setting up compost area

We moved into our house a few weeks ago, and have quite a deep back yard, backed by woods. We're sort of halfway between town and country; it's an old tract neighborhood, but more on the rustic side than the golf course lawn type of neighborhoods. I have done some marginally successful bin composting in the past, in the yard of an apartment we lived in on the west coast. We are now in the northeast, and now that we have our own property, I want to get into composting more fully.
With winter fast approaching, should I bother to start now, or wait until spring? I'm thinking of composting household food scraps in the bin (the Smith and Hawken stacking thing wiht the bi-fold lid) and doing leaves and grass in a pile. Once I do get up and running, do I continue adding through the winter, or take a hiatus?
Location - what do I need to consider? Sun? Lots of tall trees. Drainage? There are some swampy bits here and there. (Questions about drainage and how to fix that will be a whole 'nother post sometime.) I was thinking of doing the grass and leaves pile in the woods, just outside of our fence. Would I need to clear the ground of brush and vegetation, or just dump stuff on top and go from there? If I were to do the pile in the yard, would I clear any grass or weeds first?
We have lots of squirrels, rabbits, mice, various northeast woodland creatures in the vicinity. How do I arrange things so as to *not* set up a cafeteria, or a nice cozy nest? I'm hoping to go way back in the yard, but what is the closest one might put a compost area to the house?
I grew up in the northeast, but the little I know about gardening, composting, etc is all west coast based, as I lived out there in my mid 20's to 30's - almost year-round growing seasons, different plant selection, etc.
Any advice to get me started is greatly appreciated. Websites, book recommendations, etc.
Thanks, Karen
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I add to a pile all winter long and start a new pile every year.
>I'm thinking of composting household food scraps in the

see above

I no longer start piles near trees cause I've had piles ruined by spider roots growing up in them from tree roots below. I don't do much clearing just start making a pile. The pile we started a few weeks ago is in a rocky spot. First week was just a pail of kitchen scraps and a bag of mulched leaves / grass. Since then more of the same plus a neighbor who does lawn care dumped a pickup load of his clippings on it that were mostly grass with some leaves.

We haven't had much trouble like that but one year we did find some snake eggs in one pile and occassionally the deer or somebody helps themselves when we throw garden produce like half rotten pumpkins on it.

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dkhedmo wrote:

Hi Karen,
Depending on where you live in the NE [Maine or the southern tip of NJ], I'd say start now. You are probably aware that no meat, fish, fats, should go in the container.
Here in San Diego, I chose the sunniest spot. The sun really does a great job of cooking things down in a hurry. I also poured a small concrete slap upon which I placed the container. Last time, I had gopher and rodents burrowing underneath to get at the compost. I opened the lid one day and there he was, staring back at me :-) . My composter is about 30' from the house, on a slight downward sloping hill, but the composter is level. Remember to turn your compost every several days to aerate it. It may be best [easier] if you bought two containers; just transfer the contents from on to the other, but two are not necessary. I really like the 55 gallon drum that rotates with the crank of a handle. I understand they work very well.
I wouldn't worry about doing any brush removal unless it obscures the rays of the sun. The sun is your friend.
For further info, I'd look in the phone book under "county agriculture department". If you've got a college local to your area, I'm sure that they will have an ag dept of some type. Actually, you may wish to contact them first; here in San Diego, we have recycling seminars where they give away free bins, as long as you take the 6 week class.
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If its a 5 sided bin touching the soil at the bottom, should be no problem. Just throwing it into an open area with leaves and such and mixing it won't do it. Just a slight burial of fresh food scraps will probably be found by hungry varmints as well. Something that does work is letting the scraps set in a large coffee tin for a few weeks or so. A little meat or fat is okay, just be sure to have alot of greenery rotting with it. Be finicky when cutting up your lettuce and celery, alot of it should go to the can. Don't forget the used coffee grinds. No bones, let the dogs recycle them. Don't cover the container while stewing, it won't stink as bad. Bury the contents, turn every few days until absorbed by the soil. Keep the stewing container outside, downwind from the house, elevated from the ground. Out of reach from varmints. Dogs can help keep them at bay.
--
Jonny



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