Composting 101

Got a compost pile? If you don’t, now’s the perfect time to start one in celebration of Earth Day on Sunday. To be clear, compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer or soil additive. Creating your own compost simply requires making a heap of wetted organic matter (leaves, food waste) and waiting several weeks for the materials to break down. If you have a yard or a spot for composting, you can easily do this. Here’s how to get started:

  • Jumpstart a new compost pile with aged manure, cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal, blood meal or compost starter. They’re rich in nitrogen and help activate the microbes necessary for breaking down organic matter into compost.
  • Anything that was living at one time is great for compost piles. Think of leaves, vegetables and grass clippings. Avoid anything that’s been chemically treated.
  • The microbes responsible for breaking down your compost pile need a balanced diet of nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen comes from green materials, like food scraps and grass clippings. Carbon comes from brown materials such as dead leaves, hay and wood chips. You can add to your pile as often as you want, but keep a ratio of equal portions by weight.
  • Compost piles should be damp but not too wet—think of a wrung-out sponge. As you build your compost pile, make sure that each layer is moist as it is added. The surface should also remain damp.
  • For faster composting, keep your pile or compost bin in direct sun and use a compost turner every two weeks to aerate your pile. Be sure to keep it damp though—the sun can dry it out if you’re not careful.
  • Depending on how carefully you manage your pile, composting can take from 1 month to 2 years. A pile turned every week or so and carefully managed may compost in a month or two. A pile not turned or managed will take about six months to two years to fully compost.

Caution—do not compost fats, pet droppings or animal products. They will attract pests to the pile and can spread disease.

So, how do you know when it’s “done?” Compost should be dark and crumbly with none of the starting ingredients visible. Finished compost can be applied around the base of trees and shrubs to serve as mulch or worked into the soil in a garden to provide valuable nutrients.

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3 thoughts on “Composting 101

  1. That’s awesome! I like the let’s try it and see what henpaps method Sometimes I’m simply too afraid of the wrong results and it paralyzes me from trying new things. Anyway, I have a little story. We have a large pile in the area near the back of our garage where we have, just like you, thrown grass clippings and other sticks and weeds, etc. Well, we also have thrown our used pumpkin remains back there. And, this year, whatever seeds that were left, took root, and we have this massive pumpkin vine growing there! It produced 4 beautiful pie sized pumpkins! Wow! Three of them already had evidence of animals eating them, so we just left those. We also have a vine in the front of the garage, and have 1 pumpkin, but it looks to be a mini pumpkin. There’s more blooms on it, so we’ll see if those will produce more pumpkins by October. So, the moral of the story is, just go for it! You never know what’s going to happen until you just dig in and try it! I LOVE that you used recycled items as your wood, too. GREAT idea!!! I’m going to steal it to use someday. Thanks!!

  2. I started a cospmot pile this spring, at first it was just a pile, then hubby got me a bin for my b-day. I stir mine up every time I add to it (every few days)that way it’s evenly distributed. And since it’s been so hot here (105+)I’ve been watering it when I throw food in, it really helps. I also have some worms in my pile which is great because I’m out of brown . I wanted a fancy cospmot pail in the kitchen but they were a bit pricy. So we picked up a small office trashcan from Target for $12. It has a removable pail which is perfect for taking to my pile. We just put the whole thing under the sink. I know what you mean about throwing food out, but I feel so much better knowing that I’m recycling the scraps!Have fun with it!

  3. Looks great! I’m doing the open pile method right now, and it doesn’t work so well. I’ll have to rbmemeer this idea for a bin! As far as storing scraps, I have a dedicated plastic cup that sits by the sink, and I throw peelings and eggshells into it. When it gets full, I take it out. It’s small enough that it doesn’t start smelling but large enough that I don’t have to take it out every day. You could also put a bucket under your sink if you didn’t want to leave it out. I usually let my pile compost over winter and I figure that the dump needs some compostable material too, so I don’t feel too bad about throwing some away in winter. Diana recently posted..

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