Composting in a Holding-Unit
Often, the first time composter will choose to use a Holding-Unit as it is easy to make one using DIY skills if a budget is necessary.
A single bin, what ever its appearance, is known as a Holding-Unit. This is because it just ‘holds’ the raw materials until decomposition is complete. A turning-unit, on the other hand is called that because the raw materials are turned over in order to accelerate the rate of decomposition. For more information, click on the links.
DIY – simple, cheap and often fun!
The simplest and cheapest type of holding-unit, is some sort of rough enclosure around a basic pile. This keeps the ingredients in check and makes it easier to sling a piece of tarp or old carpeting over it for protection in very hot or wet weather. It will not necessarily protect your compost from animal invasion, though, so if that is one of your reasons for starting container composting, you will need to find something more. It will not help with random smells, either, or provide protection in hot or cold weather, but it will keep your pile tidier and under control. Options for this type of holding-unit could perhaps include a cylinder of wire mesh, hay bales, old boards or planks of wood salvaged from a previous life or pallets formed into a box shape and tied together. When DIY is involved, imagination and convenience always come into play.
The first two examples of a DIY holding-unit illustrated above will really only be good for cold composting. They are relatively small and they offer no insulation.
However, the one built with hay bales will be great for hot composting as, I suspect, would bins made from blocks, if the materials are turned regularly. The hay bales will provide fantastic insulation, excellent for maintaining heat. The block bin is large and once there is a decent mass of organic material collected, and if it is well managed, there will be no problem keeping things hot there, either!
Other types of bins.
If you are not inclined to make your own holding-unit, 0r if you live in a small urban garden and want something more compact and less obtrusive, you could consider purchasing a commercially manufactured bin. These are usually made out of re-cycled plastic and are often referred to as “Dalek Bins” *
In their simplest form, these too, are usually used for continuous, or cold composting and are readily available at garden centres. Some councils will provide them to rate-payers at reduced cost and they are a very useful way to start off. This holding-unit usually has no base and is placed on the bare ground, an advantage as worms and other desirable creatures can gain access to your pile. (Some retailers sell a base as an added accessory.) They also have a lid, providing protection from excessive rain, cold and animals.
As usual, when starting a new pile, your first layer should be rough twigs etc. to aid drainage. Then you just toss in your waste as you acquire it. You will need to remember your carbon-nitrogen ratio of 30:1, (some say “half and half”) to keep your ingredients moist by giving it a spray with the hose if it seems to be dry and if necessary, to add some garden soil or a handful of lime or blood and bone from time to time. The occasional ‘poke’ with a stick just to keep things stirred up will be helpful and that is about it. The hard part is sorting out exactly when your compost is ready. (As this is cold composting, this could be longer than a year.) Many of these bins have a trap door at the bottom, so you can actually raid the bin and see what stage the compost is at. Unfortunately, many do not. The only way through for me, with no trap-door, was to lift the bin completely away from the pile (needed help on this as I am vertically challenged) and to have a face-to-face encounter. I grabbed the stuff that was ready, re-sited the bin a bit further over in the garden and tossed the partially digested stuff back in ready to start afresh.
This is not a fast process, but if you do not have a load of materials to compost and if you are a bit of a ‘couch’ composter with a rather casual attitude towards the whole composting ‘thing’, this could well be the system for you, especially if you can show off your DIY skills and avoid spending any cash.
*”Dalek” Bins – Nicky Scott in “How to Make and Use Compost, The Ultimate Guide”