Tips for Composting on Your Deck
Composting is one of those eco-friendly behaviors that can benefit not only the environment, but your wallet. By setting up a simple composting system at home, you can transform organic garbage into nutrient-rich food that can help your plants thrive without the help of commercial fertilizers.
For homeowners who have small yards, or for urban deck gardeners, figuring out where to locate the compost bin can be a challenge. Ideally, you should locate your bin away from any wood structures, such as fences, cedar decking or the side of your home. However, sometimes composting on the deck is the only option.
Following are some tips for composting on your deck, from protecting your decking material to maximizing your use of space.
Decking Material Considerations
The biggest concern with locating a compost bin on your deck is the potential for damaging your decking material. The moisture that leaches from a compost bin can stain a cedar deck, accelerate rot and attract wood-destroying pests that can damage your cedar deck boards. When composting on a cedar deck, you’ll need to take extra care to protect your decking material from compost drainage.
PVC decking is a much safer decking material for holding your compost bin. It’s inorganic, so it won’t rot if exposed to excessive moisture. PVC decking is also impervious to any pests that might be attracted to your compost. If you’re planning a new deck installation and know you want to compost on it, consider PVC decking instead of wood.
Choosing a Compost Location
In order to compost effectively, you should ensure the area you choose for your compost bin meets certain conditions, including:
Adequate air circulation. In order for your compost to decompose properly, it requires air circulation. Pay attention to where the air vents on your bin are located, and make sure they’re not blocked by plants, a wall, or the rails of your deck.
Partial shade. Your bin needs some sun to keep the compost warm, but too much can cause excessive heat buildup. If possible, locate your bin on an area of the deck that is partially shaded. If your deck is too sunny and hot, consider hanging plants or screens to provide partial shade.
Safe drainage. The act of composting creates a liquid byproduct known as leachate, which will need to drain from your bin. Ideally, a compost bin should be placed on bare ground, allowing the leachate to drain into the soil. When composting on a deck, place a drip pan beneath your bin to contain the drainage and protect your decking material from staining or rot due to excess moisture.
Compost Bin Options
Compost bins come in a variety of sizes and styles, from large garbage-sized bins to compact tumblers. When composting on a deck, you’ll want to look for a bin that’s compact and minimizes odor, if possible. Some popular deck options include:
Compost tumblers. Unlike a regular compost bin, tumblers are completely sealed, with no holes. The rely on regular turning – usually via a hand crank – to aerate the contents. Because they are sealed, tumblers have minimal odor and won’t leak moisture onto your decking material. They’re also available in small sizes to fit in a compact space.
Worm bins. Using redworms to break down your compost – known as vermicomposting – is an increasingly popular method for those with little space. Worm bins require minimal maintenance, can fit under a kitchen sink, and can be used year-round. You can purchase a special bin for vermicomposting, or make your own (see below). You’ll need to ensure the bin stays between 40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Do-it-yourself bins. You can make a small compost bin for your deck out of a plastic home storage container. Punch holes along the rim, just below the lid, and cut a few holes in the middle of the lid itself. Add a couple of slits at each bottom corner of the container for drainage – these should be large enough to let water out but small enough to contain the rest of the compost. Buy an extra lid to use as a drip pan to prevent damaging your decking material. Turn your compost regularly to minimize the odor.
Composting on a deck can be a bit tricky, but as long as you take precautions to protect your decking material and carefully monitor the health of your deck, it can be done.
[Photo by: normanack]