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How to Compost With a Garbage Can

Instead of filling your garbage can with trash destined for landfills, consider using it for a more earth-friendly form of trash disposal -- composting. Composting with a garbage can allows you to produce traditional compost from yard and kitchen waste in a portable, affordable container. Compost with a metal or a plastic trash can of any size, but a plastic one typically lasts longer; a metal can may rust and disintegrate from excess moisture. Barbara Pleasant, author of “The Complete Compost Gardening Guide,” suggests that you use a cylindrical trash can to create a tumbler-style composter, which produces quick compost, especially when you turn the bin frequently.

Prepare your plastic garbage can. Remove the lid and place the garbage can upside-down on the ground; using a 5/16-inch drill bit, drill 20 to 30 evenly-spaced holes in the bottom and along the lower sides of the trash can. These holes promote air circulation and allow excess moisture to drain out of your tumbler when it’s resting on the ground.

Collect your composting materials, which should be a mix of nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich organic ingredients. Various commonly available nitrogen-rich materials include cow or horse manure, fresh grass clippings, spoiled fruit and vegetable peels. Carbon-rich materials -- which provide energy for the bacteria that will decompose your compost — include straw, dead leaves, dried grass clippings, shredded newspaper, old hay and sawdust. According to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, about 50 to 75 percent of your materials should consist of carbon-rich materials; the rest can be nitrogen materials.

Add your composting ingredients to your composting can. Begin with a 2- to 3-inch layer of chopped and shredded carbon materials; top this with an equally-sized layer of shredded nitrogen materials. Sprinkle approximately 1 inch of topsoil on top of the double layer. Moisten the layers slightly with a gentle spray from your garden hose. Repeat this layering and moistening process until your garbage can is about ¾ full.

Tumble your compost ingredients. Attach the cover securely to the garbage can; hook one end of your elastic tie-down to one handle, stretch it across the cover and secure the other hook on the second handle of the garbage can. Place the can on its side and rotate it around several times to mix the contents of the bin, then place it upright.

Maintain the compost in the tumbler. Roll the tumbler three to five complete rotations each day for two to three weeks. Check the moisture level each time you roll the can; you need it to be about the consistency of a wrung-out sponge. If it’s too wet, add additional carbon materials and tumble the compost several times to mix the new materials in.

Finish your compost. After the third week, rotate the can at least every two days for two to three more weeks. Let the can sit for two to three more weeks to allow the compost to cure before adding it to your garden soil.

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