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Composting is the process of decomposing organic material into a soil conditioner. Added to enrich soil, this nutrient rich humus restores vitality and helps plants grow. Plus, it’s good for the environment. Composting recycles kitchen and yard waste, diverting as much as 30% from the garbage can and landfills.
It’s simple to create your own compost, using a bin or container.
Creating a Composting Bin
Several methods exist for creating simple composting bins.
Drill holes around the base of a heavy duty garbage can. Add organic material to the bin and stir every two weeks.
Build a simple box from wooden boards or slats. Make it at least 3 feet square and no more than waist high. Set it on bare ground, to encourage insects and earthworms to burrow in. If wild animals or the neighbor’s dogs getting into the bin is a concern, add chicken wire or pig wire to the top. Add organic material and stir to aerate every two weeks.
There are more elaborate systems out there that incorporate three bins for mixing, turning and storing. These aren’t necessary however if that design appeals to you, go for it! Google composting bins or search on Pinterest for ideas.
Or you can purchase composting bins from garden centers. If you don’t have the simple tools to build one, this is a quick option to get you started.
What Goes Into the Compost Bin?
Once your composting bin is set up, start adding kitchen and garden waste. The trick is to balance “green” waste such as vegetable and fruit scraps with “brown” material such as dry leaves, newspapers and cardboard. This is important because green materials supply nitrogen to the mix while brown materials are rich in carbon. Carbon feeds the organisms that break down the scraps and nitrogen builds the cell structure of the newly formed soil enrichment.
The compost pile also needs oxygen and water. Without oxygen the pile will simply rot and smell. Moisture helps the organic material break down. Sprinkle the compost frequently if it hasn’t rained. And stir up the compost as it breaks down, to help air move through the mixture.
Earthworms are welcome allies to the compost pile as they help to aerate and break down matter. I have TONS of huge earthworms in my garden. I toss some into the compost pile as I weed and undercover them.
Green, Nitrogen Rich Waste to Add
The healthy compost pile needs more carbon than nitrogen in the mix. Too much nitrogen creates a dense, smelly mixture that decomposes too slowly. The bulkiness of carbon material helps oxygen move through the mixture and nourishes the organisms living there.
A good rule of thumb is one third green nitrogen waste to two thirds brown carbon materials.
Check out these lists of green and brown materials
Brown/Carbon Materials to Add:
- wood chips, pellets, bark
- straw or hay
- shrub, tree trimmings
- shredded paper including newspapers
- cardboard, torn into strips
- pine needles (use in moderation)
- leaves, chopped or shredded is best, or create a separate pile for leaves
- dryer lint (best if from natural materials)
- corn cobs, stalks
Green/Nitrogen Material to Add:
- tea leaves and paper tea bags
- table scraps
- seaweed and kelp
- lawn and garden weeds, that have not gone to seed
- grass clippings
- green leaves
- garden plants that have not died of disease
- fruit and vegetable scraps
- flower cuttings
- coffee grounds (earthworms love these) and coffee filters
- eggshells (which are really more neutral)
Don’t Add These Materials:
- meat, bones, fish, dairy products
- fats, cooking oils, grease
- perennial or diseased plants
- dog, cat or human poop or cat litter
- black walnut leaves
- machine or chain oils
- sawdust unless it’s clean and then add sparingly
- plastic coated paper or cardboard
- anything treated with pesticides
Tips to Create a Successful Compost
A few additional tips as you create your own compost.
Collect food, fruit and vegetable scraps in the house. I use a 21 cup plastic container that I already had on hand. Any container with a lid works. Because I am plant based, I can easily fill up my container in a day so I empty it every evening. When adding organic scraps, toss in carbon materials too such as newspapers, cardboard or leaves.
I love making my own veggie broth so most of my vegetable scraps go into containers in the freezer for this purpose. However I use the leftovers from juicing and blemished produce or veggies past their prime for composting.
Chop larger yard and garden wastes, to help them break down more quickly. And leaves and grass are excellent for the compost, however don’t add them in thick layers or they will clump together, slowing down aeration.
Use a spading fork to turn the mixture every week or two. If organic matter isn’t breaking down, add more green material and keep the pile moist.
If the compost pile is too wet and smelly, add more brown material and turn the mixture more frequently.
How to Use Your Compost
Your compost is ready to use when it looks and smells like dirt! This can take a couple of months or more, depending on what’s in your mixture.
Incorporate your rich new compost into garden beds or sprinkle it on top of the ground. Compost isn’t a replacement for soil but an amendment that nurtures it and your plants.
It’s that easy to create your own compost! Feel good about enriching your garden and easing the burden of wastes on landfills. And if you have any questions, ask in the comments.
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