Building Compost Bins – out of bits and bobs

Compost Heap - in the beginning, it was a heap.
Compost Pile – in the beginning, it was a heap.

When we first moved to our new home* in France, there were a few obvious projects that attracted out attention – the vegetable garden (maximising its space and putting in a mini-vineyard) and the compost heap. Literally. It was a heap.

As we wanted compost for the garden, and the current compost was not composting effectively, this became a priority.  David (a.k.a. Pumpjack, and the creative mad scientist in our ensemble), who is not one to let items go to waste and is the king of recycling old into new projects, designed a 3-tiered compost system based in the original space.

Re-using corrugated sheets around the existing single bin, e.g. dumping ground, as well as recycling various old pieces of wood we had, he came up with the idea of 3 bins, each the width of our mini-hauler (‘voiturette’ in French)  so it could be backed in and the contents simply would slide into the allotted space. Well, in theory.

We set about clearing the heap out of the area, this in itself was quite the task as green grass cuttings had been mixed in creating a slick slurry of very heavy wet matter amongst the lighter compost.  We put in posts for the basic structure and then bent the corrugated sheets, which was a strength exercise in itself requiring our combined weight to bend the metal. These then were fastened in to create a C shape. We created 2 bins this way, adding on end boards to keep the compost within.

Making the compost bins
Making the compost bins

A large sheet of plastic, which we cut into 3 pieces, was the only item we purchased for this project (not counting screws and nails). We attached the plastic by batten at the back and wrapped around a wooden rod at the front, creating a sort of handle. This not only made it easier to lift and move the plastic but also weighed it down at the front, creating a more extensive cover of the compost. Covering the compost with a strong dark plastic had a dual purpose; the plastic assists in heating up the organic matter and thus compost it faster, and also it would act as a deterrent to our roving chickens who liked nothing better than to get stuck in for a good forage for bugs.

We sectioned the existing heap into older compost and newer and filled the bins accordingly. The first bin had the oldest compost, since it was destined for the garden in spring time. The middle bin would be ready for use then 6 months later, and the 3rd bin we would add to from this point, and it would be ready in a year’s time.  The cycle would work itself around on a  6 month basis, with each bin being ready to use 6 month’s after the previous, and all having composted for a year, giving us good rich organic matter for the garden.

The 3rd bin build had to wait until the following winter as a large wood pile made up its side. This would be removed and brought up closer to the house in the autumn and would then free up the end. We would then widen the bay, like the others, add set it up like the others. In the meantime it simply stayed as an open bin, much to the chickens delight, and our frustration as periodically we have to shovel all the matter that they have kicked out, back in to the area.

Compost used on the garden
Compost being used in the garden

With the compost bins at the ready, we were now ready to tackle the garden, and in particular plant the new vineyard. The one bin proved enough to do the whole of the garden. Hard work, but well worth it for the results.

 

 

 

* We are Caretakers (Gardiens in French) of a petite Château. We look after a large garden and lots of animals. If you would like to know more, this is Who We Are.

3 Comments

  1. I’ve never got composting to work. We put in a good mix of twiggy stuff and grass cuttings but it never seems to break down. I’m now thinking we should give it a lid of heavy black plastic, but how does the rain get in? Doesn’t the heap stay too dry?

    1. Author

      We don’t put in much twiggy stuff (eg wood) as it almost never breaks down, but weeds, cuttings, leaves, etc. all go in. The plastic helps heat it up, so breaks down quicker. It’s a good solid, quite heavy plastic. And the idea is for rain not to get in. Again it breaks down quicker, and doesn’t rot if it can stay reasonably dry. Dry is good, thoug as it breaks down, and the worms get involved it isn’t really ‘dry’, more moist-ish. Does that help?

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