Composting is now in full force at our ranch! We had composted when living in North Carolina and it was pretty easy. We mostly did the trench bury method, with a bit of help from a tumbling composter. It reduced our food waste so much and we were so hooked. As soon as we moved in our ranch, I asked Slav to keep the grass clippings for composting.
Decide the location of our compost bins
We kept our compost bins in mind while working on our shed (here, here, here, and here). Slav got rid of all the bushes around the shed and leveled the ground at the back, leaving plenty of room for wheel barrel to go around and compost bins.
We want the compost bins to be tucked away from our views. From our back patio and most of the yard, we cannot see the back and the right side of the shed, making them ideal locations.
You can probably tell by the way we painted the shed where the compost bins would go. Yes, they will be set up at the back of the shed. We need some covered firewood storage. The rake (part of the roof overhanging at gable end) of the shed is longer than the eaves (part of the roof overhanging the back walls). The back is also longer for us to set up multiple compost bins.
Our compost bins
We got this Rubbermaid bin from one of our many trips to Habitat for Humanity.
This compost bin has an awesome design. It is 3′ long, 2’8″ wide and about 2′ tall on the sides. It is made with hollow plastic walls that are 2″ thick, making the inside ~18 Cu Ft capacity. There are six plastic pieces: two on the top and four sides. It has holes all around near the bottom for drainage and ventilation, but these holes are not big enough for rodent to get inside. One side panel has a small detachable piece at the bottom to make removing the finished compost easier.
I loved the design but unfortunately, this compost bin has been discontinued. Luckily, I spotted another one on Craigslist soon after and snapped it right away. Now I have two of them! The new one has lost its color on the top pieces, but it is still strong and fully functional.
You can see our old window well there too. I plan to use it as a temporary storage for yard waste so I can add them in layers.
What to compost – C/N ratio is the key
As you might already know, composting needs both carbon-rich materials, such as paper and dry leaves, and nitrogen-rich materials, such as coffee ground and kitchen scrapes. The image below is an easy reference for what you can compost:
What lots of us do not know, is how to balance the ratio of the carbon vs nitrogen. Too much nitrogen rich material leads to rotten compost piles and terrible smell, while too much carbon makes a dry and inactive pile which takes forever to break down. The right ratio is about 30:1 of carbon to nitrogen (C/N), and all the stuff we usually put in the compost bins already have an internal C/N ratio that we need to factor in. Here is a handy list for estimated C/N ratio for commonly composted items. You can see that fresh glass clippings already have a 20:1 C/N ratio, so does food scraps. Since we have mostly glass clippings and kitchen waste, my compost bins need more “brown” materials.
We have lots of cardboard boxes and egg cartons in hand. So they will be stored in the trash can we place in the shed until they are layered in the bins. This is also where the “window well” container comes in handy – we can dry fresh glass clippings before putting them into the bins to increases their C/N ratio.
Setting up the bins
I assembled both bins and put them along the back of the shed. I made sure that the detachable piece at the bottom of each shed faces outside (the right compost bin has it on the right side and the left bin has it on the left side), so I can remove finished compost without working in between the bins.
The window wells are pieced together in the middle for extra glass clippings:
It is recommended to build “layers” when composting, like this:
Our compost bins do not have a bottom and sit directly on dirt. At my first layer, I put down some cardboard boxes. They do compost, but I mainly put them there to prevent rodents from getting into the bins:
Then I started layering in the compost bins on the left. First came dried grass clippings:
Then a layer of food waste. Since my glass clippings was not as dry as I would like it to be, I did not add too much food waste:
I then covered the food waste with more grass clippings and kept building my pile, until it was about 2 ft tall:
Then watered it down:
Putting the lid on and the left bin is set! This bin consumed all of our food waste and half glass clippings. The next step is to keep it wet and turn it a couple times a month. I am not gonna add anything new into this bin, since adding new material will make the breaking done process waaaay longer. Since I have two bins, I will add new material slowly into the right one while this one is cooking. Hopefully this one will be done by the time I fill up the right bin!
Stacking our firewood
Once the compost set up is finished, I turned my attention to the firewood piling up among the fence. Denver is sunny most of the time but still rains occasionally. We would like to protect our firewood from rain by stacking them under the gable of the shed.
Remember the right side of the shed we reserved for these firewood?
This is how it looks like now:
With the shed painted and organized, the compost bins set, and the firewood stacked, my internal OCD is 100% satisfied – I now have the most organized shed, the coolest compost operation, and the prettiest firewood stash in the Highlands! Now we just need the compost to work!