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Garden Waste Composting
We're about to launch a new organic garden bed in a sunny
Berkeley backyard. Any advice on a good quality, long-
lasting, and EASY to use compost box? I'm hoping to keep
the cost below $200. Please also advise on where to buy.
And while I'm asking: I'd appreciate any advice on soil
amendments and testing kits/services, best place to buy
plants/seeds, how to keep raccoons and squirrels out of the
garden area, or any other gems of local gardening wisdom!
Thanks so much!
gardener new to Berkeley
We've been composting for around 7-8 years now. Originally I
tried using just a wooden sided structure, but that
attracted rats & raccoons.
Our local waste management company sells a stackable plastic
bin from Smith & Hawkin called Biostack. You can find it
shown here: http://www.wastediversion.org/app_pages/view/58
Smith & Hawkin is out of business, but at least our local
recycling company is still selling them.
This is much better than what I used to have which was a
plastic bin with a door at the bottom that supposedly you
can 'easily' take your finished compost out of. What
happened was when the pile got wet in the winter, the
sliding door burst out of its runners. Compost doesn't come
out looking like it does in the color advertisements. It is
much more heterogeneous.
The benefit of the stackable sections is that when it is
time to turn the compost heap, you take the top section and
move it next to the bin to start the new pile. As you
transfer material over, you take the next section, etc.
I bought some 1/4' wire mesh to make two bottoms for the
stack. Why two you ask? Because when you turn the stack, one
bottom is under the bin, so you need another one to put the
first section on.
The wire mess helps prevent burrowing by rats and raccoons
under the bin.
You also have to protect against raccoons opening it from
the top if you put kitchen scraps (vegetables, grain, fruit,
etc. no meat or fat) in your heap. I use bungee cords, but
it is a continual battle of wits against the raccoons.
Lately I'm winning.
The other issue is fruit flies. We put out all our non-
meat/fat kitchen scraps into the pile. So there are lots of
fruit flies when the weather is warm. I just try and leave
the spiders around the bin alone and hope they have a good
meal. I cover the week's scraps once/week by turning over
the top of the compost using a pitchfork.
To harvest the compost, I build a sliding compost sifter
Anything that doesn't go through the 1/4' wire mesh goes
back on the pile.
I'm about to turn my pile since my summer vegetable garden
is kaput. The left over plant material breaks down much
faster if I put it at the bottom of the pile as I turn it.
I'll sift out compost to add to my other raised vegetable
bed (I have two that alternate between) to get it ready for
p.s. Don't get one of those bins that is suspended above
the ground and you flip. Our bin is full of worms that
naturally came in from the surrounding soil. I guess you
could add worms to the spinning bin, but I don't think it
would work as well.
Also don't worry about tending your pile that much except
to cover the kitchen scraps at least once/week. My favorite
expression about this topic is 'compost happens'. You don't
have to do a lot to get good compost as long as you aren't
in a hurry.
The family gardener
I have the Smith and Hawken bin from Waste Management and it
comes with 2 bottoms, so when you are transferring the top
bin you have another bottom. There are 3 sections and they
fit together well and are easy to use. We put in kitchen
vegie and fruit scraps, lawn clippings, egg shells, tea and
coffee grinds, leaves and prunings from the yard. Each week
I add kitchen scraps and I have a small pitchfork that I use
to make a hole in the compost pile. Then I put the scraps
in and cover it up with grass and leaves. I have not had a
problem with fruit flies or rodents. The rodents cannot get
inside the bin and the cover is heavy so raccoons cannot
open it up. I always have at least one foot of grass or
leaves on the top of the pile, so there is no smell, and
insects and rodents are not attracted to it. In the fall I
collect leaves and store them in bags to use throughout the
year. If you can get a neighbor's grass it is good for the
composter too. Transferring the material back and forth
mixes everything well. I have not needed to sift the stuff
before I use it to fertilize my yard. My grass is green
year round and I have not put fertilizer on it for 6 years.
I add compost around my plants this time of year and the
flowers bloom well all year. Judy
We just bought a house with two worm composting bins in the
yard...we have no idea how to make use of them. Any advice on
where to start would be great. Is it easy? Where can we get
worms? Is there a lot of maintenance involved? Thanks!
There is a good book called ''Worms Eat My Garbage'' that has
all of the information you need.
I bought a pound of red worms on Ebay and had them shipped to
my door. They multiply quickly.
Also, my worms do a lot better when the bin is in a shady, dark
area. If you leave it in the sun, they will not thrive. The
compost is great in the garden.
Good luck! Stephanie
Check out this website: www.mamaswormcomposting.com. It has all
sorts of info on how & why to worm-compost, and you can buy
worms right there from the website. The lady who runs it has a
whole worm warehouse here in Oakland. With her help, I'm worm-
ing-up my garden for winter vegetables as we speak! For direct
questions, try calling her (that's what I did): 510-290-2668
We inherited a composter when we bought our house a year ago.
