Articles

How to Make a Compost Bin from a Plastic Storage Container

By Colleen Vanderlinden

If you don’t have much space to compost, or just want to start composting on a small scale before committing to a full size bin, consider making a compost bin from a plastic storage container. This is an easy project that will give you finished compost in a short period of time.

  • Obtain a plastic storage bin.

Plastic storage bins are available just about everywhere, and most of us have at least one of them in our basement or garage. The bigger the storage bin is, the better. The bin you decide to use for composting should be no smaller than 18 gallons. The bin must have a lid. If you are able to obtain a second lid, this would be perfect to catch the liquid that leaches out of the bin. Otherwise, this nutrient-filled liquid will just be wasted.

  • Prepare the bin.

You need to have air circulating around your compost to help it decompose faster. To manage this in a plastic bin, you will have to drill holes in the bin. It really doesn’t matter what size drill bit you use, as long as you drill plenty of holes. Space them one to two inches apart, on all sides, bottom, and lid. If you use a large spade or hole-cutting drill bit, you may want to line the interior of the bin with wire mesh or hardware cloth to keep rodents out.

  • Place your bin in a convenient spot.

Because this bin is so small, it will fit just about anywhere. If you are a yardless gardener, a patio, porch, or balcony will work just fine. If you have plenty of space, consider putting it outside the kitchen door so that you can compost kitchen scraps easily, or near your vegetable garden so that you can toss weeds or trimmings into it. It can also go inside a garage or storage shed if you’d rather not look at it.

  • Filling the bin.

Anything you would throw in a normal compost pile, you can throw into your storage container composter: leaves, weeds, fruit and vegetable peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, and grass clippings all work well. Anything you put into the storage bin composter should be chopped fairly small so it will break down quicker in the small space. Fruit and vegetable trimmings can be chopped small with a knife, or run through a blender or food processor to break them down. Chop leaves by running a lawn mower over them a few times. Crush eggshells finely so they will break down faster.

  • Maintain your bin.

Every day or so, as you think of it, you can aerate the bin by giving it a quick shake. If the contents of the bin are staying very wet, or there is an unpleasant odor coming from the bin, you’ll need to add some shredded fall leaves, shredded newspaper, or sawdust to the bin. These will dry it out and help restore the ratio of greens to browns that makes compost happen more quickly.

If the contents are very dry, use a spray bottle to moisten the contents, or add plenty of moisture-rich items such as fruits or veggies that are past their prime.

  • Harvesting and using your compost.

The easiest way to harvest the finished compost from your bin is to run it all through a simple compost sifter so that the large pieces are kept out of the finished compost. Anything that still needs to decompose can go back into the bin, and the dark, crumbly finished compost can either be stored in a bucket or bin for later use or immediately used in the garden. It is also wonderful to use in container plantings.

A plastic storage bin composter can be used year-round, and is a convenient solution for those of us who don’t have space for a large pile.

Tips:

  • Do this project outside. The drilling step creates quite a mess.
  • If possible, toss a few handfuls of leaves or shredded newspaper into the bin whenever you add very wet items to maintain the correct moisture levels.
  • To turn the compost easily, just give the bin a shake every couple days.

What You Need:

  • Plastic storage bin, eighteen gallons or larger
  • Drill and sharp drill bits
  • Kitchen scraps, yard waste, or shredded newspaper to fill the bin
  • Wire mesh, if you are drilling large holes

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Nutrient Management: Advice for Maintaining Healthy Plants and Bank Accounts.

By: Cliff Starling – Resource Consultant

With the summer rains we’ve had this season; it’s a perfect time to bring up the subject of Nutrient Management.  Whether or not you operate a 10,000-acre farm or maintain a tenth of an acre lawn this topic is important to everyone.  Nutrient Management directly impacts the environment and the applicator’s wallet.  Applying nutrients is essential for good plant growth, but over-applying nutrients can harm both plants and the environment.  Rainfall or over-irrigation can push excess nutrients through the soil profile, which can ultimately pollute drinking water and/or lakes and streams.

Cliff Starling - Soil Test

Pulling a soil sample is the first step towards Nutrient Management success.

The first step in responsibly applying nutrients to soil is to determine the amount of nutrients needed by the plant or plants in question. The best and most effective way to determine this is to have a soil sample analyzed for its nutrient contents.  The basic report will provide pH and lime recommendations along with Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium recommendations.  This report is sufficient for typical Nutrient Management unless you are intensively using an area, in which case, you may need a micro-nutrient levels report as well.  Most reports provide a recommendation on nutrient application in either pounds per 1000 square feet or pounds per acre for each nutrient needed.  The next step is to determine the fertilizer that best fits your needs, unless the quantity of the application would allow for you to have the material custom blended.

In order to get a sample that represents the area in question, obtaining sub-samples from several areas in your field or lawn may be necessary.  The more sub-samples you pull the more accurate the sample will represent the area.  Always avoid sub-sampling areas that do not represent the whole area, such as bottoms that may be dark, heavy, and rich in nutrients.  First obtain sub-samples; collect them in a clean plastic bucket, and then vigorously shake the bucket to mix its contents.  Use the mixture as your sample and then just send it to your soil lab of choice.

The three primary nutrients that are of concern are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium.  Generally, Nitrogen promotes growth of foliage -the top portions of plants.  Phosphorus helps develop stronger roots, as well as flower and fruit production, while Potassium builds durability and disease resistance.  These nutrients are indicated on the fertilizer bag by numbers that represent the percentage of the nutrient in each pound of material, such as a 5-10-15. For example, 5-10-15 indicates 5lbs of Nitrogen per 100 lbs of material.  The next two numbers refer to P2O5 , which is the oxidized form of elemental Phosphorus and also the percentage per pound of material.  Therefore, in the 5-10-15 fertilizer there is 10 lbs of Phosphorus.  The same formula applies to Potassium (K), in that the fertilizer percentage refers to the oxidized form of K, which is K2O. There is 15 lbs of Potassium (K) per 100 lbs of material in the 5-10-15 fertilizer material.  Just remember that the numbers on the fertilizer bag refer to the percentage of N-P-K in the fertilizer.

Some key points to remember when fertilizing lawns and gardens are: (1) use a slow release fertilizer if feasible and available; (2) mow often and leave clippings on the lawn as fertilizer; (3) be careful not to spread fertilizer on sidewalks and/or driveways; (4) be sure to calibrate your spreader correctly; (5) use compost or manures/organic fertilizers at a conservative rate.  Organic fertilizers, such as manures or compost, break down slowly and make nutrients available for longer periods.  Also, in flower beds and gardens, it’s been proven that plants do better if fertilizer is applied next to the plants verses broadcasting the fertilizer over the entire area.  This practice uses less fertilizer too, saving the savvy farmer dollars in tough economic times.