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Compost bins: Open vs. closed

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OhioGardener
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Post  Megan 3/20/2011, 6:47 am

I currently have a closed-bin composter. It's heavy-duty plastic, roughly 3 feet wide and not quite waist high, with removable lid. It works fine as long as it's hydrated.

I would like to change over to a larger, open-bin system, double-pallet wide. That area backs onto privacy fence, so I'd need to line the back pallet, at least, with a few layers of cardboard to keep the compost off the fence.

I don't THINK my HOA will have a hissy (knock on wood!!!) over an open compost bin in an enclosed area so long as it doesn't reek, and there is no reason it should reek. The area will not be visible from the common area, and it's directly adjacent to our neighbor's deck so they won't see it. (The deck is about 14 feet up and they'd have to lean all the way over, nearly falling off, and crane their necks to catch a glimpse. Plus, they really don't use the deck.) The other neighbor doesn't have a deck.

My real concern, though, is rats. There is a rat problem in this area. Am I begging trouble by moving to an open bin system? Should I keep the closed composter for the "fresh" stuff, and use a smaller open bin for the more finished material? When I was growing up, a compost pile was a compost pile and that was how it was... but I can see where the HOA might get after me regarding attracting rats. I do plan on planting lots of catnip everywhere. Not only will it bring in the feral cats in the area, but apparently rats don't like it.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Someone is interested in buying our bin composter, so this affects not just me but them also.
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Post  BackyardBirdGardner 3/20/2011, 9:16 am

I see your dilema and wish I had more to offer. My dog, yesterday, ate 2 ziploc baggies full of potatoes I had put out to compost. So, I can only imagine if you build it....they will come. But, I really like your idea of catnip. Seems a double-whammy, though, in attracting cats to rats.

I can see a more persnickity HOA having a problem with your compost, but how do they know? Doesn't it take someone to "rat" you out? And, if you are friendly with your neighbors, possibly sharing your bountiful harvest, that could take a very long time, if ever.

I would be interested in anything you find, as I have an open compost pile, myself.
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Post  Megan 3/20/2011, 9:30 am

Sorry to hear about your potatoes!

It would take someone ratting me out, or an HOA person looking over the top of our 6 foot privacy fence. Which I wouldn't put past them....but a) I could then make a case for breach of privacy, and b) I want to make a tall "side" to the bin closer to the back property line which would hopefully block most of the view. And/or do something semi-decorative there. Maybe even give it a "roof" that is water permeable.

P.S. An interesting note: Apparently valerian ATTRACTS rats. (So that idea for a cat attractor and kitty-toy went out the window quickly.)
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Post  Lavender Debs 3/20/2011, 9:43 am

I've always had open compost in the mountains. But it was kept in a wire cylinder that was turned weekly in summer. It did "reek" occasionally, at least I occasionally gagged while turning the pile. We did keep chickens and rabbits and their litter and poo went into the bins. But I personally think that it was wet lawn clippings that made the stink because it only smelled bad in the spring when the lawn grew fast. Since I turned it all the time rats were not a problem (than again, we were far enough away from the river that we didn't have rats. The hens HATED any kind of rodent, lots of red squirrels; I think they thought they were getting even with the raccoons by attacking other pests)

Since moving to town I have had a closed plastic bin and it is so much less work. We saw rats fairly often in town (no wild cats because of leash laws). I now have one open compost that I do not turn as often as I should (arthritis) but I don't see the rats anymore because 1. I took down the bird feeders and 2. We have two terriers.

Mel says to always dry grass before putting it into your bin. I am sure that would help, but I don't mow the lawn around here. The guys collect it in a mower bag and empty the bag right into the open bin. As long as I don't turn it very often it doesn't smell bad, but give it a turn and p-u. The stink goes away after a couple of hours.
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Post  Megan 3/20/2011, 9:50 am

Well, the good part about putting the garden in the front yard last year is that there is very little grass left to mow, so I doubt any clippings will make it to the backyard! It will be mostly leaves, garden waste, and kitchen waste. All our pets are carnivores so can't use anything from them. When I lived in California I built an open bin using chicken wire and that worked out really well. I'd prefer to have the front be open, for better access, but I guess it would be neater looking if I did string something across the front. Hm.

Good point about the bird feeder, too... I was thinking of putting one back up.
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Post  Lavender Debs 3/20/2011, 9:58 am

I MISS the birds but not the rats.

