Newbie finally about to get started composting.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

I'm about to embark on my first compost-making experience. I could use some last-minute input/advice. Here's a little background so you kind of know where I'm at right now.

I've been "living" in the Soil & Composting forum (along with it's many links) for about the last two weeks & it's been more helpful than I can begin to tell you. The input from various members has been priceless. Now I'm just about to get started - finally.

My search for the BIOSTACK
Based on numerous recommendations & links I've spent the last week or so searching for either the Biostack or its replacement by Scott's. Unfortunately, I've had no luck at all. Phone calls confirmed that even places showing stock on their websites, didn't have any. I've also searched Craigs List & eBay & any other places I could think of for both new & used. I even clicked on a link for Alameda County, CA that supposedly had them for their residents (I live in Illinois). The very helpful lady that returned my call said they no longer even had any for their residents. Most dealers said it's been discontinued - boo!

So, after all that fruitless searching, I was left with several options:

(1) Tumbling-type bins (too small & too expensive for the size) or one of a zillion varieties of fixed bins or fenced piles.

(2) An offer by my creative & talented husband to build either a bin that worked on the concept of the Biostack (out of a composite, rather than wood, so it wouldn't rot) or an open-style single or double bin. Unfortunately, he doesn't have a lot of spare time & lots of projects going so neither one would happen immediately. I"ve even considered a home-made "tumbler", but decided against it, at least for now.

(3) A couple of days ago I discovered that Sam's Club (I'm not a member) has a "fixed-type" bin (The "Soil Saver") for only $39.88 (they usually go for much more). It's not the ideal bin in that I know it won't be the easiest to aerate, but it does hold 11 cu. ft, is nice & neat and I could start right away. With their $15.00 for 15 week membership promo it would cost less than $60.00. If I find it isn't ideal, I can change at a later date, but still get my feet wet right away.

OK - with all that background out of the way I was hoping I could get some last minute advice to help me make this endeavor a success.

Here are a few things that came to mind:

(1) First of all, do I need a thermometer right away or can I just start making compost?

(2) Any suggestions for my very first binfull? Any & all will be greatly appreciated.

(3) I realize that the more you stir, the hotter the pile & the faster the compost, but if regular stirring becomes an issue with this new bin, will I still get compost?

If I come up with more "newbie" questions, I'll post them.

Thanks to everyone for all of the help you've already given me!!!!

This message was edited May 28, 2010 1:19 PM

This message was edited May 28, 2010 11:15 PM

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Amazon lists several pages of compost bins - although I didn't see one I liked. I have two Biostacks, if I had known they were going to be discontinued, I'd have two more :(

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

ACcording to this google site, you can still buy BioStacks (now made by Scotts.) I bought a couple at my local Agway last season; haven't seen them there this year.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

Thanks, CapeCodGardener, but I've checked both of those places listed - even called them - and though they were very nice, neither one has had any Biostacks or the Scotts replacement for a while.

I've pretty much checked every available link that shows them and it's the same story everywhere. None of them have the Biostack even though they still list it.

In fact, the only one I found was a used one on Craigs List in California (I live in Illinois). So if any of you that live in California want one (I believe it was the San Francisco Bay area, but I don't remember), here's an opportunity.

For me, at this point, even though I will continue to look in my spare time (just in case), I've decided on another type so I can get started.

So - If any of you have any suggestions for my very first fill - I'd appreciate it. Also whether I need a thermometer right away.

Thanks so much!!!

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

Sorry, Nutsfurnature! You're obviously done all the work very thoroughly!

IMHO, you should just start your pile or bin of greens and browns, plus water and air, now, and get your thermometer whenever. I'm no expert, but I believe that the purpose of a thermometer is to know when/if your "pile" is between 110 F and 160F. Between these temperatures the process of composting is speeded up and weed seeds and other pathogens are destroyed (above 140 generally.) The last temp, 160, is the highest it should be or it might combust! Well, maybe not, but it will certainly drive out any earthworms in the vicinity!
Your thermometer will also tell you when the temperature is falling and you either need to add more elements, or let your pile proceed to the next phase of composting.
I have a thermometer but don't use it anymore because I am somewhat lazy--OK, downright lazy--and I've found that everything rots eventually. But some folks do have nice steaming compost piles and make compost more quickly.

I copied the following from a compost website listing composting "tools":

"A compost thermometer [is used] to monitor your pileís temperature. A metal pole will also indicate heat. Insert the pole into the center of the pile as you would a compost thermometer. Where the thermometer will tell you exactly the temperature of the pile, a warm/hot to the touch metal pole will also indicate activity."

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

THANKS, CapeCodGardener!!

I hope I didn't sound arrogant with my response about my searches for the Biostack/Scott's. Mostly, it's that the reviews from other DG members got my enthusiasm up & I decided I wanted one, only to find out they weren't available. I don't discourage easily so I went on an "Easter Egg Hunt" for the Biostack/Scott's. It's hard to believe that a composter so popular has been discontinued.

