COMPOSTING - GETTING STARTED
So you're ready to start using compost…now all you have to decide is how to get it! You have three options . You can make it yourself, you can go and pick up free compost at the Miramar Landfill or you can purchase compost from an outside source.
1. CREATING YOUR OWN. All you will need is a little bit of space, a bin, a basic understanding of the composting process and at least 12 weeks of time to get it ready.
• SPACE - Your compost pile will need an area about 3 feet square. The pile should be located in a partially shady spot, so that the sun doesn't dry out your compost too quickly. This obviously depends on where you live within San Diego. You may want to plan for extra space around your pile to make turning and harvesting your compost easier.
• COMPOST BINS - A compost bin will help to keep you compost pile neat and tidy, deter rodents from digging in your pile, and help your pile retain heat and moisture during composting. Compost bins can either be homemade
or purchased from a bin manufacturer. Normally, a homemade pile needs at least 3 feet wide x 3 feet deep x 3
feet tall to work properly. You can purchase manufactured bins that will do the job in a smaller area.
HOMEMADE BINS can be easily constructed out of wood, wire mesh, scrap pallets or straw bales commonly
found in your home or at a nearby store. Call either the City of San Diego Recycling Rotline at 619-467-0903 or the Composting Hotline at 760-436-7986 to get a set of plans for building your own bin or speak with Karen Eckhart or Ruth Barnett for ideas.
MANUFACTURED BINS include turning units, coneshaped bins, and bins with stacking tiers. These bins can
be purchased from many vendors. Also to see examples of the different types of composting bins available, visit
one of the City's Composting Demonstration Gardens at the San Diego Zoo, The Wild Animal Park, Sea World, or
the Environmental Services Department Ridgehaven Building. Call the Rotline for directions or to register for a
free Saturday composting workshop at the gardens.
DIFFERENT STYLES OF COMPOSTING - Some require more time and effort but yield quicker results. Make composting convenient for you by choosing the style that best fits your needs and schedule.
ACTIVE COMPOSTING involves turning the pile on a regular basis and maintaining proper moisture and temperature levels. Some bins, such as stacking tiers and turning units are designed to make turning and maintaining the pile easier. You may want to purchase a compost thermometer to make this jobeasier. They are available at local nurseries or through catalogs. If you are building a pile without a manufactured bin, it is best to stockpile some materials until you have enough to build a full pile. As you build the pile, layer your greens, browns and manure and add water to each layer. Cover withstraw and let stand for about three weeks before turning. Turn and let stand another 3-4 weeks, turn once again and let stand for 3-4 more weeks and voilà…you have compost. If you are interested in this method, stop by the Conservation Table (or contact Ruth or Karen) and we will provide you with a handout detailing the process. If this is a bit too much work for you, treat yourself to a manufactured bin. You can add materials over time but you must stay on top of keeping the proper balance between 50% greens and 50% browns. Tell your gardener to save the grass clippings and raked leaves and add them to the bin. During the same time, you can be saving your kitchen scraps, your coffee grounds and shredded newspaper and add it as well. Remember to keep that 50-50 balance! Your pile should be turned weekly and kept moist, but not soggy. If your pile is too wet, add shredded newspaper or leave the lid off your bin until excess moisture is dried. During the first few weeks of the composting process, the pile will heat up to temperatures of 120 to 150 degrees, helping to speed decomposition and kill any plant diseases and weed seeds. Your compost will be almost ready when it fails
to heat up after turning. At this point, you should stop turning it and let it "cure" for two or three weeks. Finished compost can be ready to harvest in as little as 12 weeks.
• PASSIVE COMPOSTING is less labor intensive than active composting, but it takes longer. Generally, passive
composting is done by adding green and brown materials as they're generated rather than starting with a full bin. You also turn and water the pile less frequently, about once a month. The pile won't get as hot and it may dry out at times, so it won't decompose as quickly and may not kill any weed seeds. But compost will happen in about 6 to 18 months. Bins with doors near the bottom allow for removing the finished portion of the compost while leaving the rest to continue the composting process.
2. COMPOST FROM THE MIRAMAR LANDFILL - Any resident of San Diego is able to pick up compost or mulch at the landfill. This obviously entails a trip by either you or your gardener, containers or a truck/trailer and some physical labor. But if may well be worth your effort if you have need for a large amount. We're heading off this week on the club's 'Compost Caravan' to find out all about this method. We will have a handout ready at the next meeting detailing how to go about getting your compost at the landfill. If you can't make the meeting, call Karen Eckhart or Ruth Barnett and we'll be happy to send you a copy of the information. While this might be fine for flower beds, you might want to consider another source for your vegetables. Even though the compost has been "cooked" so to speak, we aren't sure what went into the compost in the first place. So if you are going to the trouble to grow organic vegetables, you might want to consider using compost derived from organic materials.
3. BUYING COMPOST FROM AN OUTSIDE SOURCE - For small beds, you can purchase bags of compost or compost steer manure combinations at most nurseries, discount stores or Home Depot. This is an easy and inexpensive way to quickly improve the quality of your beds. I've found the compost/steer manure combination at Kmart for $.79 a bag works great. However, this becomes cumbersome for larger gardens. Consider calling a few of the following suppliers and getting estimates for compost delivered to your home.
Alpine Rock and Block 132 Highway 8 in El Cajon 619-561-6003
Argo Stone and Supply Co. Three locations…858-792-0100
Best Soils of California Inc. 1-800-735-2811 Free Delivery Available
Deupree Trucking and Loading 1-760-736-8492
Earth Store, Inc . Organic topsoils and microbially injected composts 1-760-749-8822
Eastman Soil Amendments 1-760-744-5422
Evergreen Nursery Black Mountain Rd. 1-858-481-0622
Hanson Aggregates A-1 Soils 877-942-6766
MB Organics in Lakeside 760-471-7611
North County Supply 1-800-734-4034
Peirano Topsoils Escondido 760-740-9191 (used by some of our best gardeners)