Maybe you could make a removable wire door that latches on (and off) with hooks and eyes (no hinges)?
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Post  camprn 3/20/2011, 10:01 am

Megan, what about round wire cages?
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Post  Blackrose 3/20/2011, 6:49 pm

I was going through old threads looking for information on strawberries and came across the thread where Theresa posted pictures of her Strawberry Tree. She posted a link to the plans and while looking at the list of plans on that page, I came across these plans for a garden screen. Something like this may help you hide an open compost bin and you can put flower pots on the shelves to make it look pretty. flower

http://www.bhg.com/home-improvement/outdoor/installation/build-a-garden-screen/
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Post  Megan 3/20/2011, 6:59 pm

Oooh, that's very nice, BlackRose, thank you!!! I love you

I was toying with the idea of trying to make chicken wire or hardware cloth panels and thread them through with colored venetian blind slats or something similar. Your idea is much nicer. I may not get there this year, but I will show hubby and see what he thinks. (I am so psyched... I spent hours in the backyard today, cleaning up after the tree removal. Hubby went out to buy a replacement light fixture for the backyard, and came home with a bird feeder and other goodies. Yay, buy-in to project!!!!)
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Post  Blackrose 3/20/2011, 7:03 pm

There was also another idea where they used lattice and stapled shade or frost cloth on the back to fill in the holes. Then they put a planter at the bottom to make it look pretty.

I was out in my yard doing some spring cleanup today too. Unfortunately, the TT's are still pretty frozen. I was kind of hoping that I could start planting out some cool weather crops soon.

Yeah for new stuff!! cheers
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Post  Old Hippie 3/21/2011, 12:05 pm

Megain, have you thought of just using the wooden lattice? My compost bin is made of pallets, which didn't look very nice but worked very well. We put some wooden lattice on the outside and I stained it to match the shed doors. It hides the compost very well and gives me place to grow climbing plants. Your squash would love it. LOL! If you made a removable panel to set in front it would be fine. We were going to but didn't bother because the open side faces the garden shed.

As far as smell goes, like Lavender Debs said, the grass is probably the worst. But if you want to get heat in a hurry, it is marvellous. If you just throw it on top and let it dry, it makes a wonderful "blanket" that keeps flies away. We don't have an issue with rats here, but my daughter, who lives in Vancouver, does. They get in ANY kind of compost bin, even the closed ones. What I don't like is the flies but as long as I put the fresh stuff deep in the pile, odour and flies are not a problem.

Best of luck!

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Post  herbarium 3/21/2011, 1:28 pm

I have a plastic compost bin and also two round wire ones. I put everything in the plastic one and when it needs turned (I don't turn it very often) I turn it into the first wire one. By then there is not really anything to attract rodents. When I need to turn the contents of the plastic one again I turn the compost from the first wire one into the second and the plastic into the first wire one. I would love to have a bin like this eventually.
I have had a rodent problem in the past and as a precaution I put hardware cloth on the ground and put my plastic bin on top. That way they cannot dig into the bin from underneath.
You may also want to sprinkle hot pepper flakes into the bin once in a while.
I now have cats so don't worry about it so much.
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Post  Nonna.PapaVino 3/21/2011, 1:44 pm

The Oregonian (Portland,OR) newspaper sometimes features articles by master gardener Vern Nelson. Here's a link to his recent article on an open compost to help amend soil, and result in a "raised bed."
http://blog.oregonlive.com/homesandgardens/2011/03/daily_tip_for_homes_and_garden_6.html Well worth the read.
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Post  Megan 3/21/2011, 7:52 pm

Thanks everyone! I may go with lattice/landscaping fabric route. I like the idea and it sounds cheap and easy (all good things!)

One reason I want to get away from bins and into open-front is that my space is limited. I can do a double-wide bin at most, I think.... and the aisle right there is planned at 3 feet wide before the next adjacent box. This does not give me a lot of room to back up and shovel stuff around.... plus, I think it would be harder on my back to try to dig down into a small bin rather than in from the front. I really need to get some pictures up so you can see what I am talking about.

I am dreaming of some sort of wild contraption involving pvc. Stay tuned. ;-)
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Post  dtilt1 2/25/2024, 6:56 pm

hello everyone

I have a open compost container. it's enclosed with only chicken wire.  I actually hate it and wish I would have been more mindful of what I wanted.  since it is too late now.  I am having problems getting anything to decompose and create compost. 

my biggest challenge is turning the pile. second is getting enough green materials

any suggestions I can do

is there a thing of putting in too much coffee and eggs shells?  seems to be the most I can get to put in.
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Post  dtilt1 2/25/2024, 7:02 pm

I have this bin Compost bins:  Open vs. closed Q+4lHNofVmjpgAAAABJRU5ErkJggg==
I hate it, it's too open

I have a really hard time getting it open and turning the pile

I can't get it to do anything.  Nothing is happening with it at all.

any suggestions?

right now I just want someone to either buy it or just take it from me even though I paid for it to get made
just so frustrated
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Post  OhioGardener 2/26/2024, 7:06 am

I can't tell much about your compost bin from the picture or description, but it would appear that the biggest problem is that it is not big enough. For a compost bin to be effective it must be at least 3'x3'x3' high.  A bin that size or larger can create enough pressure on the contents to effect composting. If you don't have enough material to fill a compost bin that size, you might be better off with a 2-bin compost tumbler.

