Composting Made Easy
Many gardeners might think that composting is a time-consuming, complicated process that requires extensive knowledge of ratios, chemicals, temperatures and materials. We’re here to say it doesn’t have to be that way!
In fact, making a compost pile at home can be so simple and quick that you could likely start one today with the materials already around your house and neighborhood. Even better, you’ll need less than 5 minutes per day to maintain it. Does that sound manageable to you?
Follow these four easy steps to begin composting today:
- Create the bin.
- Add ingredients.
- Turn the pile.
- Use the compost.
Create the Bin
Find a location where you’ll want to place your compost. Ideally, this should be very close to where you’ll plant your garden to avoid unnecessary work in hauling the finished compost across the yard.
Next, to house your compost, you’ll need a bin, which could be either open or closed. You’ve got 2 options for this step:
- Buy a commercial bin. You can find a wide variety of these at home improvement stores, gardening specialty shops or online with a simple search.
- Make your own bin. Enclose a circular area that’s three or four feet in diameter with 3-4 foot high plastic garden fencing, welded wire or chicken wire.
Once you’ve got your bin set up, you’re ready to start filling it.
This next step causes much of the confusion you’ll find around composting. Talk of specific ratios, necessary chemical combinations and the “one-and-only right way” to compost can discourage even the most gung-ho gardener from wanting to compost. Please, let’s stop the madness.
The great thing about composting is that it’s almost impossible to fail, because nature takes care of most of the imbalances we might create. Some methods may turn your materials into usable compost quicker, but even then, the resulting soil may not be as rich in nutrients.
Simply follow these 3 steps and you can be assured that your compost will, well, compost!
- Place a 4” layer of plants with stems, broken-up sticks and other coarse materials in the bottom of your bin. This also includes tree bark, dead plant clippings and natural wood chips.
- Add kitchen waste, fallen leaves, dead plants and grass clippings to the pile as they become available. This includes any fruit and vegetable peels, sawdust, horse or cattle manure and cardboard torn into hand-sized pieces. Do not include meat scraps, omnivorous animal feces (dogs, cats, etc.), herbicide-treated grass clippings or any treated wood.
- Spray water on the pile to achieve moistness without making it soggy. Repeat every few days to keep it moist.
That’s it. You now have the beginnings of some rich, healthy compost!
Don’t over-water your pile. That’s one of the most common mistakes new composters make. Think of it like spraying your hair with just enough to style it, but not so much that it looks like you just stepped out of the shower. Bad odors are usually a sign that it’s too wet. If it does become soggy, simply turn the pile more often and allow it to dry out for a few days.
Turn the Pile
The main purpose of turning the pile is to ensure that the different materials you’re adding interact with each other, which helps them break down faster. Aerating the pile is another reason to turn it, although this does happen naturally, to an extent, as the pile transforms.
If you have a smaller pile, simply turn the materials within the bin with a pitchfork. If your pile is a bit larger, you can lift up the actual bin and set it next to the pile (if you made a fence) and then scoop the contents back into it with your pitchfork.
It’s good to do this daily, although you may find that turning the pile every two to three days is perfectly adequate. You can also moisten the pile after you turn it, as needed.
Use the Compost
You know your compost is ready when you can no longer recognize the original ingredients; it looks more like soil than scraps. It will likely turn into a dark, rich substance that has a good consistency to it. At minimum, you can expect it to take about 3-4 weeks, but it could take up to 3 months.
Don’t worry if your compost isn’t ready this planting season – you can always store it in a large container, such as a 55-liter garbage can, and save it for next planting season.
If your compost looks like it’s almost ready, go ahead and fill holes with it and plant your seeds; it will finish the process while it’s in the ground. As we mentioned earlier, it’s fairly difficult to fail – just give it some more time if you’re in doubt.
Enjoy your composting, and may your plants grow to be wildly beautiful and delicious!