Dr. Campbell in the MEDesign Lab

Making a Two-Barrel Composting System for Home Use - Instructions in Printable PDF

A Multi-Barrel Composting System for Small Institutions- complete design and operation explained in this HTML document.

Composting Rules Poster - Suitable of posting at home or at work:
Composting Rules - PDF Version
or choose
Composting Rules - GIF Version

The Two-Barrel Composting Method - a GIF Graphic.

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Composting Made Easy

Ever get downwind of the county landfill on a hot day?  Stinks, doesn't it.  That's because of all the rotting food scraps being wasted instead of becoming sweet compost, as it would in nature.  Well, you don't have to add to the problem.  Now you can ecologically compost yard waste and food scraps locally using the Two-Barrel System or the Multi-Barrel System for small institutions.  These systems are easy to load, secure against pests, fun to turn, easy to empty and inexpensive to make.  Use these links to see how it's done.

How it works:
Multi-container composting systems were developed in China for recycling of human and animal waste as well as food scraps.  Using a prolonged period of bacterial and insect action at elevated temperatures was found to produce compost that was free of pathogens and suitable for application even to food crops if properly composted.  These composting systems are modeled after the basic Chinese design.
A mix of household food waste, lawn clippings, leaves, and even animal waste is put in one barrel over a year's time, the barrel is then sealed shut for one year.  After a year, the barrel is emptied of black, rick compost suitable for fertilizing the garden, trees, or lawn. 

Instead of one large “compost pile” where all composting material is mixed (and therefore contaminated by new, non-composted scraps), these systems use separate barrels to avoid mixing the finished compost with fresh material.  The systems require little physical effort besides filling, sealing, and later emptying the barrels in proper sequence.

To foster this wild composting activity, NEVER put anything toxic in the barrels.  This includes caustic lime, acids, disinfectants, chlorine, pesticides, herbicides, and petroleum products (gas, oil, etc.).  Soaps and detergents are acceptable in small amounts.  Add tree leaf mulch in moderation, as it is very acidic and may retard the composting process. Plastic, metal, large sticks and stones will not hurt the composting, but also will not degrade.

What to put in the Collector Barrel:
All table and plate scraps, vegetable and fruit peelings and rinds, eggshells (best if crushed), meat scraps (preferably cooked), smaller bones (larger bones are OK also, but may need to be picked out of the final compost for aesthetic purposes), small amounts of cooking grease and oil, paper including paper towels and napkins (but not waxed or treated paper), coffee filters and grounds, tea bags, dog and cat droppings (including small amounts of plain cat litter), sawdust and small chips, house plant clippings and spent potting soils, and even small animal carcasses such as mice, birds and road kill.  Add layers of lawn clippings or mulch from time to time, especially to cover the larger rotting things (reduces flies and odor in summer).  During times of drought, sprinkle both barrels occasionally to give the composing critters a drink, but don't drown them with too much water. 

Mixing is OPTIONAL, (though it does give a better-looking product, and helps relieve aggression (see the "How To" Graphic).  Listen to the Collection Barrel on a summer evening.  The rustling you hear comes from thousands of scurrying critters mixing the compost for you!

Tools for Emptying the Compost Barrel

Emptying the ripe compost:
At the end of one year, the collection barrel is sealed closed.  Another barrel becomes the new collection barrel, but first it must be emptied of black, rich, garden-ready compost if it is full.  This cycle then repeats every year for no dollars at all!   By holding the mixture at composting conditions for a minimum of a year including the heat of summer, most seeds and contagious disease agents are killed.  Countless bacterial species carried in by a myriad of mealy bugs and worms transform the rotting rinds and carrion scraps to black gold.  All it takes is time. 

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