Compost Beginner – Tips to Get Started, Even If You’re A Renter

Compost beginner tips - even if you live in a small space or rent your homeIf you’re a compost beginner, never fear! Composting is one of my favorite things in the world, and you’re going to love it, too! I mean, think about it… you can take your trash and turn it into something highly useful. How awesome is that?!

9 years ago I was a compost beginner living in a rental house. A house of my very own with all the yard in the world was right around the corner, but I wanted to get started with composting right away. When you’ve got enough of your own land you can have permanent compost bins. But as long as I was renting I got started with garbage cans.

I started with a big trash can (I don’t remember the gallons, but it’s about 3 feet tall) with a good lid. I drilled holes in the bottom and sides for air flow and bug access. Then I started dumping in our waste.

Compost beginner tips - even if you live in a small space or rent your homeSome things that DO go in the compost:

  • Egg shells and cardboard egg cartons
  • Fruit rinds, peels, seeds, and pits
  • Veggie tops, bottoms, and wilted stuff
  • Coffee grinds and our eco-friendly coffee filters
  • Paper towels, cardboard toilet paper rolls
  • Swept up random debris and dog hair

You might be amazed at how quickly this stuff builds up!

Compost beginner tips

 

Some things that DON’T go in the compost:

  • Meat, cheese, or any dairy
  • Greasy or saucy stuff
  • Bread, pasta, and rice are kept to a minimum
  • People or dog manure

At one point my trash can compost got maggots. As a compost beginner, I pretty much panicked at that point! I knew the whole thing must be ruined. But, nope. Turns out they were a sign that my compost was too wet and had too much nitrogen. I worked in a LOT more dried leaves than I had previously been using, and the maggots went away.

Compost is easy like that. Even when you’re a compost beginner, problems are pretty simple and easy to turn around.

Another sign of a problem I enjoy looking out for is the smell. Contrary to popular belief, compost should smell good. It should not smell like a rotting mess. It should have a clean, earthy, dirt smell. During the maggot period, my compost smelled like shit. Literally. After working in more brown yard stuff, the smell came back to the pleasant earthy smell (with heavy coffee overtones!) I really love smelling my compost, both to check in on it and just to get a big nose-full of the earth-happy project I’m working on.

 

Are you a compost beginner? What do you need to know to get started?

Composting Beginner pin

How Much Manure Does A Pig Make

By Joshua Bardwell – originally posted in September 2009 at Jack-Booted Liberal.

In my previous post on composting pig manure, I discussed the type of composting system Issa and I plan to use. A fundamental question for us in choosing a system was how much manure we could expect our forthcoming pigs to make. A system based on 55 gallon drums would be a hassle if the pigs could fill them in too short a time.

Issa found one site that stated that a 200 lb pig would produce about 13 lbs of manure a day. That’s all well and good, but unless you know the density of pig manure, it doesn’t tell you the volume you’ll need to contain it.

I found a site that stated that pigs would produce between 0.5 and 0.75 cubic feet of manure a day, per 1000 lbs of pig. For a 200 lb pig (close to market weight), that’s 0.1 to 0.15 cubic feet of manure. That gives us a density of about 87 to 130 lbs per cubic foot, or an average density of about 108 lbs per cubic foot.

A 55 gallon drum is about 7.3 cubic feet. If a 200 lb pig produces 0.1 to 0.15 cubic feet of manure a day, it will fill a 55 gallon drum in between 73 and 49 days. We plan to keep two pigs, so cut those numbers in half: 36.5 and 24.5 days. Granted, those numbers are for full-weight pigs. The pigs will produce less manure when they are smaller.

A 4-H site I found said that a healthy pig will gain approximately 1.6 lbs per day. According to that site, 50 lbs is a typical starter weight. Market weight is between 200 and 250 lbs. Based on the previously-given numbers, here’s a graph of the estimated total manure production of a pig from 50 lbs to 250 lbs:

The red line is the high estimate, based on 0.75 cubic feet of manure per 1000 lbs of pig, while the blue line is the low estimate, based on 0.5 cubic feet of manure per 1000 lbs of pig. You can see we end up with approximately 9 to 14 cubic feet of manure produced per pig. (For perspective, again, a 55 gallon drum is about 7.3 cubic feet.) This is estimated to weigh approximately 972 to 1512 lbs.

Here’s where things get a bit fuzzy. That manure is going to shrink down when it composts. A typical ratio given for compost shrinkage is 50% volume. That means we can expect to end up with approximately 4.5 to 7 cubic feet of compost, solely from pig manure. Bulk finished compost is estimated to weigh in the ball park of 800 lbs per cubic yard, or 30 lbs per cubic foot. That means our final compost will weigh only 135 to 210 lbs! That’s a heck of a lot of matter that left the system!

Realistically, though, the pig manure will not be the only input to the system. Pig manure has a high nitrogen content relative to carbon. This means that an appropriate quantity of high-carbon material must be added out to balance out the ratio in the final compost. The actual amount of material depends on the type of material added, and a consideration of this factor is beyond the scope of this post. The bottom line is that there’s going to be a bit more compost than the pig manure alone would produce.

