Composting 101: The key things you need to know to begin making your own composting.
Why is compost essential?
Compost is the single most important supplement you can give your garden soil. Composting is a simple way to add nutrient-rich humus, which fuels plant growth and restores vitality to depleted soil. It’s also free, easy to make, and good for the environment. If your soil lacks nutrients, anything grown in it will also.
Soil conditioner: With compost, you create rich humus for the lawn and garden. This adds nutrients to your plants and helps retain moisture in the soil.
Recycles kitchen and yard waste: Composting can divert as much as 30% of household waste away from the garbage can.
Introduces beneficial organisms to the soil: Microscopic organisms in compost help aerate the soil, break down organic material for plant use and ward off plant disease.
Good for the environment: Composting offers a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers.
Reduces landfill waste: Most landfills in North America are quickly filling up; many have already closed down. One-third of landfill waste is made up of compostable materials.
We have had a compost bin almost as long as we have had a garden. I would guess around 22-23 years. My husband and kids built our bin as a Four-H project back when Ray and Sydney could barely swing a hammer, and our youngest was toddling around wanting to put nails in his mouth. When we built ours, we got the plans out of a composting book. You can now find the plans for a three-compartment bin online. You can also purchase them at feed or grain stores in various styles and sizes.
composting 101: How to make your own compost
Many people say they would like to compost but that it is too much trouble or stinky. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you follow a few key points, nature will take care of all the work, and there will be no odor.
Paying attention to what you do and do not put in is vital.
1. Meat, bones, grease, and pet waste. These are the items that attract critters to your bin and cause odors.
2. Diseased plants. If your bin does not get hot enough, the disease will be put right back into your garden.
1. Leaves, grass clippings, straw, and hay.
2. Kitchen scraps such as tea bags, coffee grounds, and left-over fruit and vegetables. Be sure to include produce that has been forgotten about in the refrigerator.
3. Your healthy plants at the end of each season.
To make taking scraps out easy, I keep a plastic canister with a lid by the sink. Then, as I cook or come across items that can be composted, I put them in the bucket. The bucket is dumped in the compost pile and returned to the sink for the next day.
A healthy compost pile should have more carbon than nitrogen. A simple rule of thumb is to use one-third green and two-thirds brown materials. The bulkiness of the brown materials allows oxygen to penetrate and nourish the organisms living in your compost. Too much nitrogen makes for a dense, smelly, slowly decomposing mess. Good composting means covering fresh nitrogen-rich material, which can release odors if exposed to open air, with carbon-rich material, which often exudes a fresh, wonderful smell. If in doubt, add more carbon!
The only other thing you have to do is turn the pile with a pitchfork or shovel a few times a month and occasionally water it. The compost should be moist but not wet. The more you tend to it, the faster it will break down.
An excellent resource for help on gardening in your region, including soil testing, is your local Agriculture Extension office.
Let It Rot is A great book to add to your library. Stu Campbell provides an in-depth explanation of how composting works and offers clear instructions for a variety of both traditional and modern methods for successfully creating your own compost. This was my go-to book the first few months we began composting.
If you want to give your compost pile a head-start, you can purchase Organic Compost Starter.
If you have any questions or comments about composting, let me know!