Garden Basics

3 Easy Ways To Compost At Home

Compost is often referred to as "Gardeners Gold" or "Black Gold" and for good reason. It is the basic tool for building fertile soil and growing healthy plants.

It's so easy and inexpensive and a lot of fun to make your own compost and oh so rewarding. Your plants will be forever grateful as well as the environment and you are helping mother earth by not adding to the landfill.

This process is natural with the help of insects, earthworms, microorganisms, fungus and bacteria. The best and healthiest garden soil is alive and teaming with activity.

Benefits Of Composting

  • A healthy compost-enriched soil will eliminate the need for adding any fertilizer
  • Enriches the soil
  • Builds good soil structure
  • Maintains moisture and protects against drought and freezing in winter
  • Beneficial bacteria and fungi
  • Saves you money
  • No need for a yard waste bin from your local waste management company
  • Suppresses weeds when used as a mulch
  • Reduces soil diseases 
  • Enables soil to retain water and air and needed nutrients
  • Helps the soil maintain a neutral pH
  • Protects the plants from many diseases
  • Feeds earthworms and other life in the soil
  • Protects against soil erosion
  • The most significant benefit is seeing your garden thrive with your home-made compost

4 Ingredients For Great Composting

1.
Browns  

Browns are carbon-rich and they break down slowly. They are the energy food for microorganisms. Dried leaves, small branches, chopped up twigs, shredded newspaper (non-glossy), torn egg cartons, egg shells, straw, sawdust, tissues, cardboard, brown paper, wood chips, chicken and rabbit bedding, dryer lint. 

2.
Greens

Greens are nitrogen-rich, and they break down quickly. They provide the protein-rich materials that microorganisms need to grow and multiply. Grass clippings, raw veggies peelings and waste, fruit, coffee grounds, dead-headed clippings from your garden, tea leaves, tea bags, soil from pot plants.

3.
Water

Always keep the compost moist but not wet. If your pile gets too dry, add water or green materials. If your compost pile gets too wet, it will slow down the composting process. Add more browns. Mixing in thoroughly. Too much water will drown the microorganisms and too little water will dehydrate them.

4.
Oxygen

Oxygen supports the insects and organisms needed to break down the organic materials

Collecting Brown Material

leaf-mold

The easiest way of collecting brown material is to use your fallen leaves every fall. Either place them into a wire or wood aerated bin or into black bags with a few holes punched into them.

Whenever you need brown material for your layering, you've got it already on hand. If you don't use it all over the next 6 months or so they will decompose anyway making great leaf mold.

Collecting Green Material

veggies-into-compost

Use your fruit and vegetable scraps, tea bags, etc. from your kitchen. Keep them in a bucket with a lid and empty into your compost every 2nd or 3rd day.

Grass cuttings and garden clippings. Make sure you do not put too big a pile of grass clippings in all at once. Instead, try mixing them with your browns as grass clippings can turn into a soggy mess.

Not To Be Used In Your Compost

What's not to be used for composting is almost as important as what you put in.

No dairy products, meat, fish, bones, cooked food as these encourage pests. No pet waste. Never use coal or charcoal ash or diseased plants or plants or weeds that have gone to seed.

No grass clippings if a pesticide has been used. Don't use large pieces of wood, these will take too long to decompose.

Never put walnuts into your compost as these contain a natural compound that is toxic to some plants.

Composting Ratio

When you begin to compost and don't have piles of raw veggies and dried leaves on hand, start by layering with what you have. Alternate between the green and brown, making sure that the compost pile stays moist but never soggy.

The quickest way to compost is to have the ratio between 20 to 30 parts brown to 1 part green. If you are happy to take a little longer to produce your compost, add what you have on hand at the time, still alternating between greens and browns. If you pile is too soggy add more browns.

3 Easy Ways To Compost At Home

1.

1.  Trench Composting

This is probably the easiest method of all composting techniques. The first time I saw this, I was amazed. I learned this from my father, an avid gardener.

Trench composting was really popular many years ago because it is so practical and saves on space. Direct burying is a short cut and turns your whole garden into a recycling area and a huge worm farm.

How To Trench Compost

If you don't have space for a bin or for an open pile of compost, then composting directly under the ground is ideal. Dig a hole or trench of about 8-10 inches (20-25cm).

Add all the kitchen scraps and layer with leaves, stems, twigs, then cover with soil or add your mulch and keep moist. Easy as that. Leave, and the microorganisms and earthworms will do the job for you, as well as fertilize the soil with their castings.

It takes about 2 weeks for decomposition to start taking place. If you soak your kitchen scraps in water for a day or two, they will break down quicker as fermentation will start taking place.

Depending on what scraps are used and the climate, it should be decomposed within 4 to 6 weeks.

You may occasionally see some veggies sprouting up from your 'underground' compost. Either remove them or enjoy them in a few weeks or months.

Wait until your composting has decomposed before planting.

Where To Place Your Underground Compost

Anywhere that you can dig a hole between your plants. The roots of the plants nearby will reach out for the nutrients.

Trench an area in your veggie garden during the fall in preparation for spring planting.

Starting a new raised bed, layer with soil at the bottom, kitchen scraps and twigs, leaf mold, etc. top with soil.

2.

2.  Composting Bins

Any size bin can be used. From small to large commercially bought ones.  Even a small container on a balcony can be used.  Make sure to drill holes in your composting bin so that it can drain and also get oxygen.

How To Compost In Bins

To improve drainage, place some twigs at the bottom of the bin. Add your green and brown materials and mix them up.

