What Is Composting and Why Should You Do It?
Composting itself is the process of decomposing. That doesn’t sound as attractive, however composting isn’t as gross as it sounds. Everything decomposes, composting just reduces the amount of product waste that ends up in our landfills. By getting a good mixture of various, organic materials, you’ll not only reduce your family’s waste output, but the resulting effort can also be used to fertilize your garden naturally!
By a mixture of heat, moisture, aeration, and a balance of the ingredients you put into the mix, the more healthy the compost will end up. By avoiding some big ‘no-no’s’, you can also avoid a foul smelling smush. Even better, it’s a valuable learning experience for the children in your family to expose them to responsibility for their output, and how nature handles it’s trash.
Composting has been made even easier to do now with commercial bins available at most home upkeep stores. These are available at a range of prices, however if you don’t want to go that route, you can make your own bin, or just keep your compost in a pile.
If you have a homeowner’s association, they can sometimes object to this however, if it is a problem, this can usually be averted by putting up a fence, or planting around the pile to obscure it somewhat.
The concept of composting can seem a bit daunting to any person, however it’s not as hard as it sounds.
It’s a wonderful learning experience for the younger crowd, and it’s a family project that can engage everyone in the family, while also helping the environment in a way that’s not as expensive a buying a smart car and solar panels. Even more, the process can really boost the health of your garden, for a much lower cost than buying compost at the store. While it can seem complicated from the outside, we’ll help make it easier to approach with a simple, clear cut guide on what you can and can’t put in, and helping maintain the balance of the contents within.
What Can Be Composted?
Before you can start a compost, it’s important to know what can and cannot be composted. Throwing all of your family’s trash in a pile in the backyard won’t actually be composting, just messy! So where do you start?Credit: organicgardenprofessor.com
Imagine the compost you’ll have when you’re finished; that’s going to feed your garden. Your garden won’t want to eat some things, and you won’t want it to eat -many- others.
Avoid anything that you think might have been treated chemically; this is a natural process, and chemicals make it toxic to your garden.
Also avoid putting in any feces of any sort. Other things to avoid are animal products--be they meat or bones, used personal products, milk products, rice--either cooked or uncooked, diseased plants, stubborn plants, paper with heavy coating or printing on it, cooking oil, and walnuts.
Many of the above ‘do nots’ listed are because of the simple fact that your compost, being outside, could attract numerous pests and critters that you just don’t need to hassle with. Others, however, will make your compost into a death sentence for your garden when you attempt to use it.
Things that you can compost are:
- fruit and vegetable scraps
- egg shells
- grass clippings
- shredded newspaper with no colored ink on it
- yard clippings
- table scraps that aren’t meat based
- tea leaves
- coffee grounds
- cut up cardboard
- dryer lint from natural fibers
- sawdust pellets and wood chips if you are certain that they haven’t been treated
- various shrub prunings.
The key to this, however, is to make the job of breaking it down easier; the smaller the pieces, the faster the ecosystem in your compost can break it down.
The materials listed all fall into one of two categories; nitrogen, and carbon. You want a healthy mix of the two for a quality compost, which can be daunting, however the very loose guideline is that carbon are the ‘dry’ ingredients, such as the cut grass, the wood, leaves, hay, newspaper, cardboard, dryer lint, etc. while the more moist seeming ingredients, such as the table scraps, vegetable scraps, tea leaves, coffee grounds, flowers, and weeds are all classified as nitrogen.
- Carbon gives your compost the light, fluffy quality it has, while Nitrogen lends raw materials for creating enzymes. Adding these different types of materials in layers helps to assure a quality balance to your work.
Starting Your First Compost!
Choose a day that’s nice and sunny, gather the family and get to work! It’s always good to start your compost on the earth, even if you ultimately intend to have it in a bin. This way is a bit more work for you, yes, but it also gives earthworms a chance to get into the mix and better aerate the materials, which is important to the process.
- Line the ground with straw or hay, something to give you a layer so you know where the ground ends and compost begins; it also gives it a bit of drainage and even more aeration.
- Now, you can start to add your materials in layers of dry and moist. If you choose to use wood ash, take care to keep it sprinkled and spread out to avoid making a big clump, which is ultimately more difficult to break down. When you’ve put in your layers, be sure to add a good dose of nitrogen to ensure that your pile is activated.
- The important keys here are heat, moistness, and aeration. When you’re starting, you should focus on moistness. If you live in a humid place with good rainfall, this isn’t too difficult, however if you live in a dryer climate, you’ll likely need to water it occasionally. Be sure, however, not to add too much water; you want your mixture moist, but not sopping wet. Too much moisture will result in a pile of mush that you won’t particularly want to have around, much less on your garden.
Aeration, in the beginning, will come from the hay, twigs, and straw beneath and just putting everything into the pile as it is, there are more steps to maintain that in general care for your compost.
Heat is a very important factor as well, however the organisms in your compost will provide that on their own; the more activity that happens as the items in your compost break down, the more heat that will be generated.
When you have everything in your compost that you want to put in for now, cover it with what you have; a tarp, carpet scraps, wood--anything that can cover the pile to protect it from over-watering by rain, and retain heat and moisture.
You may want to take a more advanced route and build or buy a compost tumbler like this one:Credit: organicgardenprofessor.com
Inside The Compost Tumbler:Credit: organicgardenprofessor.com
When Is Your Garden Compost Ready?
The big question that’s still unanswered is the one that our green little thumbs are the most excited to find the answer to: when is compost ready? How long does it take? This, unfortunately, isn’t so simple to answer.
The sweet and simple answer to when your compost is ready depends largely on the attention it’s given and the climate you live in, as well as the time of year.
Composts can take a while to finish their duties and produce a fertilizer that is decomposed enough to be of use to you. It could be a few weeks, but it could also be a few months. Several factors go into the amount of time required to make a good compost, but one of the things you have control over is the amount of attention it’s given.
A compost that is watered every three days and turned often will be viable much sooner than a compost that’s watered every few weeks and turned even less, obviously.
The more you water and aerate the mixture, the easier time the organisms have to get oxygen to keep working. In the right climate, a compost cared for every few days can sometimes be done in a matter of weeks, however that’s not entirely up to the amount of attention given to it, and few people have the time to dedicate to their compost so often.
Climate plays a very large factor as well. Composts work best in warm, humid conditions. Cooler areas of the world will find their composts being a bit more sluggish, while warmer climates may have a good product sooner than others. That isn’t largely in your control, but what you can do is choose a place to start your pile that gets a good amount of sunlight, is covered so as not to dry out, and moistened regularly to make up for any lack of humidity.
Finally, the season you choose to start your compost in also has a large effect on the amount of time it takes. Composts begun in the spring will generally come to fruition sooner than those begun in the fall, due to the temperatures. Planning your compost for the fall or colder months is alright, but it will take longer to be finished.
Generally speaking, these factors all add in to whether your compost pile takes from three months to six, but every compost pile is different. You can tell that your compost pile is done by the ambient temperature it generates; when it’s working, the compost pile can get up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. As it cools, the decomposing process is slowing down; compost is generally good to use when the temperature of the pile is the same as the air around it.