Fast Biologically Active Highly-Efficient No-Turn Composting-Really

Most now-old-fashioned composting methods are actually labor intensive and often a little too slow for my taste and purposes. The pile must be turned to re-introduce air into colonies of oxygen-starved bacteria, fungi and other organisms. Now there's an easier way which incorporates very nearly all basic composting principles but which vastly improves two crucial factors: aeration and time.

Here's my system for producing finished "black gold"--fully decomposed, rich, dark, nutrient-saturated, almost totally weed- and pathogen-free organic matter ready to be worked into garden 21 to 28 days, with no turning--REALLY!

The Enclosure. A diversity of materials may be used for the enclosure--concrete blocks, timbers, wire mesh or boards, for example--but for economy's sake, I have constructed my "no-turn, self-aerating, 21-day" compost bin from salvaged pallets commonly used by truckers in the transport of equipment or supplies. Other sources of these used--oftentimes perfectly usable--pallets are large hardware stores, plumbing and heating suppliers, lumber yards...and don't overlook your local landfill or waste transfer station. A friend or neighbor who works at large discount stores or on construction sites may be of some help, as well. As interest in using recycled or salvageable pallets increases, it is likely that you may have to pay for them. $5 would not be an unreasonable amount for sound, fully-intact pallets. Most medium-to-full-size automobiles are wide enough in the trunk to accommodate one or two pallets.

Recall that biological composting does not rely on bright light and sunshine, so you can secrete your bin in a dark corner of the yard, behind shrubbery or "back in the woods" where it won't be seen. Place the least attractive pallet on level ground where you want your compost pile to reside. This base or "foundation" allows air circulation (remember that free air movement is key to the composting process) and prevents tree roots from creeping in and feasting on your compost. You might consider nailing additional narrow strips on this "foundation" pallet between each top-surface board, leaving just enough space for air to pass without difficulty, while preventing your shredded garden wastes from falling through. Half-inch gaps work for me. You could also use saplings instead of sawn strips.

Next, stand the remaining four pallets on edge with the closely-spaced boards facing inward and vertical (perpendicular to the ground) to form a box just outside of the foundation pallet. Lash them together using wire or synthetic cord (so it won't decay in a few weeks). I've used the same two-foot lengths of plastic clothesline cord for years. Later, you'll want to untie the pallet which constitutes the "front" in order to access finished compost--so select your knots carefully.

Allowing For Maximum Air Circulation. Important to the function and success in this new system are appropriate length sections of salvaged 1-1/4" or 1-1/2" black plastic water or PVC drain pipe. Most discount salvage stores (here in Maine we call them "Mardens") sell such pipe for a fraction of what the same material would cost at a builder's supply.

You'll need ten or twelve lengths about 4-1/2 feet long. Use a half-inch "spade" drill bit and an electric drill to create random perforations about every four or five inches all around the pipe. Precise spacing is not important. All right - ready?

Let's assume you've gathered all your shredded "greens" and "browns" and are ready for some serious composting action. I like to mix these two main ingredients together before tossing them into the pile. Place a layer of mixed material 4" to 6" deep on the foundation pallet of your new, high-efficiency, low-cost, no-turn composting bin. Make certain that the material's moisture level is adequate (it should feel like a wrung-out kitchen sponge) and do not press the layer down. Place two of your perforated aeration pipes on top of this layer so the cut ends protrude through the side pallets. Space a pipe about 16" in from each side so, when you look down at the layer's surface, it looks as if it's been divided into thirds. Recall that I suggested making the boards in your pallet walls stand vertical. Perforated aeration pipes can now slide down freely as the pile settles during the accelerated composting process. Had those boards been placed horizontal, your pipes would have hung up, bent--and possibly "kinked"--in a short time. You can guess what that'll do to the flow of air into the pile.