Composting can be a very rewarding, but intimidating process. What temperature does it need to be? How much Nitrogen do I need? Should I buy worms to put in the pile? Do I need a fancy swivel barrel contraption? Don’t you just pile up yard waste and let it sit? It can all be very daunting. However the benefits of a compost pile can greatly outweigh the initial confusion. Not only does composting provide cheap, rich, nutrient-packed fertilizer for your garden or flowerbeds and reduce unnecessary, organic waste, it also promotes a “greener” lifestyle practice and makes you rethink the waste we humans produce.
Compost takes time; don’t let this discourage you from starting! Keep in mind, that starting a brand new compost pile now, will mean beautiful compost in about four months, if conditions are perfect. This will not be finished in time for spring plantings.
Moving on from the disclaimer, the first step in deciding if compost is right for you, is if you have a suitable location for it. A variety of factors come into play on this step such as sun, shade, aesthetics, smell, room, and compost receptacle type. Compost piles should not be in all day sun due to over drying and over heating. They should also avoid full shade because of too much moisture and becoming too cool. Many people do not care for the look or smell of a giant heap of rotting plant material. If you decided to tuck your pile behind some bushes or a shed, make sure the lighting and the drainage are sufficient. If you live in the immediate proximity of a sensitive nosed neighbor, make sure to keep the pile at a distance, or be prepared to hear about it. If you don’t really have a ton of extra yard space, or are a container gardener, consider investing in the stand alone, smaller, movable compost spinners. These can be easier altogether by actually, making turning piles, looks, and smell a non issue. If you a building a more permanent bin, consider aeration, durability, and your strength level. A completely closed sided bin will cause for less air flow than one with slotted sides, however if you’ve found your heaps to be dry maybe this is what you need. A plastic bin will last longer than an untreated wooden bin, however they can also be more expensive. Lastly if you make your bin too hard to get into, or the walls too high, this can make turning and stirring a real task. Make sure the person who will mainly be turning the pile can do so with ease. Finding what’s right for the space and strength you have will be entirely up to you and your budget.
A rustic completely biodegradable compost bin.
After you’ve found your spot, you must now have a building plan. There are hundreds of compost bin designs online, plenty of resources from libraries, or your local Extension Office can point you in the right direction. Because of the vast number of designs, variations on bins, and your personal factors, explaining them all would take more time and print than we are willing to dish out. You will have no problem finding a design close to what you want and we will leave this step up to you to research.
A simple compost bin constructed from old pallets.
Once your bin or barrel is up and you’re ready to fill, keep in mind that ingredients can be classified as “Greens” and “Browns”. Greens are lawn trimmings and mostly fruit and vegetable waste from kitchens. Browns are more fibrous material that are slow to rot such as tree pruning waste, dead leaves, straw, cardboard, and even old newspapers. It’s recommended that you have pretty equal amounts of both in your pile at a time. What you put in the pile will also effect the pH of the pile and upon application your soil. Animal manure is a fantastic addition to your compost if you have the resources, but can add a lot of extra weight. Without being super specific, make sure your pile is warm, moist but not waterlogged, and balanced in Greens and Browns.
A barrel type composter can be made or bought.
There are some ways to speed up the process. Turning your pile every so often will speed things along as well as aerate the pile and give you a change to make sure your compost is balanced. Filling your compost as much as you can, while still being able to put a lid on it, will encourage the temperature to rise and further aid in the decomposition process. Chopping up bulky items with your shovel, wood chipper, or brush machete will allow for a more exposed surface area and faster composting.
The benefits of composting are many. Not only is your garden healthier, but you don’t have to use as many chemical fertilizers, which can be expensive. Your garbage bags will be lighter, and your flowers will be brighter. You will be surprised at the amount of nutrient rich materials you’ve been throwing away, when you could have been using it.