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emmie9999

Darn black plastic compost bins...

emmie9999
15 years ago

Hi all:

Several years ago, I bought a black plastic compost bin from a major mail order gardener's supply company. It promised finished compost in 8 weeks with no turning.

::sigh::

Four years later, I still cannot get the hang of this, unless, it seems, I buy the activator and "super hot" from the same company. I pour stuff in, but it just compacts into layers which are impossible to remove from the little sliding door at the bottom of the bin. Right now, I have stuff from last fall that is still compacted in the base of the bin.

To clarify, I add leaves and grass clippings as I find them, as well as coffee grounds when I can get them. I also get at least a half full grocery bag of veggie peelings once a week from my in-laws. (They still do family Sunday dinners, and they save me the potato and carrot peelings from those.) The lid has a pyramid on top which is supposed to funnel rain water in. I spray the top with water whenever I think of it, and spray it with the hose for a minute whenever I add something. This year, I have noticed I always have what looks like spiderwebs in the inside of the lid, except they are thicker and more cotton-like. I have those dark grey little bugs running around on the surface of the layers when I open the door. It never stinks, but it never seems warm. My DH has taken to piling leaves and grass clippings around it; he says it is to make it easier for me to reach what I need to add, I think it is because he cannot find anyplace else to put it!

I hate to give this up, since I spent a lot of money on this item, but can anyone tell me if there is anything I can do? If nothing else, I will dismantle the thing and start over. Does anything help these gizmos work any better?

Thanks very much,

Emmie

Comments (28)

  • darrellf
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    OK, so I hate the things, but...Compost is compost. Stuff rots. What we do with bins and things is alter the timing. 8 weeks without turning just ain't gonna happen. You are developing an anaerobic pile which will need a year or two to compost. All the activators do is add the same bacteria as a shovel full of good soil so they will be no help. there are two things you can do. (1) wait two years for finished compost , remove from the bottom and add to the top. (2) remove everything from the bin every three days to a week and turn it back into the bin thus adding air to the mix and checking for water. After three or four turnings you have compost. Do NOT add extra after starting the turning process.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Compost Central

  • chris_ont
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I think you are talking about a plastic bin similar to the Earth Machine? Add stuff through the top lid and remove from a sliding door at the bottom. Or does the bin itself turn?

    Your description sounds to me like you're keeping your compost too wet. With that much kitchen waste I don't see why you would need to add water, especially if you're not turning it. Are you seeing fruit flies? You didn't mention how much browns you are adding. Shred your husband's leaves and put them in the bin.
    This will also make the pile easier to turn in the bin with a cultivator or garden claw - turning will help, in spite of what the ad said.

    My plastic bin is too small to generate heat, but it composts quite well. Not every 8 weeks, though. Since I only have one for this small household, I use it for kitchen scraps (because of all the maples I use shredded paper instead of leaves for browns) and get a full bin pretty much by the end of the season. I rarely add water. Maybe you're just rushing the process.

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  • pkapeckopickldpepprz
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    DarrellF why do you say not to add any more material once you start turning? I seem to have compost that stays hot but never is left alone to cure as I keep adding new material on top and just take the bottom layers out sift and dump back the larger pieces into the pile.

  • emmie9999
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    DarrellF, thanks for the link. Turning it will be a lot of work, and one reason for this bin was to cut down on turning, because my back simply won't put up with it. However, I might be able to convince my DH to help me. If not....I guess I wait two years.

    Chris, that is the bin I am talking about. It doesn't turn. Your point about too much water is a very good one. (The leaves, by the way, do go into the bin, but my DH has left me a pile of them outside of it. That way, for example, I can add a handful or two when I add the veggie scraps. I'm wondering if the pile outside is interfering with air circulation, etc.)

    ::light dawns:: A Garden Claw? I have a Garden Claw! I wonder if I could stand on something so I could really dig it in there and give thengs a quick turn? (The bin is waist high.) I will have to give that a try, thank you!

    Emmie

  • chris_ont
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I wonder if I could stand on something so I could really dig it in

    I stand on a couple of cement blocks - very solid :) I have back problems as well and the garden claw helps, even if it doesn't get right down to the bottom. It will break up clods at the top and fluff things up. Then I get the pronged cultivator to dig into the bottom.
    It's a chore, anyway, but the results are worth it :)

  • bpgreen
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I'll periodically take a shovel full from the bottom and put it on top. Sometimes the compost is compacted enough that it starts to leave an empty space at the bottom.

    I'll then use a bulb auger to mix up the various layers and help it drop down to fill the empty space. A bulb auger is like a giant drill bit to make holes to plant bulbs, but it does a good job of mixing compost, too.