I'd like to start using it, but can't exactly start from
scratch because, last I checked, it is half full of non-stirred
yuckiness, crawling with silverfish and other insects. If I
just start turning it and adding new material will it take care
of itself? If not --- if I have to empty and start from
scratch --- what do I do with what's inside of it now? We have
a small yard in Albany and no place to dump the contents.
Stirring it and airing it should help a lot. There is probably
gorgeous composted yuck underneath the bugs and top yuck.
If you have a lawn that you mow (or a neighbor does) stir grass
clippings in (nitrogen). Start putting your own vegie scraps
in. You can go to a nursery and get nitrogen to put in and
other compost ''vitamins''. You also might want to get red worms
and introduce them. Even unturned, compost will compost. It
just takes longer. It's a good idea to turn it now and then.
I'm not a ''serious composter'' but we throw all our vegie/fruit
scraps in our pile. It gets rained on...I turn it maybe once
every few months and when I'm ready to use it I go to the
bottom of the pile. Have fun.
Just curious...if you have no place to dump the contents, what
do you plan to do with the compost you will start making?
Hey, all that yucky bug- stuff is what you want in your compost!
It's like you'll have a jump started compost bin! Just start
adding your compostables to the top ( or mix them in) and add
some water so that it's damp like a wrung out sponge.
I think you're on the right track. Nature is lovely in that
things will turn right, if you just give it a nudge in the right
We had a similar nasty problem with compost in our tiny, paved
area behind the house (although ours was our fault, just adding
too much wet material too often - and it just bleechh bogged
down). Fixing it was easy, though. We added lots of dry material
- leaves, mostly - and then chopped and turned and really paid
attention to it every day. On sunny days we began pulling it out
of the bin and, yes, spreading it over a corner of the patio to
let the sun bake it a little. You'll find that you'll have these,
say, banana peels in your compost that are just SITTING there
forever, but if you take a shovel to them they literally
disappear before your eyes. They just magically turn into dirt.
You'll know that your compost is alright when your nose tells
you. It should smell yummy and earthy, like the forest floor.
And the bugs and worms and other crawlies in there are your
friends, so don't be grossed out by them. They're doing the work
of turning that leftover food into dirt. If you give them a hand
and help them with some dryness and air, they'll work even
faster. Have fun!
I adore composting. I love it even more than gardening. There's
something perfect about returning things to the earth so that they will
one day help other things to grow.
You simply need dry materials. This could be dirt, dry leaves, dry
grass, etc. You could even use small sticks and pine needles, though
they take a long time to decompose (but really, what's the hurry). Get
as much dry matter as you can, to absorb what's in there and to be more
or less balanced. In general, you want many more times dry stuff vs. wet
stuff in your compost bin.
You can get these dry things from neighbors. Maybe not the best time of
year since it's wet, but adding dry-ish, or brownish dead things (not
meat or bones!) will help your compost bin come to balance.
It will balance itself out after you give it the right components
Do any of you knowledgable composters out there compost garden
weeds? Dandelions (flowering), grasses (before they go to seed,
but flowering) mostly. Does the compost have to be a certain
temp. for the seeds to die?
Do you keep weed compost separate from vegie and food compost?
Thanks for any help on this.
If you are composting seeds, then the temperature definitely
needs to reach a hot temperature to kill the seeds. If you turn
your compost regularly and it is steaming when you turn it, then
you are probably ok.
If you tend to be a less regular turning/balancing of the
composting ingredients, then definitely avoid the seeds and
flowers if possible.
If the weeds are not seeding, then definitely compost them. They
are no problem. Pluck the flowers off the dandelions and compost
If you have space for separate compost piles, then you can
compost the weeds with seeds separately and use the resulting
compost for mixing deep down in the soil for new plantings, but
not for top dressing...
Many weeds are ok to compost; however, those with adventitious
roots or bulbs are not: ivy, ice plant, oxalis... Stopwaste.org
has great composting workshops that I believe are free.
Check 'em out! Good luck!
It depends on what kind of weed it is whether it's wise to
compost it- some perennial weeds can regrow from even a small
piece of root and should be thrown out (in your green bin),
Bermuda Grass being the very worst offender. As a landscaper and
horticulturist, I rarely put any weeds in my own home compost.
In order for compost to get hot enough to kill weed seeds the
pile has to first be carefully built with a combination of green
matter (kitchen waste and grass clippings) and brown matter (dead
leaves and sawdust). Then it has to be turned daily for three
weeks, then every few days for another month or so- it's quite a
bit of work and few people actually do it, but it's the only way
to get a really hot pile.
