Saturday, May 3, 2014


Every day, food scraps that can't be saved, fed to the dog, or given to the chickens end up in the composter.  And about twice a year, we harvest the compost piles and add the rich, intense matter to the garden beds.

Bits of leaves and other flotsam make it through the system. 
Chickens use the opportunity to find some bugs to eat and even egg shell flakes to reprocess.

Chickens (this Barred Rock is 5 years old) are then very "helpful" in working the compost into the soil in the perennial beds.

How to Build a Composter

Many have started composing with the best intentions, only to soon give it up.  We designed this composter using found scraps of materials to be easy to use and require no maintenance.
  • Pick a location that is a short walk from the kitchen door.  
  • Stack bricks or cinder-blocks into two walls, about three feet apart. 
  • Put coated shelving between them (err on the side of too big spacing, at least 4 inches, rather than using a more intuitive smaller mesh).
  • Put some type of structure, such as a garbage can with air holes and the bottom removed, or even a traditional composter, on top of it.
  • Put water holes in the lid.  A discarded outdoor plastic bowl, with drainage holes, of the right size can make a perfect lid as it can deters animals and still be removed with one hand.
  • Put a catch bucket underneath the composter. Drill some 2" holes directly on the bottom. This facilitates the ability of bugs and worms to go up from the earth into the compost and lets any water seep out and not pool.
Put food scraps (no meat, no dairy, as with all composters) in the top. Over time, the food turns to compost and sprinkles down into the bucket below. (The traditional wisdom of putting in layers of leaves seems unnecessary and perhaps even counter-productive.)

This system models the human body. It allows for the long term development of microbes in the middle that never get flushed out.

Also, because the entire bottom of the compost is exposed, there is plenty of air in the system, so there is no need to "turn-over" a pile or do the other traditional maintenance activities.  Rain and gravity do the work of moving the compost, and only when it is ready. There are no uncomposted squash pieces or corn cobs mixed in with finished compost as is the case with traditional piles - the bigger pieces simply stay higher up until they break down. Worms that are added seem to survive the winter and thrive.

This model allows for constant, thoughtless use. Even the volume is self regulating within the composter; the more weight there is at the top of the composter, the more finished compost is pushed through at the bottom.

One can add a second composter to increase capacity if need be.  These composters are close to zero maintenance, although the process of composting is not fast, so patience is a necessity.  Finally, the system works better with ongoing use, rather than at a weekend house.


nutrivore said...

Thank you, Muffy, for the detailed instructions. I will be using this design.

Happy Chappy said...

Love the post! Thanks for sharing your design!

JSL said...

Thank you for sharing what looks to be a very efficient and effective composter design! I have a question that will mark me as a composting neophyte: do you find that composting attracts bears to your yard? We have lots of bears both in town and nearby, so we must keep garbage in locked sheds or bear-proof bins until we drop it off at the landfill, where there are always bears sifting through the bags. I worry that keeping compost in my yard might attract bears. What is your experience?

Thank you.

John G said...

Thanks for reposting the design, which I had failed to copy when you first did so.

Alexandra said...

We love compost and composting. Our local town dump also gives away can bring your pick-up truck and load whatever you can fit into it.

Thank you for sharing your terrific design...although composting is easy enough without needing an official "composter".

Max said...

Thank you very much for this post and the instructions.

I grew up with composting and around Permaculture , and both are a great passion of mine.

One of my childhood role models was Friedensreich Hundertwasser , an Austrian painter/architect/environmentalist/visionary, and a huge advocate of composting.

I actually took composting to the next level inspired by him, and built and designed my own compost toilets when I was younger.

In my opinion the composting process is one of the most important and easy ways to save our planet from environmental collapse.

Very often humans are blinded by high-tech technologies and think these will save us, when in fact low-tech technologies and solutions like composting are much more sophisticated and less resource-demanding and more energy-efficient.

"Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use." -

Especially for under-developed countries, that do not have a sewage treatment infrastructure, compost toilets are a very feasible low-tech application to prevent ground water contamination and spread of disease.
Joseph Jenkins from Western Pennsylvania, who is the author of ''The Humanure Handbook'', is a pioneer in this field:

Thank you again for sharing your composting techniques.

PA Girl said...

I also have a question about bears. We have a weekend home in the woods of PA. We are very careful about trash and food scraps. We would like to compost there. Not done properly, does organic material break dow fast enough to outrun a bear's nose?

Bitsy said...

Love the clip of the chicken. She's just lovely!

Lane said...

That's a nifty composter. I have a couple of the recycled plastic ones that many towns sell in the spring. These come with a lid that can be "locked" which does help with the animal issues. The finished compost can be shoveled from a panel at the bottom, although we still "sift" it through a hardware cloth homemade sifter into a cart. The chooks love to "help"spread it, but then must be prevented from scratching up seeded areas.

Joyce N said...

My neighbor doesn't use egg shells in her compost because she says they don't break down. Is that a common feeling or personal preference?

Lane said...

Joyce, you may use the eggshells in your compost. I squish mine a bit, but I doubt even that is necessary.

Joyce N said...

Lane, the chickens seem to enjoy them.

Regards, Joyce

Mayes Hall said...

Absolutely put egg shells in your compost.

Here at Mayes Hall we have a variety of wild life wandering around at night. However, nothing ever gets into the compost heap.

I have suspected the only thing that would really try are the armadillos and they are too stupid to go over the low stone wall surrounding the compost.

I have to say one of my joys when cooking is seeing how much "trash" I can accumulate for the compost pile. Fun!