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Gardening : Weekend Project . . . How to Build the Basic Compost Bin

November 21, 1987|ROBERT SMAUS

A basic, no-nonsense, no-frills compost bin couldn't be easier to build, and you couldn't begin at a better time of the year than now.

Fallen leaves are too valuable a garden resource to set out on the curb. They make the best compost--for improving soil, making potting mixes or to use as a mulch--and a bin speeds the decomposition. It also keeps it neat and tidy and--this should be the clincher--putting leaves in a bin is a lot easier than trying to stuff them in plastic bags.

A basic bin can be made from welded wire mesh, the kind used to reinforce concrete or stucco, and it is available at building supply stores. Ask for the kind with the 1x2-inch mesh openings that is tight enough to keep the leaves in. Three-foot-wide rolls are about the right height and 12 feet from the roll will make a circular bin about four feet across.

Because the wire comes off a roll, it will naturally form a cylinder so all you have to do is overlap the ends about six inches and then fasten them together with wire. Or, buy the nifty fasteners called "cage clips." A special tool (it and the clips are usually found at large pet or feed stores) clamps the clips around the wire. You will find other uses for these clever clips, such as making tomato cages, bean trellises and the like.

Getting Started

Find a place for the bin and then start filling it, which will be no problem at this time of the year. To speed decomposition keep the compost moist. Or simply wait--it will take about a year. As the leaves decompose the pile will settle down in the bin making room for still more. When it is done, simply lift up the wire cage and dig in.

Other compost tips:

--The best place for a compost pile is in the shade, so it doesn't dry out as fast.

--Never put weeds in a compost pile or you risk spreading them by seed or roots that survive composting.

--If you put in grass clippings, mix them in, or mix them with leaves, or they will form a dense, wet mat that can breed flies.

--In California not all leaves are suitable candidates for composting. Eucalyptus, acacia, bottlebrush, melaleuca and avocado are five to avoid because they decompose very slowly and contain toxins that retard the growth of other plants. In general, the best leaves are those that fall all at once in autumn.

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