I put weeds in the green bin, not my garden compost box. Same for
diseased and mildewed foliage. The municipal compost processing
gets hot enough to kill seeds but my garden bin doesn't, and
I don't want to be spreading grass
seeds and diseases back into the garden next year!
Unless you have something really invasive or virulent I
wouldn't worry about throwing it in with the regular compost.
If you're dealing with a weed that you find very difficult to
get rid of in your own yard, put it separately in your green
waste bin, if you city has one (they use a heat process) or
simply throw it in the garbage.
I'm a very lazy composter and haven't come across any weeds
that cause problems for me if I just toss them in my bin with
Kudos for composting
We were thinking of composting in our backyard with the Wriggly Wranch and I
wanted to hear if others had done it. We have 2 kids and a dog. Will this be a
problem? Does it really help
your soil? How much time does it take to have one of these and how much work is
needed to keep it up? We already are really good about putting all of our food
scraps into the green
(Oakland) recycling bin but thought this might be good for our
garden. But I don't know anything about it and what it entails. Plus we are two
working parents so want to make sure it is worth it to buy.
Any advice would be great.
Have been using a Wriggly Ranch for years. It's a rotating,
3 tier system and really simple to use. I also had the Smith
& Hawkin type bin and find that the stuff just dries out so
fast that nothing ever gets composted. I've had great
success w/ the Wriggly Ranch and would highly recommend it.
We love our little worms!
please give worm composting a try. Actually on two different
occassions I have seen the worm farm for sale at Urban Ore. I
have found that the legs that come with the standard worm
farm from the city of oakland dont last, my worm farm
currently sits on a sturdy wooden box I got at U.O.
Worms take very little work, and the results are nothing
short of fabulous. Feed them once a week, any veg scrapes
will do, I find mine eat about a pound of scraps a week, it
is also important to put lots of damp newspaper on the top of
your worm bedding, and to run some water through the whole
thing at least once a week. The worm farm has a spigot, this
is for the ''worm tea'' to come out, this stuff is worth its
weight in gold and I give bottles of it to special friends.
It makes orchids blume and will do amazing things to any
I use scredded cocoanut for bedding, you can buy it in big
slabs at the Longs on 51st (the big one) for very little
money. I bought some smaller bricks at berkeley hort. but
they didnt work properly, so i recommend gettting the larger
Once your worms have turned their bedding and food into
compost (which you can tell by lookign at it) you must
migrate them to a new tray.
To do this, first stop feeding your worms and give them some
newspsper to eat then simply put a new tray (the worm box
comes with three seperate trays)on top of the old one and put
fresh bedding (the dampened cocoanut stuff) and veg scraps on
the new bedding, the worms will ''migrate'' up to the new
box, like magic!
One other piece of advice, when you add vegs to your worms,
dont dump and run, get a good garden fork and mix them in.
also, you can buy good worms at spiral garden on sacramento
(? I think that is the right street) I dont recommend
ordering them by mail
hope you start your worm farm soon! p.s. kids love to help
with this and soon lose their bug phobia if they have one.
feel free to email me if you have any other questions.
I'm on the market for a backyard composter to compliment our garden and
not sure what to get. I'd like something that is easy to remove the
finished product from. It definitely needs to be under $200 (I was
looking at a few in the $100 range). We probably produce about 2L of
compost a week. Any suggestions? Also, if anyone has a used one for
sale, please let me know.
I got a discounted Smith & Hawken compost bin through stopwaste.org which I'm
happy with so far. As long as you're an Alameda County resident you can order
one online and it gets delivered to your house. Here's the link:
If you live in Alameda County, you can get a composter at a subsidized price
from stopwaste.org: http://www.stopwaste.org/home/index.asp?page=317
There are also free classes on how to compost and they are quite informative,
though you could get the same information from a book like worms eat my
My husband has succeeded in composting in a home-made cylinder about three feet
in diameter made with flexible wire fencing (four-foot width). Not pretty, but
functional. He stirs it up with a pitchfork every few days. This type of
composting may be more appropriate for yard litter than for kitchen waste,
given the smell factor. For kitchen waste we've started a worm farm, which is
just a couple handfuls of red worms and some garbage in a wooden box; the worms
came from a local nursery. He learned about these approaches mainly from
judicious web-surfing and is very pleased that he hasn't used any specialized
Best of luck.
I saw a really great composter at Elephant Pharmacy. I think it was $179. Very
easy to get stuff in and out, and the best part is that it is very compact and
it ROLLS on a base to mix the contents. VERY VERY COOL. No pitchfork
necessary. I think it would take 2 L a week no problem.
-Thinking about buying one myself!
We were great about composting when we lived in the city and
regularly dumped out countertop container into our compost bin in
the buiding's garage. Now that we have our own home in the
Oakland hills, complete with deer, racoons and who knows what
else regularly traversing our property, I am a little unsure of
how to proceed. Should we keep the large green bin in the garage
or outdoors? If in the garage, will it attract ants, etc? If
ourdoors, will the deer, racoons, squirrels get into the bin and
make a mess? Can the lid be adequately secured and if so, how? If
we create our own pile will it create more animal and insect
attractions? Any suggestions appreciated!
