In case you’re new to composting, composting involves working with the natural breakdown of organic matter to produce nutrient-rich soil. Compost is a valuable resource to have in your garden, not only because it can help reduce waste, but also because it can improve the health of plants in your garden significantly. It can even offer unique advantages over soil and mulch for your garden, making it a valuable asset for any serious gardener. (To learn more about the differences between compost, soil, and mulch, check out this article.) Here is a look at the basics of starting a compost pile at your home.
Find the right container.
Most people choose to invest in a bin made specifically for composting because it keeps the compost pile neat, prevents rain from oversaturating the pile, and holds in the heat that the composting process produces. Investing in a composting bin is really the easiest way to get started with composting. There are, however, many different types of compost bins to choose from, and the bin that you choose largely depends on which conveniences you want and what space you can afford for composting. Here are some common compost bin types:
- Enclosed bin. A standard, enclosed bin is the most basic type of compost bin for keeping outdoors. It features holes in the sides for proper aeration, and it has a lid to keep rain and animals out. There are also slatted wood bins, which can make the composting process very simple with removeable slats. One downside with using a stationary bin, however, is that you’ll need to aerate your compost manually (more on this later) if you want decomposition to occur more quickly. Otherwise, it could take anywhere from six months to two years for your waste to decompose.
- Rolling bin. A rolling compost bin allows you to roll your bin to a place in your yard where you might want to collect yard waste. It also makes mixing and aerating your compost a cinch—with just a tumble or two of the bin every couple days.
- Tumbler bin. Alternatively, you could go with a cylindrical compost tumbler, which allows you to mix and aerate your compost easily with a simple lever.
- Worm bin. Worm bins are designed specifically for vermicomposting, which involves adding tiger worms to your compost to help break down kitchen table scraps. One thing to keep in mind with worm bins is that they need to be kept away from extreme temperatures, which means that you could be bringing your bin indoors during snowy winter months or hot and humid summer months.
- Indoor bin. Compost bins are available in smaller sizes as well. This grants you the freedom of keeping one in a kitchen or small apartment for easy, convenient composting.
You can, of course, create your own container for composting as well by taking a large plastic container with a lid and drilling holes in the sides (including the top and bottom).
Know what you can add to your compost.
Remember: the goal here is to add organic matter to your compost. Ultimately you want to add a variety of materials to your compost, including fast-rotting green materials, which have high nitrogen content, and slower-rotting brown materials, which have high carbon content. Some examples of green, nitrogen-rich materials are green leafy waste, grass trimmings, flowers, young weeds, tea leaves (without the bags), herbivore manure, and scraps from your kitchen, such as citrus peels, potato skins, apple cores, and banana peels. Some examples of brown, carbon-rich materials are small amounts of dead leaves, shredded paper, coffee grounds, woody hedge clippings and twigs (ideally shredded first), sawdust, and herbivore bedding (such as hay and straw). You’ll also want to keep some of the materials you add, such as hedge clippings, coarser and more fibrous because this will introduce air into your compost mixture. These techniques together will enhance the composting process.
Other materials that you can add in small quantities include vacuum bag contents, human and animal hair, washed and crushed egg shells, and 100% wool or cotton. Keep in mind that the smaller the materials are when you add them to your compost, the faster they will decompose. Be sure not to add meat, bones, cat or dog feces, or other greasy materials to your compost. These materials have potential to attract disease and vermin. Inorganic materials such as aluminum cans also won’t work.
Build your pile like you would a tossed salad.
Starting your compost pile is much like creating a tossed salad. You’ll want to start your compost with a variety of materials as mentioned above, with coarser brown materials, such as dry leaves and small twigs, serving as your base. Top these brown materials with green materials, such as grass clippings, herbivore manure, and fruit and vegetable scraps. Add a shovelful or two of garden soil on top of this, and then add some more brown material. Moisten this with a sprinkling of water, and continue alternating adding brown and green material until you have a ratio of about three parts brown to one part green, and a pile that is about three feet high. Then turn your pile with a pitchfork. Repeat this turning process with your pitchfork once every one or two weeks, moving materials from the outside of the pile to the center. Keep the pile moist but not soggy.
Within a few months, the center and bottom portions of the pile should begin to become crumbly and a rich, dark brown (almost black) color. This is your nutrient-rich, completed compost. Once your pile has produced enough rich compost for your gardening needs, shovel out the compost and use what remains as the foundation for your next compost pile.
Guest post By: Maurine Anderson