  • Kimmsr
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    A compost pile smaller than 6 feet by 6 feet by 6 feet will get sufficient air infiltration without help unless it is too wet. Most of the time when I see compost not digesting well it is because it is too wet or there is not enough Nitrogen in the mix. Compost materia to be digested does not have to be wet, just damp and the presence of some wee bugs that normally need a fairly moist environment indicates that yours is too wet. Moisture drives out the air the bacteria that will digest your material also need to function.
    Check out this web site for more help.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Florida on line composting

  • kqcrna
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    emmie: I agree. I had a similar bin for a long time (10 years maybe) and I found it impossible to turn or mix. If I did manage to scoop something from the bottom, it seemed the whole pile just dropped a couple of inches lower, staying solid, and not mixing or adding any air. As the lump fell, it filled the door openings which I then couldn't close again. It took me a year to get a finished batch of compost.

    Now I'm using a Biostack bin which makes it much easier to turn and aerate. I like it so much that I bought a second one and I can mix and match the tiers to make one larger and one shorter if need be. I get it to 150 degrees about once a week when I add grass clippings and browns (now using straw since I'm out of leaves), then flip the whole pile to it's new spot after it cools and add again.

    Another factor is if you keep adding stuff to the same bin, it never finishes. I'm using one larger one for active piles, and one smaller bin for curing a little.
    It works much better for me to have the 2 batches at once and I'm turning out compost much faster.

    I think if you can get your husband to turn the pile for you even once in a while, even once a month or so, you'll get much better results.

    Good luck to you.

    Karen

  • organic_mattie
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I have used a simple compost aerator for years that has 2 "wings" that fold when you push it down into the stuff, then they expand when you pull it up and out. Doing this several times once a week has worked for me, and I'm a gal with not a lot of upper body strength. Here is a link to a page on composting; if you scroll down you will see a picture of it and directions as to where to order it.

    http://journeytoforever.org/compost_indoor.html

    Happy composting!

  • marie99
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Get a bulb auger or a long piece of metal to attach to a power drill. Or get a pointy thing and stab lots of times.

  • emmie9999
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I can get a pointy thing, or an aerator, and I'm going to give a try at poking holes this weekend. The bulb auger sounds like a good idea too!

    Karen, the bins you mentioned look very interesting. I'd be interested in hearing more about how they work for you.

    I'm starting to think I should just get rid of my black plastic thing and build some old fashioned bins out of pallets or something. More turning, but more chances of getting decent compost in less than a decade ;-)

  • val_s
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi Emmie,

    If you're bin is the Earth Machine type, I wouldn't get rid of it just yet. I have one and I love it but probably not for the reasons other people do.

    It's true that it doesn't make compost very fast and it's a bit of a pain to me with the whole poking and stirring thing. I have a 2 sided concrete bin that hubby and I built to do our major composting in but the Earth Machine comes in handy for these reasons: one is that in the winter time when everything is frozen up and I want to throw kitchen waste into the compost but not attract the city racoons and other critters, into the Earth Machine it goes, put the lid back on and no worries.

    Also, right now my c-bin is cooking nicely and all my extra stuff is going into the EM. When I get ready to build my next big pile, I'll just lift the EM up and away and shovel/pitchfork the contents into the c-bin.

    For keeping it a little stirred up I just use my pitchfork to jab into it and stir it up a little. Since most of it is already broken or chopped up when I put it in there it isn't too hard to stir.

    Anyway, that's my two cents.

    Val

  • jbann23
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    About a month ago I went to a plant fair that the University of Rhode Island puts on at their East Farm horticultural site. They were selling those plastic bins and had everybody convinced they were the in thing. People were lined up to buy them at thirty bucks. By now there's a bunch of people with stinking messes in their yards and wondering what they did wrong. Nobody wants to dump one of those things out after it goes anaerobic. It beneficial to compost right on the ground since the worms get at it and add their special input. Easy to turn too. No offense meant to those who love those plastic things - I just don't like 'em. I've got a nice big tumbler myself and fill it with leaves and a few red wigglers. That's all it needs besides a few things for the worms to eat. Now, THAT'S compost. It's actually black, damp, earthy smelling and incredibly easy to handle. It works all summer and sits empty for winter and that's when the compost pile comes in handy. Best of luck with your aerating techniques, they sound promising. Sorry for such a long post, the beer tastes good tonight ;-o

  • val_s
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    hi jabann,

    I'm not starting an argument but am indeed curious about a couple of things you said. I have an Earth Machine, a tumbler and piles so I do all three.

    One of the things you said was By now there's a bunch of people with stinking messes in their yards - what makes you say that? I've never had this problem. Some greens, some browns, a little water. It's basically just doing a cold pile, isn't it?