The final question, then, is whether the two pigs we plan to keep will provide enough compost to fertilize the garden plot we plan to keep. I have estimated that the garden will start out at about 350 square feet and will probably grow from there. A common guideline is to till 1″ of compost over your entire garden. Based on this, a 350 square foot plot will require just about exactly 1 cubic foot of compost. Yeah, looks like we’re good to go, with compost to spare!

I have some water jugs that are almost exactly 1 cubic square foot. It’s hard to imagine that small amount of compost going over 350 square feet! Maybe it’s more compost than it looks like, though. After all, it’s certainly more water than it looks like!

Actual results will, of course, vary, but it’s still a fun thought exercise.

Editor’s Note: On the original post, a commenter said, “I think you made a miscalculation–I went to an online mulch calculator and it indicates that for 350 square feet you need 1.1 cubic YARDS not feet. That means you’ll need 27 cubic feet which means you’ll actually be a bit short on compost,” to which Joshua replied, “It’s true, as I discovered when I went to buy compost for the garden this year.”

How to Raise Pigs // LoveLiveGrow #homesteading #livestock #pigs Storey's Guide to Raising Pigs // LoveLiveGrow #homesteading #livestock #pigs

For more information on raising pigs, these two books are both excellent sources – How to Raise Pigs and Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs. I used both of them when I was getting started. Whether you’re raising pigs for pets, getting started raising a 4H pig, or going purely for yummy pork, either of these books will help you out in getting started.

Lazy Gardening

I’ve always liked the idea of gardening. Thinking about the actual practice has left me a little less enthusiastic, though. I loved what Joshua did with gardening last year, and I definitely enjoyed the bounty, but doing it myself has always intimidated me.

Some kinds of information sit well in my brain. When I decided I wanted to get pigs, I soaked up all the available information about pigs. I read books and websites and joined a discussion forum and gobbled up every detail. I know a lot about pig raising now, because most of the information stuck.

Gardening is a different story, though. When I try to learn about gardening, I just get frustrated. There’s too much information that I can’t remember. The details don’t fit together in a way that I understand. It just seems like a great big mess.

On the other hand, I like the idea of producing my own food. On some level, I want to garden. So I keep coming back to the idea.

Sometimes my hippie self gets mad at all the precision involved in gardening advice. There’s soil amendments and shade/sun considerations and fertilizers and seed starting and grow lights and companion plants and rotating crops and trellises and on and on. My hippie brain shouts, “Can’t I just stick seeds in the dirt?!”

A while back, I ran across the book Square Foot Gardening. This seemed to be right up my alley. The information is pretty straightforward, and the goal is to make gardening as simple, easy, and enjoyable as possible. Plus, the raised beds and square foot sections are pretty, which appeals to me almost more than the food.

Square Foot Gardening still included some ideas that offended my lazy-hippie brain. You’re supposed to make your dirt out of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite. What is peat moss? Where does it come from? I don’t know. What about vermiculite? I don’t know. I just want to use dirt, dammit!

I do have a lot of compost, though, because that is near and dear to me. I absolutely love composting everything I can, smelling the composting goodness, watching as it all changes form, and running my hands through the resulting compost gold. Over the last month or so, I’ve been slowly screening my oldest bin of compost to get out the sticks, rocks, and occasional still-identifiable food part to leave only the finished stuff behind.

Joshua made me a garden box out of left over wood from the pig fence. I tried to paint it yellow, but the spray paint looked like crap on the rough cut wood, so I painted it with the leftover purple from when I painted our kitchen.

I absolutely refused to buy expensive dirt. I filled my garden box with top soil (the cheapest dirt you can buy) plus layers of my very own compost, watering a bit between the layers. I planted lettuce, spinach, broccoli, gourds, radishes, peas, kohlrabi, bak choi, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I didn’t pay much attention to how deep you’re supposed to put the seeds. I didn’t read up on whether these plants need full sun or shade. I don’t know how long they’ll take to grow or whether I was “supposed” to start them indoors three months ago.

I just stuck the seeds in my squares and then watered them.


It felt really satisfying to play in the dirt. It was fun to choose seeds. I was excited to put seeds in the ground. And now I’m delightfully curious to see what happens. Sometimes I have the idea that you have to know things in order to do things. I’m sure a lot of other people have this idea, too, and that gets in the way of actually doing things. How many years have gone by when I didn’t garden because I was intimidated by my lack of knowledge?

If nothing happens in my garden box, I’ll be out about $40. I used spare wood, leftover paint, cheap dirt, and some seeds, so my initial cost was pretty light. If something happens that’s not quite right, then I’ll learn as I go. I’ll make mistakes and make adjustments, and that knowledge will stick with me, because it will matter to my actual garden.

Whatever happens, I’ve already enjoyed my gardening experience, and it will probably only be more fun as time goes on. I’m so glad I abandoned the idea that I had to learn how to garden before just going for it!

How about you? Anything you’re not doing because you think you need to know more things first? What if you just went for it?

Or tell me about your gardening journey. There are so many approaches to gardening! I’m glad to have discovered my way of getting things started. What’s your way like?