The Total Beginner’s Guide to Composting At Home
This is the first blog post of Geobunga’s series on easy composting at home. Part Two: 3 Brilliant Uses of Homemade Compost You Wish You Found Sooner, is about the top three ways to use compast to help your plants thrive and stay happy.
Next time you’re walking in nature, take note of all the dead leaves and other organic matter decomposing on the ground. That’s compost, and the plants love it! Why? Because compost:
improves soil fertility, soil structure and water-holding capacity
reduces erosion and levels of plant pathogens, insects and weeds
Compost doesn’t just happen in the wild, either.
Many people compost at home to give their gardens a boost and reduce their landfill waste. All it takes to get started is a small heap of organic “leftovers” from your house — stuff that you normally throw in the garbage.
Your trash is your garden’s eventual treasure
What’s compostable and what’s not
With food, it’s okay to compost fruit and vegetable peelings, eggshells, coffee grounds, old bread, grains (anything made from flour) and corn cobs.
It’s not okay to compost any kind of meat, fish or dairy products, as well as grease and oil. These items will throw off the nutrient balance while attracting less-than-desirable critters such as rodents, maggots and other scavengers (not to mention the odor).
Guess what? You can also compost:
paper products such as newspaper, cardboard, paper napkins, tea bags, cereal boxes,
dryer lint(!), old clothes and hair
grass and lawn clippings
This is just a small list — check out all these compostable household items.
Starting your compost
A simple backyard compost bin
Once you’ve collected a modest amount of organic waste, you’ll need designated area or container to start the composting process. Make sure it’s a place that’s conducive to heat and moisture, which will allow the microbes to break down the waste matter into plant nutrients.
You can purchase special compost bins at the store, create your own, or simply make a pile in an area of your yard. You’ll want the size to be in the range of in the range of 3′ x 3′ x 3′ to 5′ x 5′ x 5′, but be aware: too small and you won’t generate enough heat to decompose the plant material; too big and it’s get hard to manage and may not decompose evenly.
The general rule of thumb for household composting is 25-30 parts of dry, carbon-rich “brown” matter (shredded paper, dry leaves and grass, sawdust, etc.) to one part moist, nitrogen-rich “green” matter (fresh cut grass, food waste, coffee grounds, etc.).
You will need to turn the pile often — up to once a day — with a pitchfork or similar garden tool, which helps even out the decomposing process (again — you can also buy a compost tumbler that’s easy to turn). The pile will be warm, too — a good sign that your compost is “cooking” properly.
…the temperature of the inside of the pile drops down to within 5 degrees of the outside. You should also not see any discernible plant matter, and the compost should look and feel like rich, brown topsoil. It also smells nice and earthy!
In the next composting article, we’ll talk about the best ways to use compost to help your garden.
Join our FREE workshop on “How and Why to Compost” on Saturday 4/18 at Geobunga Waimanalo and 5/2 at Geobunga Salt Lake.
Flickr photo credits: fragiletender, collinanderson, wisemanderine, ambernussbaum