If you enjoy vegetable gardening or growing flowers, adding organic matter formed by composting will give you great results. Have you always thought that making compost is difficult? These Composting Tips will take the mystery out of it for you.
Composting may seem like something that only our ancestors did, but many modern gardeners take advantage of its benefits. And these composting tips will make it easy for you to understand the process.
What is compost?
Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and then recycled to be later used as a fertilizer for plants and also as a soil amendment. Using compost is something that is practiced in organic gardening, when you want to limit chemicals that are added to your soil and plants.
A compost pile can be enclosed in a container and turned, or you can have a free standing rolling compost pile. A traditional compost pile and be tended all four seasons, but doesn’t “cook” as much when the weather is cold.
Composting can be as complicated or as simple as you want.There are even under the counter composting bins for the kitchen! I’ve even tried planting in compost piles themselves to see what happens.
Where can you get compost?
Before we get started on composting tips, lets see what makes up a compost pile.
Many retail stores which have a garden area sell compost, but it is also very easy to make yourself. In order to get a compost pile going you will need four things:
- fresh air
- green materials
- brown materials
All of these items can also be free, even the water, if you can save rain water! So why buy compost when you can make your own?
Composting Tips – Making Black Gold
Simply put, composting requires wet organic matter that is a combination of nitrogen rich green materials and carbon rich brown materials. In time, the pile of matter will break down into a rich soil like mixture. This can take a few weeks to a few months, depending on the weather. A good combination of greens to browns in a compost pile is 1 part green to 3 or 4 parts brown materials added. Since greens are a bit harder to come by than brown materials, it seems that mother nature knows what she is doing!
It is not a hard and fast rule, but it is easy to know if you are doing it right. If your pile is too smelly, just add more browns. On the other side of the equation, if the pile is not heating up enough, then add more greens!
What are greens?
Green materials are the items that will make the pile heat up. They are nitrogen rich materials. Not surprisingly, many are the color green. Lots of these are found in your own kitchen and around your yard! Some common greens are:
- fresh plain pasta (no butter or sauce)
- coffee grounds and tea bags
- kitchen scraps such as fruit and vegetable peelings. Try trench composting with these!
- fresh grass clippings
- green garden clippings
- fresh weeds with no seeds
- animal manure
These items will make up 1/4 to 1/3 of the total compost pile.
What are brown materials for a compost pile?
Browns are carbon rich materials. Older garden byproducts and many common household items work as brown materials for the pile. And the color? You guessed it – lots of tan and brown colors! These items will make up 2/3-3/4 of your pile. Here are a few ideas:
- stale bread (no butter)
- corn cobs and dried corn stalks
- dried flowers from arrangements
- human hair (and pet hair!)
- egg shells
- dryer lint
- hay from bales used at Halloween
- natural corks (not plastic versions)
- shells of nuts and peanuts
- shredded white paper and newsprint
- dried leaves
- wood chips (untreated lumber)
- pine cones and pine needles
- potting soil
- toilet paper and wrapping paper tubes
- activated charcoal (not briquettes) for odor control
- wood ashes (untreated wood only)
And the list goes on. I’ve written an article on surprising things that you didn’t know you could compost. Thankfully, it is easy to procure browns for your pile.
What should you NOT add to your compost pile?
The list of items that can be composted seems to cover everything, but there are some things that should never get added to a compost pile. Some food stuffs and animal products attract vermin, so while they WILL break down, they aren’t a good addition to a pile. Others will never break down. This is an organic pile, not a garbage heap, after all! No list of composting tips would be complete without a list of no no items. Here are a few things to never add to your pile:
- Weeds with seeds (those won’t get destroyed and may regrow)
- Pressure treated lumber products
- Plastic materials
- Colored paper
- Oils and grease
- Cheese products
- Meat bones and scraps
- Cat litter
- Diseased plants (may infect the pile and get passed on later)
- Dairy products
- Charcoal briquettes
- Large branches (will not decompose fast enough. Use a wood chipper on them and then add them.)
- Saw dust from treated lumber (no matter how tempting!)
- Rocks, bricks, stones
- Car oil
What do you do with compost?
There are many reasons to make a compost pile. Compost is often called Mother Nature’s Black Gold or humus. There is a difference between humus and compost, though. Compost is the decayed remains of organic matter, while humus is actually natural organic compounds that are found in the soil. So, while they are often used interchangeably. remember that finished compost ADDS humus to the soil!
There are lots of ways to use finished compost. I have a rule that I follow. When it comes to growing perennials, for every hole I dig, in goes some compost! It can be used to enrich soil, or to add as a top dressing. You can add it to a neglected lawn to get it to grow better. Try making compost tea! Just mix some compost with water and use it on your house plants. Mulching with compost helps to control weeds and makes moisture control easier.
Once you have your compost nicely broken down, you will need something to screen it to keep out larger particles. You are looking for a soil like material when you are done. You can purchase compost strainers, but I just use garden trays doubled up to screen my compost. They are readily available when you purchase plants and do the job nicely.
You will also need something to turn the compost pile as it is “cooking.” It takes a while for compost to break down, and turning the pile regularly speeds up this process.
A compost pile does require some room. If your yard is small but you still want to make use of composting ideas, try on the spot composting with kitchen scraps. Adding coffee grounds and tea grounds to the soil of acid loving plants is also beneficial.
When you start using compost around your yard, you will find that you have healthier plants, better soil and a greener lawn. Another benefit is that you are adding waste items to a compost pile instead of the land fill. Nutrients contained in compost have a wonderful effect on our garden and on our planet!
Do you have some composting tips? What are some items that you add, or don’t add to your pile that I have not mentioned? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.