Dear James: I am not very handy with tools, but my daughter wants me to build a compost bin for our yard. I would like to build a simple one, but I want it to be effective. What do you suggest? -- Sandy F.
Dear Sandy: Every year, schools are teaching children more and more about taking care of the environment and recycling for their future. Composting is actually not recycling, but rather reusing organic materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
You may not realize it, but nearly 30% of the trash we dispose of is composed of organic materials, such as lawn clippings and food waste. By composting these materials, our landfills will fill up slower, and we can reintroduce these organic materials into the soil.
Composting is the most natural of processes. When you combine heat, moisture, natural microorganisms and organic waste, the waste slowly decomposes. The result is rich soil ideal for many uses around your landscape and garden.
The key to building an effective compost system is containing the wastes such that decomposition can take place. The actual amounts of moisture and heat are not critical. What is important is having access to the compost and stirring it so it decomposes more evenly.
A wood pallet compost bin is one of the simplest and least expensive designs to build. You can often find old pallets at home centers or manufacturing facilities. Sometimes, they will give them to you for free just to get rid of them.
Set two pallets up on end to form two sides of a triangular compost bin. They have many open gaps, which you can use to secure them together with wire. You can also drive in some nails or screws to make the bin even more secure. Attach a third pallet across the opening with wire on one edge and screws on the other edge to form the complete triangle. This will allow you to swing this one open like a door.
Slide 1-by-4-inch lumber in the open slots in the pallets to form closed sides. You may cover the top with another pallet, but it really is not necessary. Most compost systems have three bins, and you move the contents of one bin to the next as the compost reaches different stages of decomposition. This allows you to have a starter bin for fresh waste and a final bin for usable compost soil.
Another simple system is to use garbage cans with holes drilled in the sides and bottoms. A dozen 1/2-inch holes per can should be adequate. Galvanized metal cans will work best. Periodically, simply lay each can on its side and roll it to mix the contents.
If you have wire cutters and pliers, make four-sided wire mesh bins. You can find wire mesh at most home centers. Wear thick work gloves and cut four 3-by-2-foot sections. Position your cuts so one side has the wire sticking out. Using the pliers, bend the wires around the edge of each adjacent section to create the bins.
Once you have your three compost bins completed, start adding the organic waste materials. These may include grass, leaves, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps, stale bread, apple cores, pet hair, fireplace ash and sawdust.
James Dulley's weekly column, "Here's How," can be found at creators.com.