I live in an area with a very defined and intense rainy season, and had been wanting to start a compost pile at my house for some time. However, I remembered from having visited a farm in an even wetter region, that their compost piles, which were on the bare ground and without a roof (like I had been intending to do) ended up being, more or less, piles of too-wet sludge.
After some research, I settled on a design that seemed to fit my needs particularly well: a wire-mesh compost. It was small, occupying vertical rather than horizontal space, which was a big plus since I didn’t have a lot of room to devote to composting. It provided exceptional aeration capabilities, since the entire structure is made of mesh and allows for a constant flow of air. It was easy to assemble and move by one person, since the materials used are fairly light. Finally, being an enclosed compost meant that it would be safe from the prying little snouts of my three dogs, who have already ransacked a previous composting endeavor.
I’m sharing my process and some observations in the hopes that somebody else might find this information useful.
What you need:
- Wire mesh (or chicken wire). The good thing about this design is it allows for repurposing. I had a 2-meter (roughly 6 feet) roll lying around from a previous project so I got to put that into good use.
- Heavy wire or zip ties for tying the structure together.
- Pliers — of a kind that can cut through wire mesh and wire.
- Some thick working gloves. The wire mesh can have sharp bits sticking out, and they do a fair bit of damage! Don’t be like me — avoid the bloodshed by wearing the work gloves from the beginning of the project.
That’s all you need! Depending on what you have lying around, this project can cost next to nothing. Like I said, I already had the chicken wire, gloves and pliers, so all I needed to buy was the wire to tie the chicken wire tube. This took less than two hours to put together, so I think it’s overall a great time and money investment.
1) Unroll the chicken wire and set it down on the floor. If needed, cut it to size. Mine had been sitting in storage for a while and it was kind of stiff, so I walked on top of it for a while to make it less tightly-wound and easier to work with.
2) With your pliers, cut off any protruding bits of metal that might snag or puncture. Wear the gloves! Make sure you cut as close to the edge of the material as possible to avoid future injury and to give you a manageable surface to work with later on, when you have to tie the two ends together.
3) Stand the wire up and shape it into a cylinder. This is a little tricky if you’re working by yourself, but what I did was secure the upper end with a zip tie quickly, then turned the cylinder on its head and secure the lower end before starting to tie the cylinder with the wire.
4) Get the heavy wire (or zip ties). If you’re using zip ties this will go much quicker, but I didn’t have enough to cover the entire length of the cylinder, so I had to tie it with the wire. Attach the ends of the wire to the lower or upper end and twist it with your pliers. Twist the two ends of the wires around and over themselves a couple of times before moving up the cylinder. Think of it as weaving the two sides into one. Do this along the entire edge until the two wire edges are joined together.
This is how I tied the ends together with the wire
The only thing that I don’t like about the design, and something that is certainly inconveniencing, is that you would have to remove the entire compost cylinder to get to the compost. Since I just compost my kitchen scraps, it’s not much, and definitely not enough to fill the whole cylinder at once. This means that you have to wait until everything is composted before you can collect your compost material. You could make shorter or narrower cylinders, for example, as a way to get around this. I didn’t have this problem when I had a mound-compost, since I could easily dig in a little bit and remove material whenever I needed it. But, seeing that now I am pressed for space and in need of a compost that keeps the dogs away, I can live with this trade-off. I’ve thought about making another one and asking neighbors and friends to donate their kitchen scraps, so that I could fill an entire cylinder at once and have several composts available. That could be one way to get around the issue.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this design makes it so that the core of the compost gets, well, composted, while the organic material surrounding the center will either compost at a much slower rate or not at all. I’ve read that this is both normal, and useful, since the surrounding bulk acts as insulation for the inside.
So far, however, the compost has been working really well. My kitchen scraps are steadily composting and so far there hasn’t been any smell, or flies. The shape lets you easily and quickly do a visual check on the compost. I would recommend it for anybody who is tight for space.
The completed compost in progress