Backyard composters are designed to reduce plant matter into compost. They can easily be turned into vermicomposters by adding certain species of worms, usually Redworms (Eisenia fetida). Vermicomposters usually produce compost much faster than regular composters. The material in the composter must be kept moist, especially if worms are used, and only plant material should be used. Eggshells are ok, as are VERY minimal amounts of meat, bone, fat, oily foods, etc.; but these materials should be spread out evenly so as not to overwhelm the worms and other critters who live in the composter and on whom your ready compost depends… it is better to avoid meat, bone, fat, oily foods, etc. entirely.
Many people believe that composters need to be turned over in order for composting to take place and to be able to access the ready compost at the bottom of the pile. While this may speed up the process, I have found that it is not at all necessary. The rate of decay is sufficient for my needs as long the composting material is mostly (99%) herbaceous (non-woody) and the pile is kept moist. I have found that turning the compost is not necessary for any reason. Composters do not need to be turned, and vermicomposters should never be turned, as the Redworms worms live at a certain depth beneath the compost surface and should not be disturbed. Common Earthworms (Eisenia hortensis) are not ideal for a compost pile as they live in the soil or just above it… but they will be there and they are good for conditioning and aerating the soil.
Compost piles are also very popular with pregnant Garter snakes (Thamnophis spp.) in springtime… she will lay her eggs inside and they will incubate in the warmth… garter snakes are very beneficial to gardens as they eat slugs… another one of the many ways that should be used conjunctively in reducing your garden’s slug count.
The newly constructed composter in theory…
Notice that the wooden frame is resting upon concrete blocks. The concrete blocks keep the wooden frame up off the moist ground, to prevent the wood from rotting. Also, the concrete blocks are used only on three sides of the composter, or only at each corner. This is to provide access to the new compost as it becomes ready at the bottom. This design eliminates the need to remove the non decayed plant matter in the upper part of the composter in order to access the ready compost at the bottom. This is a huge design improvement that most backyard composters lack. The opening could be covered by placing a log or board against it to keep it dark, or not.
Note: Do NOT use treated lumber to construct a composter or poisons will leach out of the wood into your compost. On this page are studies that may be of use to anyone considering using treated wood in gardening.
The theoretical composter with its first batch of plant matter.
The plant matter at the bottom of the composter has been undergoing the breakdown process the longest and has decayed into a dark, nutrient rich compost material to be mixed into garden soil.
I discovered this design improvement when I was cleaning up around the old composter at the apartment garden where I used to live, in anticipation of removing the upper layers of plant material to get to the compost at the bottom, like most people probably do; when I noticed that on one side the very bottom board had partially rotted and the nails were mostly rusted away. I pulled the board away and was able to get my shovel into the composter to easily access the dark ready compost at the very bottom. The more I scooped the more fell down from above. Perfect!
A newly constructed better backyard composter in practice… at The Farm.
It is not easy to convince people who were taught the socalled method of “compost turning” that turning compost is unnecessary and destructive to the local ecology… they just don’t seem to be able to easily grasp that woody material does not belong in a compost pile. Rather, put your small woody material in a separate pile to create a habitat for critters, such as those baby garter snakes newly emerging from your better backyard composter… and you can even use your woody material mixed in with other medium for growing edible and medicinal mushrooms. What delicious fun!
If you are an absolute beginner to composting…The Rodale Book of Composting: Easy Methods for Every Gardener and many other books should be able to answer any of your questions… just be sure to apply the basic science to Ecoculture Village’s better backyard design and you’ll be good to go, plus… your garden critters will love you for it.