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Lining for Wooden Bins. Also Snakes!


April 14, 2021

I am a Master Gardener (and a long time composter) and am assisting an Eagle Scout in Tucson who is building compost bins for a few community gardens in town. 

I found your page with the bin with the wooden sides and plastic lining. I am curious about the plastic lining – how does it hold up?  Also what do you think of plastic over hardware cloth (on the inside)? I noticed a suggestion of cardboard but I do not think that is a good long term suggestion.

Are there any other suggestions for successful bins in the desert? Or any other publications you can point me to?

Finally – snakes! One of the reasons I’m hoping to use hardware cloth is to keep these out. I had lots in my compost bin in NH but – no rattlers there. Thoughts?


Answer by JZ: Great to hear about your composting efforts.

a. A useful liner for a snug desert bin could be pond liner. I have been using a bin with same pond liner for over 5 years. Staple it to the inside walls of bin.   And/ or a good quality tarp may be used inside along the walls of the bin. Cardboard passes moisture outward, not the best liner in the desert.

b. A snugly built wooden bin is fine.  Low porosity tower bins are also useful.

c. At this moment I have few suggestions about snakes.  Underline the whole bin with 1/4″ hardware cloth, then bring up along all sides, then staple in place and / or Use an elevated tumbler bin.  Bang on the bin before opening to let snake know you are there.  It will leave quickly.

d. Desert composting bins: low porosity, ie. few holes at the bottom, place the bin in the shade, cover the inside top of the pile, inside the bin. I repurpose a piece of non porous plastic as a top drape – works well, then put lid on bin.

e. See Desert Composting under Composting Info in our site menu. All entries on this page will be useful.

f. You can use a tumbler bin (again, see Composting Info menu).

g.  Lining the double wooden bin with pond liner would be helpful for moisture preservation.

Let us know if you have questions.   Compost on !

Response from Questioner: Thank you so much for your reply. Very helpful. I read all of your materials - so impressed and am going to have to work on some materials for Pima MGs.In the photo essay the bins were placed slightly elevated but in the photos and the image with the air being pulled up the bins are on the ground. I have only ever had a bin on the ground - ie, wood touching ground. The design we have has a bottom runner that will be trex or redwood. Is this ok? Or is having it slightly elevated part of the drawing air in? I would prefer to have it flat on the ground if possible.Second - the "coarse bulking materials" - what do you think of using chopped up brown palm fronds for this? I am using them in various places in my garden and they compost (maybe??) after a *long* time but I think they'd work quite nicely to create air pockets - actually might create them better if they are less chopped. We don't have much in the way of pine cones, sticks etc here but we do have palm fronds that are brown. And sometimes palm stalks. What do you think?Third - have you used drip line in the bin or small sprayers? Preference? We will need to use on or the other and have the compost on the garden drip. Thoughts? I also applaud your explanation of "wetness" - this is always such a hard thing to explain but "coffee grounds" is perfect. And really, beautiful compost does resemble coffee grounds in the end! Thank you again. I will keep you in the loop. Does the NM Master Composter Class ever take out of state folks? I just saw that all of your upcoming workshops are full - excellent. We are just starting to get more hands on workshops going here. Thank you again for your assistance.

Answer by JZ: Thanks! Generally, locally our bins are flat on the soil / ground. I do not know what you mean by “bottom runner”. Some colleagues elevate a bin on a pallet, the top of which is covered with weed barrier fabric, so stuff does not drop down thru the open spaces.   This is our setup at Extension office garden site. There appears to be a big gap at the bottom, but we corrected that and so the bin bottom edges are flush with the soil now.

Try the palm stalks. Have no experience with fronds. Chunky would probably be fine. You could try them to see how they perform. You could also buy a bag of wood bark chips at nursery. Experiment see how it goes. As long as whatever you use obviates compaction of the moist organics, allowing for convective air flow you’ll be fine. I do not have a personal experience with using a drip system in a compost setup. Seems reasonable. Try it, see how it performs.

We have not had a volunteer training since before pandemic. When/if we decide to do one it may be virtual,(?) if so, anyone could register and join. The only issue would be our local outdoor composting demos. Our education coordinator would have to decide about that.

Keep us posted.  We need to learn from other desert composters’ experiences.    Best.

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