The new compost bin was long in contemplation and even longer to begin. The small version of a composter–a catalog-order tumbler– had been in use for three seasons now and had to be rejected since, come each spring, it produced slightly more than a couple of buckets of compost tea. It really wasn’t made for the long haul, as they say, due to being too heavy to turn by hand once full, and even more difficult to accept the turn of a pitchfork. It did not get enough carbon to offset the nitrogen from kitchen waste. Garden gurus worth their kohlrabi would have just laughed at the effort, I’m sure. I was finally compelled to just do it, and do it right. First I found a spot. Some some, mostly shade.
I read everything and everybody I could put the computer mouse onto, in addition to the Heirloom Expo’s haul of books I took home. Feeling confident now with the fall season’s leaf drop and onslaught of cuttings and declined vegetable plants, I asked our helper Brooks for a work day and told my husband about the plan. Bruce is of the attitude “you gotta do what you gotta do” when it comes to gardening, along with steering himself nowhere near, mentally or physically.
But, it was a sure thing Bruce would get involved when he saw that Brooks didn’t measure to the inch when he cemented in the posts. Bruce is a very methodical person. “Put your foot where you want the post,” I remember Brooks saying. “Don’t you want some string and boards and a measuring tape?” I asked, remembering those used by our neighbor on the vegetable garden when he built it. “No, no,” Brooks shot me his I-know-what-I’m-doing-look. “We’re not building the Taj Mahal,” he said more than once.
The rest is a slow history of the two men visiting Home Depot, methodically measuring, explaining,-sawing, talking, stopping for lunch, talking, visiting Home Depot, measuring, and then discussing how to enclose the bin. A bear would visit our property on a yearly or biennial jaunt, and one year literally tore the cover off the tumbler despite its riveted construction. Other varmints seen on the property include wild turkey, fox, possum, moles, gophers, deer, mice, voles, toads, snakes, and oh yes, the darling and destructive squirrels.
After waiting for Bruce to research the fence idea, and then waiting for the snow fence to arrive at ACE, it was a sure thing that once those two went back at it that it would be a long, slow, methodical and tedious project. Not because of the talking, measuring, re-measuring, talking, trips to Home Depot and lunch, but because this bin had to be a sturdy and steadfast construction to withstand the certain frequent and violent attacks by starving skunk, possum, mice and occasional bear. It must be reinforced. Heavily reinforced.
The fence was pulled taut. Many hundreds of heavy-gauge staples were pounded in. Two-by-fours were added along the top sides and in the middle all around. It was very well reinforced.
The rain forecast was the next topic of lengthy conversation. Although
water would be needed to wet the material inside the bin it had to be a controlled output, so rain had to be kept to a minimal through the cover. In addition to the quandary of how to build a top that one could get into, and how to build a front to access and turn said pile, loomed the question –once the hinged cover was built — how to weatherize it so it would hold up over time. Brooks was sent home while Bruce thoroughly researched the weatherization process through visits to paint shops, the internet and home improvement centers until finally………ok, paint, not resin or varnish, but what color? Great ponderation ensued while, hinges on half the cover were installed making it easier to lift back onto itself.
Meanwhile, the erstwhile female homesteader is collecting compost of every size, type, color, age, and description that matches the most researched advice of compost gurus in the gardener kingdom. Garbage cans on the property came into use and were filled with layers of vegetable peelings, brown leaves, green cuttings and dirt from the post pilings. Some required safer cover than others and were stored in the garage.
This activity was largely interrupted by the necessity of making fruit fly traps out of paper cups and topped with Saran wrap and then there was always lunch to attend to. There were additional distractions such as having to explain that yes, we do want worms in the compost bin, they belong there. And don’t throw away that clean cardboard egg carton. My insistence on saving empty toilet paper rolls required a full dissertation. A gallon of red paint appeared on the scene.
The next distraction came due to the rain. Although Brooks was long gone and fewer lunches had to be made, the project began to grind to a halt with the weather report, in usual panic tone, indicating we should be building Noah’s Ark instead. The paint and hinges finished the cover just in time to place a full garbage can of leaves and cardboard underneath to stay dry until better weather and a blueprint for the front could be developed. After much final research and discussion about the front of the unit, it was decided that a door made of plywood would be the sturdiest function. Of course Brooks might need to reappear at the site in order to assist in the measuring, sawing, talking, trips to Home Depot, and lunch.
Well, the rain came in downpours and then some. We began to wonder about building that Ark. It lasted several days. We parked the car outside the garage and it got a thorough washing. Bruce worked on the door of the bin inside the garage and decided not to call Brooks just yet. He painted the huge 55” square frame of heavy plywood, fully braced of course, with more of the red paint. In between coats, I had to help turn the monstrosity over. I imagined that all that red paint put the door at a whole new level of sturdiness.All of a sudden June bugs, large black beetles, began to appear in the garage. Most of them were belly-up on the cement, waving their legs. I can only assume they wanted, much more than I did, what was in that bucket full of cut up, over-ripe pumpkin that Small Box Farm donated to the compost bin, and that they had largely overeaten, otherwise they would be able to roll themselves upright, no? Removing them was another distraction, and lunch for Bruce was late that day.
The rains stopped, sun appeared, and the red door was moved outside to get another coat.It was then that I noticed gopher mounds near the post of the bin. OMG, I had forgotten about the critters coming up from underground! We needed wire!
Bruce told me to go online and find out what advice they had for gophers. There was conversation about the fact hardware cloth was actually wire, but what gauge? There were recollections of our building gopher baskets of “gopher wire”. I looked up the phone numbers for Tractor Supply, Front Yard Nursery and Home Depot. I was referred to Clifton & Warren Farm Supply.
When I got there, I could see that gopher wire was not recommended to put on the bottom of the compost bin, that it would not hold back an adult, full-fat critter. So Clifton & Warren had the hardware cloth and cut it to size for me. The biggest distraction there were the half-dozen youths, including brand-new hires, so energetic and anxious to help that a time-consuming round table discussion transpired with everyone chiming in over the size gauge, the taller or shorter roll, and how many feet exactly was 55”? Finally a price was devised and I left, glad to have some outdoor sunshine left in the day. It felt good on my shoulders. I didn’t even mind that we had skipped lunch.
Next day, I found Bruce busily trying out a number of fasteners for the Red Door. “I thought you were going to put a handle on the cover so I could lift it,” I reminded him in my sweetest whine. “Yes, I will get to it,” he whined back. Therein was discussed in-depth whether or not opening the cover first or opening the door was the priority in terms of using the bin for compost. Bruce did remember to put in the lower board inside the door, however. Time passed. Bruce decided on the biggest, most secure bolt he could find in that stash of bolts, screws and bits any compost builder worth his screwdriver would have on hand. Actually, he put in two bolts, top and bottom.
He instructed me to try them out. They were secure. Very secure. I gave him a hi-five and we went in for lunch.