The deluxe homemade composter any way you stack it.
The great thing about organic decomposition is that it's always ready to start without you. However, if you want to be assured of consistently composted material on a regular basis, you'll need to take the matter into your own hands and provide a setting in which the breakdown process can occur under the best conditions and with your supervision.
Fortunately, compost doesn't ask much in the way of accommodations . . . so, depending on how much you're willing to spend, your homemade composter bin can be as unassuming as a simple wire enclosure, or as fancy as a covered "post-and-beam" model.
If you're short on time and not ready to spend much money on a composter, the "quickie" homemade composter version is right up your alley. It'll take about $40 and less than two hours to put together, and it's made of a 16 foot-long, 14 inch-wire stock panel hacksawed into 48 inch by 52 inch sections and clipped together at the corners with quick-connecting chain links. To ease the chore of filling it up, one of the wire sections can be cut in two, halfway up its 4 foot height, and similarly linked at the horizontal split to make a hinged flap which you can secure at the top with a couple of snap hooks.
Since the panels' wire openings are 2 inches by 8 inches at the bottom and increase to 6 inches by 8 inches toward the top, it's necessary to line the walls with cage fencing (or some other product with openings no larger than 2 inch by 4 inch); this inner grid can be secured to the outer with baling wire or leftover strands from the trimmed-down panels. To put the lid on the kettle, just invest a couple of bucks in a 5 foot by 7 foot polyethylene tarp and some S-hooks or rope to keep the heavy rain of your working pile. Then when it comes time to start a new heap, simply open one corner of the enclosure, remove it, and set it up at a different location.
The "uptown" model shown in the illustration costs considerably more — perhaps as much as $200, depending on where you get your materials — and is nothing less than a weekend project. In return for this investment, though, you'll get a sturdy and attractive compost crib that's been specifically designed for ease of use. Our version has two bins, though it could be built as a single or a triple, depending upon your compost rotation schedule. Its front doors hinge both down and outward, the ventilated partition between the bins can be lowered in stages, and the front center-posts fold down against the ground; fully opened, with the framed covers flipped back on their supports, each stall is surprisingly accessible for routine turning.
Our illustration indicates the number and placement of hinges, fasteners, hooks, and other hardware. The 4 by 4 posts should be sunk 2 feet into the ground if possible, leaving 5 feet exposed at the front and 4 feet at the rear. All posts are centered about 54 inches apart. The wall panels are 2 by 4s notched at the ends to make bolted-together half-lap joints; they're secured to the posts with 40d spikes driven into the wood and bent to form slip-out hook-and-eye fasteners. Cut sections of dog pen wire are stapled to the frames.
The tarp covers are framed in 2 by 2s, which are half-lap jointed like the wall panels. Each lid has two support ribs that are lapped and bolted in place. Wooden struts fastened to the cover frames hold them up or support them when they're flipped back, but normally they're just tied to looped spikes fastened to the center-posts.
If you take the time to build either version now, you should have a ready supply of valuable organic material come next spring.
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