    And the other thing I was wondering about was I've got a nice big tumbler myself and fill it with leaves and a few red wigglers. How do you keep from killing the worms in the tumbler? Not only does my tumbler get hot (now that I know the preportions) but wouldn't the tumbling kill them?

    Again - not starting a EM/tumbler/pile debate, just curious and wanting to learn.

    Val

  • jbann23
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hello val s. I see where I might have sounded confusing. The plastic composters, rather small, won't work that quickly since those for sale had no air holes. Might as well use a garbage can. The people buying them figured they'd get finished compost in a month or less. I seriously doubt that and there's not much for browns around except paper. Not that I couldn't be wrong, mind you, we all make mistakes. Now on to the tumbler. I guess what I do is called vermicomposting with it. I don't add any greens to make it hot, just a bunch of dried leaves from the perimeter of the yard. The red wigglers are already there, with eggs, so they go right in too. A little water to dampen the dried portions and later some lettuce on top to feed the little darlings. And yes I do give 'em a tumble once a week to keep things fluffy and maybe some coffee grounds to give 'em a treat. Doesn't hurt 'em at all. Try it, you wouldn't believe how nice the results are. Best Regards. JB

  • val_s
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thank you! Now I get it. My EM is pretty big and has lots of slots around the top, middle and bottom and I see the point you make.

    As far as the tumbler, I'm intrigued by your use of it. So intrigued in fact that I think I'm going to try it next spring. I don't imagine that the worms will last through the winter in it, will they? About how long does the complete break down take and do you fill it all the way full with leaves or just part way? I'm very excited about this!

    Val

  • jbann23
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    val s - You're right, the worms perish over the winter. But by that time the compost is mixed in the fall garden plot. When gathering the old leaves in spring the worms are just starting out and are quite small. I fill the tumbler three quarter so there's a layer to add a little food after they warm up. Notice- warm up, as in daytime temps. The layer will diminish in size as the summer wears on and the worms digest the now dampened leaves. They get rather large and feisty. (I think it's the coffee) Towards the end of the season you have what is called black gold; mostly worm castings and the remainder of the leaves. Now, it still won't be too late to start again and compost the heat way for fall - no worms just greens and browns. The tumbler really gets a good workout all year. Best of Luck.

  • val_s
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks again! I can't wait to try this. My husband will think I've lost my mind - what else is new :-)

    Val

  • yardenman
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I've tried a variety of composting methods over the years. My first was a 3' circle of chicken wire (all I could afford). The side aeartion was nice, but I kept getting the pitchfork tines stuck in the chicken wire.

    After that, I made a compost garden. That was an 8' octogon raised frame bed with a 2'diameter chicken wire in the middle. I dumped compostable stuff in the chicken wire, never turned it, and let nurients leach into the surrounding soil to feed cucumbers up the chicken wire, tomotos outside that and bell peppers and flowers and the outer ring. Worked well actually. More interesting, I happened to drive past the old house and, 20 years later, the octogon is still there (but with roses)!

    When I moved, I tried a plastic cylander that you filled up, waited a few weeks, lifted up and moved to the side and refilled from the old pile and with new material. It actually worked OK, but it was a pain to move.

    I finally build a real double compost bin. 4x4x3'H. I got tired of turning the compost from 1 bin to another and they both ended up being filled. That meant I had to fork everything out of one bin onto the ground, move the 2nd bin into the 1st, and move all the outside stuff into the 2nd. And the rich supply of melon rinds, carrot and potato peels, etc from the kitchen waste was attracting critters. Well, if they were eating the best stuff, it wasn't doing me any good.

    I decided to re-think the whole process...

    I started to leave my grass clippings on the lawn (free fertilizer). And I decided that the trees needed the nutrients from the decomposing leaves, so I merely shredded them with the mower and left them in place. That way, they wouldn't blow away, and any blown-in leaves would add to the nutrient pile.

    But I still had kitchen waste and weeds to compost. So I got an aerated closed tumbler to use for the rich critter-tempting stuff. The built compost bins get all the weeds and old flower stems and such. With an occasional shovel of fertile garden soil, that stuff breaks down eventually. The compost tumbler doesn't make compost worth a darn, but it does hold the kitchen waste nicely until it is too far gone to attract critters. So then it goes onto the old compost bins (turning it in once a month isn't much trouble).

    The other half of my new system is to get free mulch from the County recycling Center. It is lousy mulch, but only becuase it is way too decomposed for mulch. It does however make great compost after it sits for a year. It is as good as the leaf compost available commercially.

    I even let all my chicken bones dry out in the basement, pound them into pieces, and toss them in the kitchen waste tumbler to break down (free bonemeal)

    So the lawn keeps its clippings, the trees keep the fallen leaves, the critters can't get at the tempting kitchen waste, the old compost bins slowly provide some compost with little effort, and the year-old "mulch" is good as soil.

