The Best Ways to Start Composting

composting soil
Photo by Gabriel Gimenez

Compost is decayed organic matter that has been recycled and reused as plant fertilizer, making it vital to any garden. While you can head to your nearest plant nursery to pick this up, it’s just as easy composting yourself. With these simple tips, you can produce your very own compost that will make your garden look better than ever.

Composting is one of the most important things that can be done to create a very healthy and lush garden. It is a great way to ensure you have great soil with the right combination of microbes to do what soil does… grow great plants and vegetables. Some people may shy away from it because it sounds complicated, but it is quite simple. They hesitate to use or make their own compost even though it is a great addition to their garden because they are worried about all the things that can go wrong.

Compost is an excellent addition to your garden to keep it healthy and thriving, as well as a terrific way to reuse and recycle. Composting is simply a way to create an environment that encourages the growth of bacteria and microorganisms that speed the process of decomposition. Composting creates rich, organic material that makes great free garden fertilizer. It is also a responsible way to keep waste out of landfills, as food scraps and yard waste account for approximately 20 to 30% of what we discard.

If done correctly, nature will do the job needed in order to produce some amazing fertilizer. You have the control of what ingredients to use in your compost, so make it as natural and organic as you like. This way you can be sure that there will be no harsh chemicals in the growth of your vegetables in the garden.

There are several ways to get this done, but keeping things simple is the best way to set up a compost pile or bin.

Step 1. Find a container or not

CompostChoose a dry area near a source of water for your compost bin or pile. It is recommended that you place your compost pile in a shaded area. This will protect it from the sun’s heat and provide a natural warmth in the winter. You have the option to use a container or you can start a pile right on the ground. It all depends on how quickly you want to be able to use your compost: weeks, months, or years. Using a composting tumbler can speed up the process and produce compost in a matter of weeks. Choose what is right for your needs.

When making organic compost for the first time, be sure that the spot you choose is big enough. Even though you will only be filling half of the space, the other half will be required when you turn the compost for a proper aeration.

Don’t like the sight of your compost heap? The good news is you can store it in a plastic container or you can make yourself a wooden box, a small fenced area or use an old barrel to make your compost and keep your garden clean. There are even electric compost bins, with rotation features that will make your work a lot easier. Make sure any large pieces are chopped or shredded into small sizes. Just make sure the compost heap is in a relatively cool, shady area of your garden. This is so any worms you add to it don’t get fried from the sun. It also helps if the compost heap is slightly damp by adding some water from time to time in order to allow the plant matter to rot. Be sure to leave the lid open in order to allow air to circulate.

Step 2. The Ingredients to use

A compost pile should always have a 3:1 ratio of brown and green plant matter and should have alternating layers or organic materials of various sized particles.

Successful composting requires just three basic elements.

  • Browns — includes natural materials such as branches, twigs, dry leaves, shredded newspaper, wood chips, straw, and sawdust are all in the brown family. Browns provide the necessary carbon.
  • Greens — includes grass clippings, coffee grounds, green leaves, fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps. Greens provide the nitrogen.
  • Moisture — the right amount of water helps with the decomposition process, assists in breaking down organic matter.

composting mythsAdding meat, fish, or dairy would not be a good idea for an outdoor bin because of the smell. It would attract animals and pests that would try to destroy the bin in order to eat the food.

Add your bulky items on the bottom first such as dry leaves or wood items for better ventilation. Each time you add something from the green family, add a layer of brown materials to keep things balanced. Make sure to keep it moist. You can also add a bit of garden soil to activate the process.

Step 3. Maintaining the pile

The most important part of the process of composting is aerating your compost pile. This is done by turning the pile inside out because the center of the pile is where most of the decomposition takes place. You must periodically turn the pile or mix it each week to make sure that everything is blended together and processing properly. After building your pile leave it still for 2 weeks, and then start turning it every 3-4 days.

A composting tumbler will make this process easy, but you can also just use a pitchfork and turn it if you are doing it on the ground. If you are using a trashcan you can turn it over on its side and roll it around a bit. Check on it often and make sure that the moisture level is good. Overwatering the pile will create a soggy mess. If you stick your hand in and it feels like clumps or crumbly things are on the right track.

When the material at the very bottom of your compost pile is a rich dark color, it is ready for use. This can typically take anywhere from two months to two years.

Don’t be shy when it comes to worms

compost earthwormsWhen you see worms in compost, this is a sign that the process is complete and that it is ready and full of nutrients. You can also add worms to your compost heap in an earlier stage in order to turn it into soil even faster. The reason for this is because worms eat dead plant matter. As the plants are rotting, worms can help break it down even faster. This helps to turn your compost heap into nutritious soil for your other plants. It may seem kind of gross at first but trust us. Worms are the way to go here. They’ll help you get your compost heap into shape in no time.

If you are planning to use the compost in a garden with mature plants, you can start using it even if all the matter isn’t completely decomposed. However, if you want to use it in a garden where you are just planting seeds, then make sure that it is fully decomposed and looks exactly like your soil.

Debunking 4 compost myths

Compost has a bad reputation as a nasty, stinky business. However, when done correctly, composting can be easily accomplished with very little effort. Here are some common composting myths that are just not true.

Myth #1 Composting Stinks

The idea that composting stinks is a very common myth that probably derives from the fact that compost is made of decomposing plant matter, and we are conditioned to think that anything that is decaying is also smelly. In reality, composting will not produce an odor if done correctly as described above. Composting experts recommend a ratio of 3:1 that includes three parts brown plant material (dried leaves and weeds) and one part “green” plant material such as food scraps or grass clippings. If turned properly and with the right ratio the decaying mass of plant matter will not produce a smell.

Myth # 2 Composting attracts rodents and pests

Many people think if there are kitchen scraps (i.e., food) just lying around, rodents and pests are bound to find them. The myth that composting attracts rodents and pests is easily combatted by the same principle as the smell. With the right ratio of plant matter, the decomposition will cause no smell which in turn will attract no pests, rodents or even flies. Another tip for allaying those rodent fears is to eliminate meat, fish and dairy food scraps from your composting ingredients.

Myth #3 Composting takes a lot of time

Another common myth is that composting takes a lot of time. In reality, the time needed is no more than having a supply of brown plant matter that can be parceled out at the right ratio every time you have food or kitchen scraps on hand. It’s as simple as throwing in the kitchen scraps or the grass clippings from the last time you mowed the lawn with times as much leaf or weed matter. Give the ingredients a quick turn with the hoe or rake or turn the handle on a commercial bin, and you are done! By properly storing and using the waste from normal yard chores and using your own leftover kitchen scraps, composting for your own gardening needs is really an easy and time efficient thing to do.

Myth #4 You don’t need fertilizer

Some people think if you use compost, you don’t need fertilizer. It is very important to understand that compost prepares the soil and helps give the plants an environment in which to thrive. However, while compost does contain a good amount of nutrients, you will still need to do a soil test and fertilize using the appropriate nutrients for your soil.

Composting can be easy and good for your garden. Use these tips and don’t let these common myths about composting deter you from doing it!

Watch the video for an easy compost bin construction.