Composting is a natural process that involves microorganisms, bacteria and fungi that break down organic material into humus, or compost. In composting, we work with a variety of factors in order to speed up and control the rate at which organic materials decompose. There are many ways to compost, including backyard composting, worm composting, in-ground composting, homemade food digesters and grasscycling.
When considering backyard composting, most people consider what kind of a bin they will need. A composting bin is not required—all you need to compost effectively is a loose pile in your yard. If you want a compost bin, consider what size you would prefer, based on the amount of space you have available and the amount of material you want to place in the bin.
Backyard composting bins can be constructed from any combination of wood, wire, plastic, or concrete. Choose a design and materials to suit your needs, taste, and pocketbook. You can nail a few wooden pallets together to make a compost bin. Better yet, you can make two or three open-sided wooden pallet bins, so that you can easily turn the compost from one bin to another.
Another kind of a bin can be made with about 10 feet of chicken wire or hardware cloth and a few stakes. Fasten the ends of the chicken wire together to make a hoop and attach the sides to the stakes driven into the ground to give it some stability.
If you do not want to build your own bin, a wide variety of commercial compost bins are also available at local hardware and garden stores. All Davis residents in single-family homes that complete this online class and answer the questions with 70% accuracy or better (at least 20 of the 28 questions answered correctly) will qualify to purchase a GeoBin backyard composting bin from the City for $10.
Another important consideration in choosing a compost bin is how you will maintain it. Compost needs to be turned regularly, so you will need to be able to access your bin and turn the materials with a pitchfork or shovel. A bin that has an open front (such as the wooden pallet bins shown in the picture above) allows you to turn to your materials much easier turn than an enclosed plastic bin.
Once you select your compost bin, you'll need to find a good place for it. Compost bins can be placed in either the sun or the shade. The most important placement considerations are convenient access to the bin and proper drainage, so that the moisture can drain out of the bin and will not pool up underneath, causing a smelly anaerobic condition. Make sure your compost bin is placed on top of soil (do not place compost bins on top of impervious pavement or wooden decking) and is not touching a fence, house or any other wood structure. Direct contact with the soil also allows microorganisms, fungi and insects involved in composting to easily access your compost bin and seed the composting process.