4 Bay Compact Composting

You don’t need a huge open pile to break down organic materials from your garden. Try this small but mighty four-bay system for homemade “black gold.”

In a woodland, the forest floor absorbs everything that dies and turns it into soil, which then gives sustenance to what is living. Composting is about emulating that process, speeding up the lengthy cycles of decay and renewal from many decades to mere weeks or months.

Photo by Matt Rees-Warren


Compost is the heart and soul of the garden, and its proper management is a core principle of gardening organically and in harmony with nature. It’s also deviously complex for its outwardly simple appearance, because we don’t understand everything about soil or compost. Scientists regularly learn more details about soil’s infinite variety and its microscopic marvels. Compost is a living, breathing, organic, natural machine that can feed the soil and sustain our world. We only need to follow the recipe.

Anything derived from an organic source can be composted, be that leather gloves, fish heads, toenails, or dead flies. The better you get at composting, the more you’ll be able to add to the compost heap. The materials you’ll most likely compost in your garden can be divided into one of two categories: those that supply carbon (known as “brown”) and those that supply nitrogen (“green”) to the pile. (See “Common Compost Ingredients,” below.) When building a pile, aim for a 50/50 ratio between the carbon and nitrogen ingredients.

The two main composting methods are aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen). When done correctly, both lead to the same outcome of nutrient-rich compost for your garden. Think of aerobic composting as what happens on the forest floor, open to the elements of rain, air, heat, and microorganism and animal activity. Anaerobic composting corresponds to a bog or sediment layer, where decaying matter is trapped beneath the water or surface and starved of air and oxygen.

You might also sometimes hear compost referred to as “hot” or “cold.” Both refer to aerobic composting. Cold aerobic composting is passive, and occurs when you leave a pile of materials untouched, either in bins or on the ground, to mature into nutrient-rich compost. This process takes one to two years. Hot aerobic composting is an active process, in which you speed up the action by heating the pile through correct management. This can be achieved by turning and aerating the pile periodically, and by using specific ingredients in an appropriate ratio. My DIY Diamond compost bay design uses the hot aerobic method. Your job is to assist the microorganisms—mainly bacteria and fungi—that do the actual composting of your leaves, scraps, and clippings. Their primary requirements are water, oxygen, and heat. Water comes from the nitrogen-rich ingredients and weather, while oxygen can be increased by adding carbon materials to the pile and by turning it.



Fall 2021!

Put your DIY skills to the test throughout November. We’re mixing full meal recipes in jars, crafting with flowers, backyard composting, cultivating mushrooms, and more!


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