Compost happens. It happens in your garden and right under your feet in your backyard, whether you realize it or not. Compost is nature's way of breaking down organic material and using it to replenish soil nutrients--the original recycling system. However, you can harness the potential of compost and use it to give your garden a nutritional boost by installing a composting unit.
There are two main types of composting units available. Compost bins are just what they sound like: large containers into which you toss scraps that you want to compost. Compost bins can be easily constructed at home or made from old containers or trashcans. Compost tumblers provide an alternative to the compost bin. Consisting of a large drum suspended in a frame, a compost tumbler can be rotated to easily turn and aerate your compost.
Different units have different features. Some provide special vents for aerating your compost, while others include drains for collecting compost tea, a nutrient-rich liquid used to nourish houseplants. Some units have covers while others do not. Units have different capacities as well, and for the image-conscious gardener, some blend more easily into the landscape than others.
When choosing a compost unit, cost and appearance are two easy places to start. You will also need to consider capacity. If you have a large yard and plan to compost a lot of yard waste, you may quickly outgrow a small tumbler unit. For the urban gardener who will be adding mostly kitchen scraps and paper shreds, a smaller, more compact unit may be the better choice. Labor is a final factor to influence your choice. Although compost doesn't require human intervention to work, if you want it ready quickly or plan to compost riskier ingredients like manure or diseased plants, you will need to maintain and turn your compost occasionally. It takes 30 seconds to give your compost tumbler a daily spin. Turning a pile in a bin takes considerable more time and energy.
The unit you choose will also affect how quickly you can have compost ready. A technique called hot composting combines large quantities of ingredients in the precise proportion and, in a traditional unit, produces finished compost in eight weeks. Compost tumblers can finish compost in an even shorter time. For example, the Organic Compost Tumbler promises finished compost in two weeks.
Getting your compost unit started is as simple as collecting some kitchen and yard scraps and tossing them in. As author and compost expert Barbara Pleasant points out, compost isn't an exact science--it's a natural process. You'll want to add both dry "browns," like dead leaves and paper shreds, and moist "greens," like food scraps and grass clippings, to your compost unit. Add a handful of dirt to populate your bin with some helpful microbes and you're set to go. Although turning your compost isn't essential, it does help to aerate and ensure even distribution of moisture throughout the heap.