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Post  sanderson 2/26/2024, 10:52 pm

Dtilt,  It is hard to tell with accuracy with the small photo.  Does the front open?  Can you build the front up as you add material?  Is the material moist?  What are the dimensions?

There are many designs for compost bins.  This is what mine looked like from the side.  The front has removeable slats.  I did end up lining the 3 other insides with durable weed fabric to hold in more moisture while still allowing it to breath.  If you feel your bin needs revisions or is too small, you can always modify it to store finished compost while a bigger bin is cooking away with a new batch.  At least is has a lid to keep out critters and that can be covered with a tarp during the rainy season.

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Post  Scorpio Rising 2/27/2024, 9:59 am

Hi dtilt, I have a similar bin, made of wooden slats with a lid.  I cannot turn it.  It was a Mother’s Day gift from my kids.  It does have a pull up door at the bottom to remove the compost, but I have not really used it much.  Last year, I had one of my kids helping me try to turn it, and we stirred up a yellow jacket nest!!!  Not good….

I am contemplating getting a side-by-side 2 bin compost tumbler, like OG suggested.  They look much easier to turn (you literally just turn the bins!), and can have one “getting ready” bin, and the other “newer” bin….
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Post  donnainzone5 3/2/2024, 4:47 pm

DlT1,

Eggshells take years to break down.  Coffee grounds, as well as their unbleached filters, are also good compost components.  

I have a similar bin that's about 3' x 3'.  It's lightweight enough that I can lift it away to an adjacent space, then fork and turn the contents into the new location.
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Post  OhioGardener 3/4/2024, 7:20 pm

This compost bin is 4'x4'x4'. Last fall it was filled with layers of Starbucks coffee grounds and wheat straw. I started with a base layer of about 3" of straw, followed by a layer of about 3" of coffee grounds and filters, and then another layer of straw. The bin was filled with these alternating layers of coffee grounds and straw, and then left to compost. Over the winter it has composted down to about 1/2 the height it was last fall. Around mid-May this bin will be turned into the middle bay to complete composting, and then this bay will become available for the summer compost collection.

Compost bins:  Open vs. closed Coffee17

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Post  OhioGardener 3/12/2024, 5:32 pm

Today I picked up another bunch of coffee grounds from Starbucks, about 140# of them.  So, I put another layer of ground & filters on the top of the compost bin, and then put another layer of wheat straw on top of them. This entire bin of compost is just coffee grounds and straw.

A heavy load of grounds from StarbucksCompost bins:  Open vs. closed Bagged10


The coffee grounds and filters were spread on top of the compost binCompost bins:  Open vs. closed Coffee18

After the grounds were spread out, they were covered with strawCompost bins:  Open vs. closed Straw10

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Post  OhioGardener 3/13/2024, 5:48 pm

Yesterday I added another layer of coffee grounds, and then a layer of wheat straw. Today I checked the bin's temperature to see how it is doing. It is cooking along at 120ºF, which is good for a "cold" compost bin which won't be turned for at least 6 months.
Compost bins:  Open vs. closed Compos23

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Post  locolobo 3/26/2024, 6:05 pm

New to the site but thought I'd throw my 2 cents in. There is a ratio of carbon to nitrogen that somewhat needs to be met (you can google that). Don't know the exact ratio but it needs to be somewhat close. More carbon ,(leaves, brown /dry grass etc), than nitrogen, (green vegetation). The hay you are using supplies the carbon. The coffee grounds, although it will yield lots of N2 after decomposition, is still a carbon in the beginning stage. Need the green stuff mixed in with it. And there is other N2 that you can use too, Manure, I use manure from my chickens, blood meal are good alternatives. 
 I too could not make compost in the beginning. A lot because of fire ants. They would infest a pile long before decomposition making it unusable. I found a large, commercial sixe trash cal. the kind with a lid,wheesl and the garbage company used with the hydraulic arm. Drilled lots of holes in it for air and it has worked for me. It sits on a palllet so it is not prone to attract the fire ants and when it;s time to empty it I can roll it to the garden.
Keep at it and experiment until you find what works for you.
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Post  OhioGardener 3/27/2024, 8:40 am

locolobo wrote:The coffee grounds, although it will yield lots of N2 after decomposition, is still a carbon in the beginning stage. Need the green stuff mixed in with it.

While coffee grounds look brown when you pick them up from Starbucks, they are a Green with a C:N Ratio of 20:1 which is the same as vegetable scraps. The filters with the grounds are Brown, but the grounds themselves are Green. No other greens are needed to compost them.  (As a point of interest, cow manure has a C:N Ratio of 25:1, while the coffee grounds are 20:1.)

Keep at it and experiment until you find what works for you.

Since I first started composting in the 1960's I have learned a lot about composting, and I am still learning all these 5 or 6 decades later.

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