, it means it’s not heating up any longer and it’s good to go.
Addition: Anthony from thecompostbin has a nice suggestion in the comments. Drill the holes a bit bigger (3″) and cover them with a fiberglass screen to keep the pesties out. Larger holes would certainly allow more airflow.. that’s a good thing.