    I'm actually accumulating more than I can use. Guess where it is going? On the lawn! I have one of those pushable mesh barrels to sprinkle compost over the lawn. Anything that doesn't fall out through the mesh goes back onto the compost bin.

    :)

  • emmie9999
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Wow, Yardenman, you have come up with a great system! I'm hoping I can learn from your experience.

    I did manage to get the Garden Claw into the bin today. I could only dig it down about halfway, due to leverage and due to hitting a compacted layer. So, then I lifted that lovely little door, and stuck the claw in horizontally. I pulled out some of the good black crumbly stuff on the bottom, and managed to get the rest to drop down a few inches and move. It looks like what is really compacting is the grass clippings that are going in there. I think it did get too moist at times, and that made some layers nearly solidify.

    I talked with my DH, and we think we are going to move this bin over a foot or two in the fall, and then take down the piles that have built up around it. We will then build a bin or two out of pallets, and use the black plastic bin for kitchen scraps and such. If we use the others for grass clippings and leaves, I think it will work out a lot better. No more looking into a compost bin and seeing what looks like a cross section of the Grand Canyon, haha!

    Thanks for all the advice, folks. It has really helped me a lot. I'll keep you posted and let you knoww aht else comes out of that bin!

    Emmie

  • yardenman
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I bought one of those compost claws years ago. It is sitting next to my compost bin, unused, for almost as many years. It might even be underground from spilled compost by now.

    Personally, I think it is one of those "great ideas" that does not really work. It is easier and more effective to turn the compost with a pitchfork or spading fork.

  • robertzone6
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    The first question is -- what are the dimensions of the bin?

    I bought a black plastic bin from the Jerry Baker mail order place, shame on him! It was 22 by 22", not big enough to retain heat well. Sixty-five bucks wasted.

    Next I bought a ComposTumbler for $350 (OK, I'm a slow learner). That was a lot of work, and I never got anything resembling compost in 14 days, even when I weighted all the ingredients for a optimal C:N ratio.

    Now I have seven compost piles made of 1/4" hardware cloth, 24" high, and with a four or five foot diameter. Easy to turn, they handle smelly stuff like fish easily.

  • kqcrna
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I was so excited to get my 2nd Biostack. Thought I'd be making compost like crazy. I bought a bale of straw because I ran out of leaves. My major compost ingredients are generally grass clippings and a brown.

    Trouble is, in this drought, our grass stopped growing. It's brown and crispy. It hasn't really been mowed in 3 weeks I think. On Sunday my husband just ran the mower around the beds to trim. It's only green and growing around my flower beds which I seem to water almost around the clock. You can see this in the picture.

    {{gwi:102297}}

    Karen

  • emmie9999
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Robert: It's about 28" by 28" by 34" high. It really might work for just kitchen waste and stuff, but it won't take care of lots of yard waste. I need to build some bins this fall or spring.

    Karen: I can understand the frustration! Can you get other greens, like veggie scraps, UCG, and such?

  • lilacs_of_may
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    In March, I put up a wire 3x3 compost bin and started filling it. I put in grass clippings, dead leaves from last fall, weeds, kitchen scraps (plant based), eggshells, dead plants, dryer lint, pet hair, mushroom compost (from mushroom kits), human hair, bits of newspaper, garden waste, and occasional soil. Each time it settles down till the bin is about half full. It sits in full sun, and when it doesn't rain I pour some water into it, maybe once or twice a week. I also turn it maybe twice a month by sticking my shovel into it, lifting it up, and turning it around.

    But it doesn't seem to be composting. Everything looks about as it did when I put it in. I stuck my compost thermometer into the center about 3-4 weeks ago, and it actually decreased from the air temperature down to about 62 degrees.

    Is it not full enough? Am I not putting the right stuff in? Am I just being too impatient and it's not been near enough time for anything to happen? My garden badly needs compost, and I think I'll have to break down and just buy some.

    This is even more frustrating than watching seeds sprout.

  • reginacw
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Seat-of-the-pants guess is not enough greens. Mix in a bag of alfalfa pellets, water, and check for heat in a day or two.

  • lilacs_of_may
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I measured the temperature yesterday, and it was only about 64 degrees. That seems odd considering that lately our temps have been so high that my outdoor thermometer exploded.

    I haven't been raking up the grass and weeds that I mow and weed whack. I'll start doing that and putting them in.

  • adamek
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    The bottom door on my bin is about useless. I normally have to lift the plastic bin and then fork things over. It takes about 3-4 months for my compost.

    Even longer now that my chipper/shredder has broken down.

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