There are a bunch of different ways to create a compost pile for your garden. One way is to create a free-standing compost heap, which is literally a pile. You may want to keep that out of sight since compost heaps can be an eyesore. Another way to compost is with a ready-made compost bin. There are a variety of styles to choose. If you are handy, you could build your own bin out of repurposed lumber and wire mesh fencing.
All organic material that was once a plant, from vegetable trimmings to leaves, can be composted. Majority of households produce a constant supply of compost materials from the garden, kitchen and around the yard. Start by layering organic ingredients such as straw, corn stalks, leaves, pesticide-free grass clippings, egg shells, tea, fruit peels, coffee grounds and other organic matter from the kitchen. Make sure to leave out greasy products, meats and pet droppings. If you mainly have compost ingredients from your kitchen, think about using an enclosed composter. This will help keep pests from digging in your compost. Enclosed composters also have the added benefit of hiding the unappealing heap.
The larger your garden is, the more you will need a good place to compost its waste. An open pile that can be easily turned and chopped works great for composting garden waste. Leaves need to age for a bit before they can decompose, so it may be a good idea to stockpile them through the winter. When spring comes around, the aged leaves can be used as mulch or be throw into your compost pile. Leaves decompose faster if they are chopped up with a mower or leaf shredder.
When starting a new pile, sprinkle it with a couple shovelfuls of composted material or topsoil to add the necessary microorganisms for decomposition. A dose of organic fertilizer, such as feather meal or blood meal, adds nitrogen that will jumpstart the decomposition rate as well.
Balancing Browns and Greens
There is no perfect recipe for making compost, just follow the simple ratio of 3 parts “browns”
to 1 part “greens”. Browns are rich in carbon, and mainly come from trees. Greens are rich in nitrogen, and consist of garden or kitchen waste.
During summer months, all gardeners have a surplus of greens, followed by a surplus of browns in the fall. In order to balance out the excess of summer greens, save up leaves or pine needles in the fall and store them in trash bags or a garbage can. In summer, if greens overload your compost pile, layer on some leaves to keep your mixture consistent with the 3:1 ratio. Properties with less leaves can use shredded newspaper.
If you have a smaller garden, but many trees, your compost may need more greens to balance out the extra browns from leaves. Grass clippings that are not treated with pesticides will work great to equalize the 3:1 ratio. You could also use other high-nitrogen plant meals like alfalfa, canola or cottonseed meal.
If you are creating an open-air compost pile, layer greens and browns at a 3:1 ratio until your mix is 3-4 feet tall. Add a bit of water between each layer, but don’t make the pile soggy. If you have a tumbler compost bin, all you have to do is throw in your ingredients and tumble.
Air, Water, and Stirring
Water and air are the two secrets when composting. For best results, keep your mixture moist and aerated. Water the compost regularly, then turn the compost over with a fork to add air. If you don’t want to turn your compost over by hand, and you are on a budget, you could also put the compost in a plastic garbage can covered by a tight lid with holes drilled into the top for air circulation. When you want to mix your compost just roll the can to stir the materials inside. If you have some extra cash, purchase a tumbler composter that can be turned easily with an attached handle.
Fully Cooked Compost
Finished compost, also known as being “cooked”, has a fresh earthy aroma and looks like rich brown soil. If the compost is giving off a foul odor, that is a sign of being too soggy, having too many greens or that the compost isn’t done cooking. Try mixing the pile more often to reduce the moisture. The compost will form quicker if you turn the mixture every week or two. Compost will happen, but you are in control of how fast it will happen.