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Speedy, neat, and easy to build, this is Sunset's triple decker composter.

Speedy, neat, and easy to build, this is Sunset's triple-decker composter Unruly piles of compost not only look sloppy, they can also take up a lot of precious space in a garden. One solution is the multilevel compost bin shown here. Built for use in our editorial test garden, the bin is trim and compact: the three interchangeable sections and a sifter-lid stack snugly and take up little space. Wire mesh on the sides lets air circulate through for quick composting (we produced compost from shredded garden debris in only two weeks). Bricks elevate the corners, to keep air circulating underneath and prevent the frame from rotting. To build one, you'll need a hammer, saw, drill, wood rasp, snips or shears to cut the mesh, and a 4-inch C-clamp. Allow about a day for construction.

Materials should cost about $55 For a composter like ours, buy seven 10-foot rough redwood, cedar, or pressure-treated 2-by-2s and two 8-footers. Select straight, clear wood, identical in thickness so the bins will stack. Also buy 32 standard 3 1/2-inch L-brackets; 104 3-inch and 24 1 1/2-inch #10 galvanized woodscrews (or 1/4-inch lag screws of the same lengths); a box of U-shaped wire staples; 12 feet of 48-inch-wide 1/2-inch wire mesh; and eight bricks. For the vertical corner pieces, cut the 8-foot 2-by-2s to 12 pieces 16 inches long. For the seven horizontal frames (including the lid), cut the 10-footers into 14 pieces 30 inches long and 14 pieces 26 to 27 inches long. (To determine the exact length of these last pieces, multiply the width of the 2-by-2s by 2 and subtract the result from 30 inches.)

Make the squares, then the bins Working on an elevated flat surface, arrange pairs of 27- and 30-inch 2-by-2s to form seven 30-inch squares. With L-brackets in each outside corner, predrill and screw in two 3-inch screws nearest the corners. (This will temporarily hold the squares together.) In each corner of three of the squares, clamp a vertical 2-by-2 post in place, raising the post about 1/2 inch from the work surface. (A scrap of 1/2-inch plywood will help you align the posts in their raised positions.) Screw in two more 3-inch screws to hold it; remove the clamp. To complete the three bin frames, clamp and screw on the three top squares. Allow 1/2 inch of the vertical piece to rise above the top square. Finally, use the rasp to bevel the top outside edges of the protruding verticals enough so the stacking squares will easily drop over them. The remaining square will be the screening lid. Use 8 short screws in the remaining L-bracket holes, and reinforce the inside corners with 4 more Ls and 16 short screws. (Position the inside Ls high so they'll clear the corner posts.) Once the bin frames are complete, cut four 16- by 26- to 27-inch pieces of wire mesh to fit each bin. To fit these around the frames, cut a 1 1/2- to 2-inch square from each corner of these pieces of mesh. Using the U-staples, tack the mesh to the in-facing sides of the horizontal squares and the outsides of the vertical posts. Cut and tack in place a 30- by 30-inch square of mesh to fit over the sifting lid.

How to make compost Spread an even 4-inch layer of garden debris in the bottom of the first section (if debris is grass clippings or leaves, make layers about half that thick to avoid matting). Sprinkle in a handful of ammonium sulfate, then cover with an inch of potting soil. Wet down with fish emulsion solution mixed as if for plant food (follow label directions). Repeat layers until compost level is a few inches above the top of the second section. A soil thermometer can indicate composting action; the higher the temperature, the quicker the process. After a week, turn compost; after another, sift out what you can use. You may need to recycle large pieces to break them down further.

PHOTO : Lid comes off three-section bin in first easy step of turning compost (she's ready to sift

PHOTO : it out after just two weeks). Bin's frame is redwood; wire-mesh sides and top let air

PHOTO : circulate to promote composting

PHOTO : Lid functions as screen for sifting fresh compost. Empty top section becomes bottom

PHOTO : section in new stack (at right below)

PHOTO : At the bottom, new stack gets fresh debris. She shovels next layer--unfinished compost

PHOTO : from middle section of first stack

PHOTO : Empty middle section moves from first to second stack to receive contents of first stack's

PHOTO : base, which becomes top section

PHOTO : Newly added debris raises compost level into top section. In a week, compost will settle

PHOTO : into second section and need turning
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jun 1, 1988
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