I learned a lot about gardening from James Crockett. His PBS television show “Crockett’s Victory Garden” was must-see TV for me as a young adult. It was there I first learned about season extenders like cold frames and cloches. And it was also there that I first learned about composting. When a book from the series came out in 1977 (Crockett’s Victory Garden), I eagerly bought it. It is still one of my most-referenced gardening resources.
Crockett had a 3-bin composter he called his Brown Gold Cadillac. It was of sturdy construction, and beautiful to behold – even for a composter. He started the compost in the first bin, and when it was ready to be turned he put it in the second bin. When finished, he forked the contents into the third bin for storage and aging.
My first composter was more like a rusty Chevy Corvair. Lacking funds for a more elaborate structure, I made a big circle of fencing and piled it up in autumn with all the leaves I could find. I’d throw in a little 10-10-10 fertilizer between layers for nitrogen. Over the winter I added organic scraps from the kitchen on top. In spring, I removed the fencing, turned the pile, and harvested whatever compost was ready.
Fast forward 30 years. Pressed for time after moving and merging two households from two states, I had no time to build a fancy compost bin. But I did have some fencing, so I pressed it into service much like I did with my very first compost pile. It worked, but we needed a better system to handle all the organic matter we had available. And organic material is just too good to waste, or put on a landfill.
So last year I put together a 2-bin system from recycled wooden pallets. There are a lot of good plans out there for this kind of system, so I won’t go into much detail here. I did staple chicken wire to the pallets to keep the compost from falling out through the slats.
Our composting area is pretty well hidden from view behind the workshop. My goal was not to make the bins pretty to look at, and I think I succeeded! Perhaps I should call this creation my Brown Gold Yugo. I wanted something that was quick to assemble and inexpensive. I also wanted to recycle materials as much as possible. The front to the bins is just some chicken wire stapled to a 2×6 board and loosely attached to the pallets. A straw bale helps keep the contents inside the bins.
It may not look like much, but it works! And, it proves that composting doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult to accomplish. This year I added a third bin made of straw bales. This bin will serve two purposes, mainly to give me room to store finished or nearly finished compost but also to have a place to store straw while it’s aging.
These low-key compost bins suit me just fine, because I try my best to be a low-key kind of guy!