We recently re-evaluated our composting here at Irvine due to a few common problems which you too may have encountered while trying composting at home. First, what do you do to collect composting materials in and around your home without attracting unwanted pests or creating offensive smells? Second, how do you secure your composting site from critters and prevent them from removing items and scattering remnants around your yard, etc? Third, what is necessary to compost collected materials effectively?
We had encountered problems with collecting composting materials here at Irvine mainly due fruit flies being attracted to our materials before we could even get them to our pile. To alleviate this issue, we simply reused some five gallon buckets and bought screw-on lids for them (these lids are great – they snap on the top of standard five or six gallon buckets and create an air tight seal). The lids prevent smells and pests and are simple to open and close. In addition, I have started using these at home and it is easy to rinse them out with your rain barrel water then dump that on your pile to keep it moist.
Our next problem was with our composter – it was a black, plastic type with a lid on the top to put material into it and a door at the bottom to remove the completed compost. I think this particular model was intended for home use and did not stand up to the heavy use here at Irvine. Specifically, the door on the bottom was not secure enough to prevent some particularly crafty critters from helping themselves to a free meal. As a result, we had a mess each morning to clean up, it attracted other animals, and contributed to the habituation of wild animals (see my previous post on this topic).
What I had not realized was that we had a well designed and built composting site just 100 yards into the woods from Irvine Nature Center. It was constructed by an Eagle Scout as part of his final project and was woefully underutilized. The scout had made a three bin type composting arrangement with a secure screen on top of the first bin to prevent animals from entering (we actually had to do a little work on this, but it was relatively simple to get it back in working order). We now simply take our buckets with lids out there and dump them in the first bin. As that fills, we can remove partially composted material into the second bin and move the completed compost to the last bin.
In terms of materials to compost and how to compost them effectively, you need to remember in general to stick to the ratio of one-third nitrogen to two-thirds carbon based materials (see links below for lists of materials and their composition). It is important to keep the compost moist, but not too wet, and it is imperative to turn over your pile periodically to facilitate composting (I just use a pitchfork at home on mine).
In doing some research for this, I learned a few helpful tricks that will make your composting experience that much better. For example, it is a good idea to keep a pile of grass clippings next to your composting site for the purpose of covering fruit and vegetable scraps that may attract animals. I have copied a couple of links below which have many, many more tips for you as you start (or in our case, restart) a composting effort. Composting is a great way to minimize your home and yard waste and provide free, nutrient rich fertilizer.