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
4 Ingredients For Great Composting
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.
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.
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.
Oxygen supports the insects and organisms needed to break down the organic materials
Collecting Brown Material
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
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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
Problems With Composting
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do not add materials such as meat, oil, fat, bones, meat, dairy as these will attract rodents.
Other Ways Of Composting
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!