If you added mostly dry ingredients, add water. If you mainly added green ingredients, add dried leaves, straw, etc. to soak up the extra moisture. Always remember to replace the lid.

If you add a lot of material to your bin all in one go, the contents will begin to get hot within a few days and will break down quickly.

If you add small amounts of material each day, then it will not get hot. Don't worry, it will still break down but will take a bit longer.

As the material decomposes, it decreases in volume, so you may never fill the bin completely. Just keep on adding more material.

Where To Place Your Compost Bin

Place your compost bin almost anywhere in your garden. You can place your container in the sun or shade. 

Place it on a level area directly onto the ground if possible, which will encourage earthworms and any liquid can drain away. It's best not to place the bin on paving, tarmac or concrete if possible.

Remember to water more often if in the direct sun, or less frequently if placed in partial or full shade. Keeping the pile moist but never soggy.

3.

3.  Compost Pile

A compost pile is ideal if you have a big garden. Choose sun or shade. Remember to water more if it is in the sun.

How To Make A Compost Pile

Grow your pile by layering between greens and browns and keep it watered. That's all you need besides turning from time to time. Once you start layering your materials composting will begin, as long as it's big enough. The bacteria will do the job for you.

If it is the rainy season, cover the pile with a large plastic sheet. Remember to remove the plastic sheet as the compost requires oxygen.


Keep layering and turning from time to time.

Where To Place Your Compost Pile.

Keep it away from the house and with room for growth but still accessible to your garden where you will be using the finished product.

Be mindful of your neighbors, they may not want to look directly into your compost pile.  We love our compost but our neighbors may think differently.

Keep it within easy reach of your hose.

Using Your Compost

Your compost is ready when it looks like dark, crumbly, sweet-smelling, fertile soil. Home-made compost does not always look exactly like store-bought compost. You may find the odd bit of eggshell or twig. But that's ok.

Commercial compost usually has been sifted to a certain degree. Depending on what you want to use your compost for you can sieve it as well. Place the large particles back into the bin.

Depending on your climate and how much attention you pay your compost pile, you should get finished compost within 6 to 9 months. If you are using a composting bin with a hatch, check to see what it looks like.

Lift the bin off the pile and you will see different layers of decomposition. The finished compost on the bottom and the fresh layer on the top. Remove the new layer and put to one side and then remove the ready compost at the bottom. Place your bin back and replace the fresh content back into the container.

I always have 2 bins going. One I'm adding to, and one that I wait until the entire container is composted.

  • Use your compost in garden beds spreading about 2-3inches/5-7cm of compost on top of the soil.
  • Make potting soil with equal parts of sand, compost and topsoil or another 'recipe' equal parts of compost, sand and leaf mold.
  • Use your home-made compost to top-dress plants in pots or containers.
  • Add a quarter-inch/0.6cm of sifted compost on your grass in fall, which will improve the health of your lawn.
  • Mulch by spreading 1-2inches/3-5cm on top of your garden beds in early spring or fall (I often do both when I have an abundance of compost). This keeps moisture in and prevents weeds from establishing themselves.

Problems With Composting

Too Slow

If your composting is taking too long, that means there isn't enough nitrogen. Add some grass clippings and that should do the trick. Chop up your greens and browns and they will decompose faster. Cold weather will slow down decomposition.

Too Smelly

That might mean too much nitrogen (greens). Either turn the compost more frequently or add dead leaves or shredded paper over the top. This will mask any smells.

Fruit Flies

They aren't harmful, so if they are not bothering you just add some leaf mold or shredded cardboard or newspaper.

Too Wet or Too Dry

Add more browns or greens and turn. If too wet, slow down your watering or cover if it is very rainy. Too dry, add more dry brown ingredients and water more often.

Too Coarse

If the finished product is too coarse, such as eggshells and corn cobs still being visible. Sieve the compost and throw the large particles back into the next batch.

Attracts Rodents

Do not add materials such as meat, oil, fat, bones, meat, dairy as these will attract rodents.

Other Ways Of Composting

  • Worm Farm Compost - the worms eat through your kitchen scraps and produce compost and compost tea.
  • Tumbler Compost - easy to use, add green and browns and water. Instead of turning with a garden fork, it only needs to be tumbled.
  • Hot Composting - maintain the 30:1 browns to greens ratio. Finished compost can be available within a month under ideal conditions. The temperature should reach 140 degrees F/60 degrees C.
  • Cold Composting - add as you go basis and is one of the easiest methods. It does take a little longer to decompose.
  • Bokashi - a Japanese word meaning fermented organic matter. Layer kitchen scraps with bokashi inoculant into a bucket with a tight-fitting lid. It produces a fermented mixture that can be composted in trenches or added to the compost heap.
  • Grass Compost - if you have a large grassy area, use the grass clippings to make compost. Place all the lawn clippings into chicken wire fencing, rolled into a circle. Leave it, and it will "cook," getting beautiful and hot. Within 6-8 weeks, you will have compost if you keep turning it.
  • Leaf Compost - rake up all your leaves in the fall or rake up your neighbors. Place them in black bags, tie the bags, water, punch a few small holes and leave the bags aside. Next spring there will be great compost. Alternatively, use a wire cage which takes longer. Earthworms love love love leaf mold.
Compost at home

Takeaways

Making your own "Black Gold" is fun and easy.  Using your natural home-made compost totally eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizers.  It's definitely not rocket science.  

Compost Just Happens!

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