It amazes, me that the compost pile can actually create so much heat on its own even though I've read numerous posts that refer to a "hot pile".

I love the idea that you found using a metal pole to get an idea if the compost is even getting warm!

Thanks so much for your help!

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

You didn't sound one bit arrogant; just determined, and I am so sorry that the Biostacks seem to have been discontinued. I have some, five that I bought from Smith & Hawkin over the years, and the two I mentioned that I found at Agway, re-produced by Scotts. I like them a lot. But I'll quit extolling them lest you feel worse! ;-)

In terms of you "first bin-full" and its composition, I found the following information to be easier to understand than some of the things I've read about C to N ratios.

"A general rule of thumb for a good C:N balance is to mix roughly equal weights of fresh green material (grass clippings, weeds) and dried brown wastes (leaves, straw, wood chips, dead plants) or use a 2:1 ratio of dried brown wastes to fresh green material. Blending of materials to achieve a workable C:N ratio is part of the art of composting."

I just sort of eyeball it for the two parts dried browns (including torn-up cardboard boxes and/or shredded newspapers) to one part fresh green. And then sometimes I just dump things in without worrying much and "correct" the proportions next time I turn the pile. In an open bin or pile, as opposed to a closed tumbler, you can always improve the mix. This practice probably impacts the heat of the pile, which is influenced by the right proportions being added at once, but as I said, I'm somewhat of a lazy composter.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

You make it sound easy. I've gotten so "hooked" on all this that I've been practically living in the Soil & Composting Forum.

I've actually started saving some veggie scraps in a plastic bag & keeping them in the freezer. I still have several bags full of shredded leaves from last Autumn that we use around the yard & there certainly won't be a shortage of grass clippings for a while. Newspaper & cardboard boxes are plentiful & I plan to take advantage of all the "free" coffee grounds I can get from places like Starbucks.

I'll probably try a fenced-type pile sometime in the future. My husband has offered to build me one that will be critter-proof, yet be easy for me to get into so I can work with the pile. Right now, though, he's so overwhelmed with projects that I really hate to add another thing for him to do.

By starting with an enclosed bin, I can set it up in a small corner of the yard & start playing with it right away. The one I decided to get is available at Sam's Club for just under $40.00 so even when I add a $15.00 trial membership it's still under $60.00 for a bin that normally sells for twice that amount. Down the road, if I decide to go with a different type of set-up, I can always use the enclosed bin to store finished compost. And who knows, I may even find I really like this bin.

The way I look at it, I won't know what I do or don't like until I get started. In time I may decide to experiment with several types of composters.

Anyway, I'm really excited & can hardly wait to start!!

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

Go for it, nutsaboutnature! Sounds like you have a good composter that will keep out the hungry critters, or at least most of them (I have wily little voles that tunnel in from beneath, but they don't eat much!)
Keep us posted on your progress and what you learn. BTW, you may know this, but adding used coffee grounds to your mix will help up the temperature.
Have fun!

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

Thanks for all your help, CapeCodGardener!!!

I also plan to continue reading/learning in the Soil & Composting Forum. Up until a few weeks ago I wouldn't have known where to begin & wasn't sure I wanted to. I am just thrilled to be able to learn so much from so many other gardeners with so many different opinions who are so willing to help those of us that don't have a clue!! (Or rather didn't have a clue, but not anymore!)

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

I donít think Iíve ever heard someone so enthusiastic about compost. (giggle)

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

I expect in no time I'll have to join the rest of you at the "Compost Anonymous" meetings.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

nutsaboutnature - Hubby and I were planning to turn the compost again today - but it's raining hard right now, so it will have to wait. I'm anxious to see if all the blood meal we added to it last weekend has helped to speed up the composting process.

I'm really addicted to gardening. Before I leave for work in the morning, I check the garden. During my lunch hour, I check-in to Davesgarden to share tips. When I get home, the first thing I do is check the garden. During planting season, I'm up before dawn on the weekends so I can have breakfast and be in the garden as soon as the first rays of sun come up over the horizon!

See what you have to look forward to?

No wonder the garden is weed-free they don'yt stand a chance! Hubby says I'm not happy unless I'm digging in the dirt - and he's right!

I have a question for you, which has absolutely nothing to do with gardening.... How do you do the formatting in your posts? I see BOLD and UNDERLINING.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

I've always loved gardening. I find it relaxing & rewarding (I must. It was almost 90 yesterday & extremely humid, but there I was putting new plants in the ground!).
It's only natural that I'd eventually get to composting.

**Here is the DG link that shows how to do**

Bold - Italic - Underline - Strike Through & Quote Box


You can also combine features: Bold - Italic - Underline

Go to the "Test" forum & just play. It's a lot of fun.

I also recently learned how to do the ^_^. (Press & hold "Shift" key - while holding press #6 _ #6, then release shift key).

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

nutsaboutnature - thank you so much for the links regarding formatting. I'm at work right now, so I'll twiddle with it when I get home.

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