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​Composting With Simple Garden Hand Tools, Part 2

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In our previous blog we told you about the wonders of composting and why people enjoy it so much. We talked about what you’re supposed to put in and what you should leave out, and also about composter placement. Putting in the right organic material and sticking your composter out in the sun can go a long way to making your own nutrient-rich dirt.

But one blog wasn’t enough to contain all that we have to say about composting. Let’s take a look at the composters themselves and how to keep your new backyard biome at its healthiest.

The Composter Itself

Your first thought might be “what type of composter do I need?” It’s a fair question. After all, your local yard waste recycling center probably has large piles of organic material that aren’t in any container at all. Do you even need an enclosed container?

A lot of it depends on the amount of compostable material that you have. City-wide composters can be open air simply because they’re so large, and the amount of leaves, branches, and grass creates incredible heat at the core of the mound. If you have a large amount of compostable material, you can certainly put up some slats and create a 4’ x 4’ x 4’ area in the back yard.

For the amount of compostable material that most of us create, an enclosed container is required to get the heat up to where we need it. There are dozens of different types of composters out there ranging from $40 all the way up to $800! In most cases you won’t be needing to spend that upper amount on a simple composter...after all, think about all the potting soil you could purchase for $800. Read the reviews to find out if more expensive = better when comparing models.

There are two basic types of composters, top loading and rotating (or tumbler). Top loading are essentially open-bottomed bins that have a lid. You simply take off the top and drop stuff in. The bottom is usually open in order to allow worms and beneficial insects to access it from the underneath.

Tumblers exist in order to make turning the compost easier (more on that below). Again, you should read the reviews before you purchase, because while tumblers might seem like a good solutions, most of them have the nasty habit of breaking under the weight of so much compost.

How Do You Turn Compost?

Turning compost is easy with a tumbler, since all you have to do is rotate it on the stand. But as we just said, many tumblers aren’t made that well.

If you have a top loading composter, you could simply use a good old fashioned garden shovel. Take what’s at the outside walls and make them part of the core of the compost (and marvel that the tea bags you put in there are gone!) Take what’s at the bottom and bring it to the top (and apologize to the ants who were feasting on the avocado). With a regular shovel, a problem does arise: you won’t be able to use it as a lever. While you might be inclined to turn the compost by placing the side of the shovel against the composter and pushing up, doing so will most likely crack the sides of a plastic composter or cause it to pop open at the seams.

In order to avoid this, we’d like to suggest using a garden hand tool like our Yard Butler Twist & Tiller. This garden product let’s you get down deep into your composter and turn everything without having to get in there awkwardly with a typical shovel.

While we’re on the subject of tools, let’s bring up pH testers. The soil that you recover from a composter might not have the acidity/alkalinity that you’re looking for for your specific plants. Using a pH tester is a good start to letting you know how you might need to amend the soil once it’s on your garden.

Why Turn the Compost?

You might have heard about people turning their compost bins. But why is it so important?

If you’ve even dropped off branches at the yard waste center on a cool morning, you might have noticed how much their compost piles are steaming. All of those microbes that are eating the organic material are creating a lot of heat, especially at the core of the pile. This much heat, if it hits the dryer compost at the edges, can cause compost to spontaneously combust. If you have a particularly active compost pile, that can happen in your backyard! Turning the compost avoids this problem and keeps the microbes healthier.

Another reason to turn your compost is to give everything a chance at the center. The edges of a composter tend to be cooler, so if you have organic material at the corners they’ll need a time at the core in order to allow the microbes at the center to do their work.

How Often Should Compost Be Turned?

How often compost should be turned is determined by many factors, including the types of decomposing materials you’re putting in. Grass is different from leaves which is different from fruit rinds. While you’ll want to do some researching depending on what you’re putting in, a new composter should be turned about once a week. When it’s mature, once a month should suffice.

Wait, Where Did All of My Compost Go?

If there’s one disappointing part about composting, it’s that you never get in nearly as much as you get out. You’ll toss in five buckets of potatoes peels and honeydew rinds only to find that you end up with a single bucket of dirt in return. What’s happening?

Evaporation certainly plays some part. Most fruits and vegetables are 85 to 90-percent water, which means that a hot composter can cause quite a bit of evaporation. In addition, some insects will simply stop by your composter for a meal and then take tiny amounts of it away in their stomachs.

Another reason that the compost pile shrinks is because of the microbes turning solid matter is gasses. Not only that, but, just like us, they’re turning food into energy (that’s where the heat we talked about comes from). It’s a small price to pay for their ability to turn waste into dirt.

The fact is, composting cuts down on what you send to the landfill, it’s good for the environment, and it can be a fun backyard activity. Click on those links above to find the garden hand tools you need to get composting.

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