What do banana peels, ash and egg shells have in common? They are all things that go into a compost pile. Composting is using the natural process of decay to change organic waste into a nutrient-rich hummus-like material. Composting is a great skill to learn for gardeners.
Why should you compost?
- Compost improves the quality of your soil. Good soil is the basis for a healthy garden.
- It is a good way to reduce your “carbon footprint” by recycling your household waste.
What should you compost in?
- Kitchen bin-I keep a small trash can under my sink in the kitchen for food scraps that can go into the compost pile.
- Compost bin-Once the kitchen bin is full, I transfer it to an outside enclosed compost bin. I add some dirt and other materials with water to get the compost process going.
- Three tier system-I have a three tier system in the backyard made out of pallets. When the compost bin gets full, I rotate it into the first section of the pallet system. Then I rotate everything through the system until the last bin. By the time the last part of the system is ready to be rotated, the compost is ready to move to the garden to be used. You can follow this tutorial to build a pallet compost system.
What should you add to a compost pile?
- Browns-Sources of Carbon (straw, leaves, wood chips, sawdust, etc)
- Greens-Sources of Nitrogen (veggie scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds, manure)
What should you not add to a compost pile?
- Meat or Fish
- Bread or Grains
- Cooking Oil
- Dairy products
- Dead Animals
- Diseased Plant Material
- Dog or Cat Manure
- Grease or Oily Foods
- Noxious or Invasive Weeds
- Weeds with Seed Heads
How should you treat the compost pile?
The pile needs to heat up kill all weeds and bad germs. It should heat up to about 104 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 days with at least 5 hours at 131 degrees Fahrenheit. But don’t worry too much about the exact numbers. Just try to get it warm enough so the composting process can be effective.
Browns & Greens
The ration of browns (carbons) to greens (nitrogens) should be 30:1. You need much more browns than greens to make the compost right. Too many browns and the process won’t decompose very quickly. Too many greens and it will have an ammonia smell.
When it comes to size of things you put in your compost pile, smaller is better. I have thrown bigger things into my compost bin (like Halloween Carved Pumpkins) but they take longer to break down.
Your pile needs air to breathe to function properly. You need to have wholes in your bin and your pile needs to have circulation.
The organisms in your compost pile need water to do their thing, but not too much. Your pile should be damp, but not too soaked. If water runs off the pile, the nutrients will go with it. You don’t want that!
You need to turn your pile or bin about once a week to get the air flow needed. You can use a shovel or pitch fork for a compost pile or flip over a compost bin. Turning also helps move the pieces around so that new parts can get heated up.
How do you know when the compost is ready to use in the garden?
Compost is ready to use when the organic matter has broken down into moist, dark humus that looks a lot like fluffy chocolate cake. It has no discernible apple cores or weed stems visible.
When Composting Goes Wrong!
I have had many problems with composting over the years.
- I forget that it is there and neglect it. You have to water and turn compost on a regular basis or it won’t decompose quickly or efficiently. You can tell from the photo above that this pile has been neglected this winter.
- Once I added ash that I thought was cold, but it wasn’t. It was only about an hour later that someone knocked on my door to tell me that my fence was on fire. The pile is next to the fence and the whole thing caught on fire. Very scary! Lesson: Don’t put ashes in the compost until they are COMPLETELY COLD! In the photo above, you can see the fence posts that were charred by this fire. I replaced the outside fence pickets, but not the cross boards.
- If animals get into your compost bin, you need to cover it with another pallet to keep them out. Also, the more you water and turn it, the less likely animals will bother it because you are there more often.
Once you get your composting system in place, it will provide you with black gold soil for your gardening projects. By turning food scraps, household waste and animal droppings into compost you are not only saving the landfill, you are saving your pocketbook too.
Do you compost? Do you have any tips or tricks you would like to share for awesome compost? Please leave them in the comments below. Thanks!