Using these tips you can begin to produce your own garden compost
Composting is a rewarding and exciting (yes, I said exciting) activity for gardeners that you can do at your home, right in your own backyard. If you don’t believe me that composting is exciting, that may be because you haven’t actually delved wholeheartedly into it!
Where to Compost
Compost can be unsightly to some people, and it can also give off a bad odor at times, so compost piles are usually kept in the backyard, in some far off corner of the yard where they are mostly out of sight. When considering where to put your pile you should think about these ideas:
- Put the pile where it is closest to the materials you are going to put in it. If most of your organic material comes from one part of your yard you may want to keep the pile right next to that area. If, on the other hand you draw materials from all over the yard, you may to keep the pile centrally located
- Put the pile where it is closest to where you will use the finished product – compost.
- Put the pile where it is hidden
- Put the pile where you have a lot of room. Piles can take up a lot of space!
Compost doesn’t have to be put in a bin or container. You can simply make a pile anywhere in your yard if you want. However, using a bin or container helps in a number of ways. It is easier to keep the compost contained, not spilling out all over the place. It is easier to identify where the pile’s limits are, so that it doesn’t grow to over run other parts of your yard. It provides shelter from the cold, or from excessive rain.
There are a few different kinds of compost bins that you can make. The most common kind is made out of boards of wood. You can build a simple one in a square shape with 2x2” posts and 1x4 or 1x6 inch boards as slats. If you use this method you should get pressure-treated wood because otherwise the boards will decompose right along with the compost and it will only last you a couple years. Use the slats to make 3 walls that are at least 3 feet high, 3 feet wide and 3 feet long. If you want, you can make the bin up to 5x5x5 feet, but you should not make your pile larger than this or the pile will become too big to allow proper air flow. One simple way to put together a makeshift bin is by using old pallets. Take three pallets and connect them together any way you want – nails, brackets, even rope will do in a pinch. The goal is to have a 3-sided cube with an open top and open front for easy access.
Another great kind of compost bin is to use wire mesh, such as chicken wire or fence material. You can wrap the material around posts and fill it with compost. Then, when the compost is done, just life the mesh off of the pile for super-easy access!
Another excellent option for compost bins is to buy one of the pre-made models available on the internet. The best kinds are tumbler bins. These are made out of plastic, with air holes to allow oxygen to flow into the compost mix. They are designed with the ability to easily turn the pile by rolling their drum over and over. Even when the bin is full they are still pretty easy to turn. One of the best models available is this one, from Amazon.Com. It has great reviews, and there is a free shipping option!
How to Compost
Composting simply means gathering together a variety of organic materials from your yard and mixing them together into a pile in order to maximize the decomposition process, either for speed or quality. Yard materials are not all created equally. The two most important minerals involved in decomposition are carbon and nitrogen. Your yard materials will be made up with a certain amount of both of these. The goal in composting is to strive towards a ration of Carbon to Nitrogen of 30:1, meaning 30 times the amount of Carbon as there is Nitrogen. It is nearly impossible to attain this ratio perfectly, however. The easiest thing to do is to make sure you have a good mixture of a variety of materials from throughout your yard. Carbon materials tend to be bulky and coarse, and are usually yellow or brown in color. Nitrogen items are often green, and are not bulky. Good examples of carbon materials are straw, hay, stems from plants, and leaves. Good examples of nitrogen sources are grass clippings, green strappy foliage as with daylilies, and manure, to name a few.
When creating a compost pile, start with a layer of carbon material, such as leaves, stems or straw, and spread a layer six inches deep right on the ground. Then place a layer of nitrogen material, such as grass clippings, again six inches deep. Then you can sprinkle a thin layer of soil, about two inches. On top of that put some manure if you have it, otherwise more grass clippings would be fine. Then add a little water, and repeat the cycle again. After you have your pile built up at least 3 feet high, but no more than 5 feet, you are done. It is a good idea to cover the top of the pile with something insulating, such as more straw, or sod. Sod works great as the cover of a compost pile. Just make sure to lay it on top, upside down so the grass is against the pile and the roots are sticking up. This will hold in the heat very well, and that sod will decompose nicely.
One other important step, which most people do with their compost, is to turn the pile. In order to keep the pile well-mixed and to make sure that it decomposes uniformly is to mix up the pile periodically. You can do this by simply scooping it up with a pitchfork and tossing it like a salad. But, more typically, people prefer to “turn the pile”. This means that you start a new pile right next to your first pile by scooping off the top of the second pile and placing on the ground. Keep working your way down the first pile until the whole thing is moved to the second pile. This effectively turns the pile upside down, but also mixes it quite thoroughly.
One last element of composting that you may want to consider is worm composting. This is a method of composting food scraps that can be done indoors in a smaller space and produces very high quality compost material, called worm castings.
Composting can be a very rewarding experience, and makes you feel good about gardening. For a much m ore complete and detailed guide to composting visit this helpful website that examines many different aspects of the subject.