Everyone is talking about compost these days, but what is compost? When produced in a backyard compost is a composite material of decayed organic matter that can be used as part of an organic growing medium.   It is made up of yard clippings and plant based kitchen scraps that get mixed up in a pile or a specially constructed compost bin.  The matter is left to decay over time with the help of microorganisms that basically eat the mix.

Small Compost Pile(54954)

Composting can be done many ways from a simple pile in the corner of the yard to a specially constructed compost bin.  Most home improvement stores and online retailers sell ready-made compost bins, or a simple enclosure can be built using old wooden pallets, or even just a bit of chicken wire and some stakes.  Small scale bin composting can be accomplished in milk crates, 5 gallon pails or trash cans.

Ways to compost:

Pile in the corner of the yard – the simplest way to compost is to make a pile of your yard clippings and kitchen scraps in the corner of your yard.  The pile can be periodically turned to make sure that air gets incorporated into the mix. Without air, the necessary decomposition cannot occur.

Bin Composting - a simple enclosure can be built using old wooden pallets, or even just a bit of chicken wire and some stakes. Another way to bin compost is to buy a compost bin from an online retailer or the local garden center or home improvement store. Regardless of where you get your bin, it is the same basic method as pile composting but the pile is somewhat tidier looking because it is contained by the bin.

Compost Tumbler – The compost tumbler is a device that looks like a barrel or sphere which is loaded with the materials to be composted and then turned regularly to aerate the mix. The advantage is that it is easier in theory to spin the barrel on its supports than to use a pitchfork to manually turn or mix a pile.

Vermiculture - Another method that is available is the use of red worms to digest the organic matter.  In this method, the worms are provided with a box to live in, bedding material and food in the form of kitchen scraps and yard clippings. In return they reward the gardener with what is widely considered to be one of the best types of compost available, worm poop.  Plans and tutorials for setting up a worm farm are widely available online and many books have been written on the subject as well. 

What all of these methods (except vermiculture) have in common is that the material needs to be mixed up regularly to introduce air into the mix, the pile needs to be kept slightly moist in order for the matter to break down properly and it needs to be allowed to heat up in the sun.  Once the compost has completely decayed it becomes the gardener’s best friend, providing plants with just the right nutrients to grow to their best potential.  Compost also has the added benefit of keeping all of a household’s plant based kitchen scraps out of the landfill where it would truly go to waste.