Compost-Confused City Slicker
Ah, composting! How I love it! I am not in the hills of Oakland, but
down by Lake Merritt, so maybe a hills person will give you different
advice, but... I have racoons, skunks and squirrels that are causing
their own problems, but none of them do anything with my compost. I
have the bin issued by the city and the lid isn't particularly tight.
The skunk path goes right by it. I don't put in meat or cheese or
bread. I do add horse manure and straw from the stables up on Skyline.
Alameda County Master Composter here. Do your composting outside as you
normally would. You DON'T want it in your garage!
1) Be sure to use a bungee cord to secure the lid on it so raccoons
can't get into the bin.
2) Use lots of ''browns'' to cover up the fresh stuff you put in there
to keep flies and other insects & vermin away.
Go to www.stopwaste.org for lots of great information as well as reduced
price compost and worm bins. They also have a ''Rotline'' you can call
with your questions--the number's on the website.
One way to handle this is to do two different kinds of compost.
I have a small yard and have one compost bin (but this could be a
pile) for clean green yard waste--leaves, grass clippings, any gardening
scraps. I also have two green cones that I use for kitchen compost.
You bury a basket part of the green cone in the ground--it has holes
that worms can go in and out of to break down the waste. There is a
plastic cone that attaches to the basket and protrudes above the
ground--you stick the waste in the hole in the top. When one basket is
full (takes about 6-8 months for my family of 3), you let it rest and
fill the other. The design keeps out animals.
The resulting compost from the green cone is a great fine grained soil.
The leaf pile gives a courser mulch.
You can find green cones on-line. Happy composting.
We live in the hills also, and use the green container. Deer are not
interested in it, and it seems that it is too big for the racoons to tip
-- I say this because they used to tip the smaller brown container all
the time when it contained food, but have never tipped the green
container now that we put the food scraps in there.
If you are really nervous, you can get a bungee cord, and string it
between the handle, and the small handle on the side. This worked even
wth the brown container Karen
We also live in the Oakland Hills and LOVE that the city sells our
compost to farmers in the Central Valley, who say they are amazed by its
effectiveness. In any case, we use the big green bin all week long.
You can cut down on animals breaking into it in several ways: put damp
paper towels (also compostable) on top to cut down on the smell, use
bungy cords to secure the lid, or put in your garage). Deer aren't
really interested, but raccoon definitely ARE!
Hi, our public elementary school in Alameda is interested in
adding a compost bin to our gardening program. We're slightly
concerned about attracting rats, however (rats are a constant
problem on the island). Any suggestions on a rat-proof bin that
would work well for a school setting?
We had a compost bin and a worm bin like these and they are rat
proof. Alameda county residents can order at a discounted price.
If you follow proper composting rules, your compost bins should
not attract rats. Do not compost any grains (bread, crackers,
rice, etc.) or meat products. These are the things that they
are attracted to. If you want further precaution, there are
many compost bins available that are closed on all sides and if
you do a search online you can even find designs that you can
build yourself (or with the kids!) For more specifics, the
Berkeley Ecology Center is a great resource too.
Is cat box debris compostable? I see compostable cat box
liners, and the idea does make some sense. But we're not
supposed to flush cat poop these days because of the risk of
illness to marine mammals. What about the back yard compost
pile? Municipal composting?
curious cat person
Definitely DO NOT compost cat poop or anything that's been
in contact with it. Clay, sand and crystalline litters
aren't compostable anyway, only the pine/wheat/paper ones.
There are some VERY experienced and careful composters out
there who do it, but personally I wouldn't go there. Cats
(and all meat eaters) have all kinds of dangerous bacteria
in their digestive systems and feces, and most home compost
piles don't get hot enough to kill it all off. The only
kind of poop I'd compost is chicken poop.
Ok With My Carbon Paw-Print
Nope, you cannot compost poop, cat or otherwise.
I have seen those biodegradable pet waste bags too
and I'm not totally sure what the point of them is
-- I guess it is just so that there is less plastic in the
Well, my first reaction is, hell no! And I have cats! I
don't see how cat poop is any different from other poop, and
we don't put our own No. 2s in the compost. Would love to
learn more if I'm wrong, though and wonder what others will
I don't know about backyard composting, but you cannot put
human or animal feces in the municipal compost. They
specifically mention this on several flyers.
Due to the risk of toxoplasomsis to marine mammals or to
pregnant moms, my understanding is that you should put the
cat poop in the city trash. You can call your city to see
if they feel it is okay to put it in a ''green bin'' for city
composting, but I bet not.
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