Some people may not know what off-the-grid or off-grid means, so here it is --- The term off-the-grid or off-grid refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities.

Off-grid living is no longer a one room log cabin in the woods. It's energy independency. You don't have to rely on utility companies, you create your own power. Today, there are more than 180,000 off-grid homes in the US.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


2:38 pm - 42 degrees - overcast...

We live in the Pacific Northwest.  Around here the word “composting” may as well be synonymous with “recycling”. 

Composting is nature’s way of recycling.  It is a method of converting garden trash, kitchen scraps, and other organic wastes into humus – a partly decayed form of organic matter that is an important ingredient of rich soil.

Composting doesn’t have to be difficult, nor does it require a strong back, large acreage, livestock waste or expensive bins.  There are many variations in composting techniques, but the basic idea is to let the biological action of bacteria and fungi heat the interior of the compost pile to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, killing week seeds and disease organisms.  The most efficient way to produce compost is in a bin or container to keep the material from spilling out.

What Belongs In Your Compost Bin --- You know you can compost fruit and vegetable scraps from your kitchen, but there are dozens of organic-based items that can also go into your compost bin that you may not have thought of.
-      Coffee grounds
-      Coffee filters
-      Teabags
-      Crushed eggshells
-      Paper bags and cardboard, including cereal boxes
-      Stale bread, cereal, and plain crackers
-      Expired herbs and spices
-      Hair from your brush, and from your pet’s brushes
-      Dropping from pet rabbits, chickens, cows and horses
-      Paper roll tubes
-      Freezer burned vegetables and fruit
-      Old bills and other shredded documents
-      Newspaper
-      Houseplants that didn’t make it
-      Wood ash
Any paper items from your home or office, so long as the paper is not glossy and is free from staples, paperclips or plastic, can be shredded or torn up and placed into the compost bin.  The smaller the pieces, the faster it will break down inside of the bin.  Even your Christmas tree can be run through a wood chipper and then added to your compost bin.

What Doesn’t Belong In Your Compost Bin --- We’ve covered what should go into your compost pile or bin, what shouldn’t is just as important, if not more important, as the possibility of introducing pathogens to your soil could be dangerous to you and your family for years.  Most importantly, chemicals or metals of any kind, should never be incorporated into your compost or soil.  Here are some other, less obvious, items to exclude from composting.
-      Meat of all kinds
-      Dairy products
-      Fecal matter from dogs, cats, pigs or reptiles
-      Fats, grease, lard or oils
-      Diseased plants
-      Dryer lint
-      Contents of your vacuum bags
-      Glossy paper, including newspaper inserts
-      Yard clippings or trimming treated with pesticides
-      Coal or charcoal ash

There’s some debate amongst composting experts when it comes to pasta and bread items.  The belief is that while these types of items are typically fine to add to your compost bin, the fact is they’re more likely to attract scavenging animals such as rats and raccoons.  However, a tightly sealed or raised off of the ground bin, will reduce the number of visitors.

You may be tempted to throw in diseased plants but that would be opening yourself up to all kinds of trouble later on down the line.  The bacteria or virus responsible for the disease will likely survive the composting process, which means you could infect your entire garden when you spread your compost the following year.

Regularly aerating or turning over the contents of your compost bin will ensure air has access to the decaying organic matter.  The air will help prevent mold from setting in, and will also work to accelerate the decomposition process by providing oxygen to the thousands of tiny organisms doing all the work.

Some gardeners prefer to have two or more compost bins, at varying stages of the process, in order to ensure a steady supply of compost is at their fingertips, at all times.  Trust me, the first time you scoop and spread your very own dark, rich compost, and better yet, see what it does for your garden, you too will understand our deep love of compost here in the Pacific Northwest.

Five Types of Compost Bins That Turn Trash Into Treasure

Sunken Garbage Can --- makes a convenient compost bin when space is limited.  Punch holes in bottom of can for drainage and fill with alternating layers of material.  Cover with screening to keep out insects and scavengers.  Perforated drainpipe in center provides aeration.
Photo Source: Back To Basics
Screened Compost Bin --- is made of chicken wire and light lumber.  It is easily disassembled for turning compost.  Two L-shaped sections fasten with hooks and eyes.  To use, simply unfasten hooks and eyes, remove sides, and set up in position to receive the turned compost.

Photo Source: Back To Basics

Wire Mesh Cylinder --- is one of the simplest of all compost bins to construct.  Use mesh with heavy gauge wire; support with stakes driven into the ground.  Often used for autumn leaves, it can handle any type of compost.

Photo Source: Back To Basics

Rotating Drum --- tumbles compost each time drum is turned, mixing and aerating it.  Material is loaded through a hatch.  These compact, durable units are available commercially and can also be built at home.
Photo Source: Back To Basics

Three-Stage Bin --- turns out a near-continuous supply of compost.  Positioned sided by side makes turning compost easy.
Photo Source: Back To Basics

We will be composting using the three-stage bin style.  Instead of making bins, we’re going to be using old orchard crates that we got for free from a fruit processing plant.
We managed to get 21 orchard boxes on the flatbed trailer...
this will be my new raised garden

Over the weekend I got the first bin in place and started my compost pile!

In fact we’re going to be using those old orchard crates to make a raised garden on that flat area behind my compost bins (separate post coming soon).


  1. This question was posted on our Off-Grid Home Sweet Home Facebook page but I wanted to address it here also:

    Q: "I've read mixed opinions about wood ash. What's your take?"

    A: I personally think wood ash is a great addition to the compost pile and the garden, as long as you avoid using wood ash in excess. Also, wood ash should not be used to fertilize acid-loving plants such as blueberries. It should also not be spread around newly planted seedlings or seeds.
    Just to clarify, when I use the term "wood ash", I am referring to the entire remnants of a wood burning fire. In reality, what remains after a typical fire in a wood burning stove or fireplace is both ash and charcoal. Ash is the fire gray substance, whereas charcoal describes the black chunks of material that accompany the ash. Together, I am calling these two substances "wood ashes". Both the ash and charcoal in wood ash can offer tremendous benefits to your compost and garden soil.
    Since we're using the three-stage composting bin - we will only be adding wood ash to two of the three bins. This way we will have one compost pile that we can use on the seedlings and acid-loving plants.

  2. Here is another question we received via email:

    Q: "The rotating compost barrel looks like it would be the easiest to get your compost out of, why did you not choose this route?"

    A: I actually found some great plans online to make my own rotating compost bin. I was planning on make a few of them so I could still have the continuous supply of compost. But after a bear stole our neighbors rotating compost bin (the bear rolled it away and they found it a hundred yards or so from their house) I decided to go with the orchard bins instead. The bins won't stop an animals from getting into the compost piles, but it will stop them from stealing them. :)



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