Have you recently installed a vegetable garden in your backyard, but it isn’t growing quite as well as you hoped it would? Perhaps you are noticing your neighbor’s flowers and shrubs are miles ahead of yours, even though you both planted your gardens around the same time. Maybe you want to integrate more organic material into your garden and reduce your carbon footprint by producing less garbage around your home.
If any of the above resonate for you, you may want to take a look at introducing homemade compost to your garden. Compost is a source of nutrients and vitamins for plants of all varieties – vegetables, fruits, shrubs, flowers and trees. You can purchase compost from your local nursery or garden center, but you can also make your own out of recycled materials from around your home. With a little space and the time and willingness to compost, you can save money, improve your health, and help sustain the planet at the same time.
If you decide to compost, there are a few things to consider.
Compost Pile or Compost Bin?
First decide whether you want to create a compost pile or use a compost bin. As a pile lies on the ground, you’ll need adequate space to build it, and also to turn and aerate it as it decomposes. It’s a good idea to check local ordinances to make sure compost heaps are not prohibited in your area.
A compost bin saves space, so this is a good choice for smaller yards. There are several types of bins—slower processing “continuous” bins, or tumbling “batch” bins for more accelerated composting. If you’re crafty, you can make your own compost bin from wood, sheet metal or a combination of both. If that’s not your thing or you don’t have time, you can purchase various types of compost bins at any home hardware store or garden center. As a bin is enclosed, it offers the advantage of preserving the temperature of the compost and keeping out animals.
Types of Compost—Hot or Cold?
There are two types of composting–hot and cold. Hot compost is best made during the warmer months to encourage decomposition as the compost heats up. This method requires maintaining moisture and the compostable mixture requires turning to aerate it. The combination of air and water with carbon and nitrogen helps speed up the decomposing process.
Cold compost is made from the same recycled materials and requires much less effort, but is slower because it spreads out the process over several months to allow the compost to cure on its own.
Where to Place a Compost Pile
When selecting an area for a compost pile, look for a convenient location that receives as much sun as possible during the warmer months, has good drainage, and is preferably flat. Go for proximity to the garden so you won’t need to lug compost-filled wheelbarrows too far. If opting for a bin, place it in close proximity to where you will use the compost.
Acceptable Types of Compost Materials
Leftover kitchen items such as meat, bones, fish, fats, dairy, citrus peels, onions and pet feces should not be added to your compost. Instead, the compost requires a combination of acceptable carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich compostable materials. Nitrogen-rich items include but are not limited to:
• Fruit and vegetable scraps
• Coffee grounds and tea bags/leaves
• Vegetable peelings
• Fruit pits
Carbon rich materials include:
• Shredded newspaper, books (not the hardcover)
• Wood clippings – This is easiest with a wood chipper on hand. Find the best wood chippers, both electric and power versions here.
• Grass or lawn clippings
• Paper towels or napkins
• Dry leaves and pine needles
How to Start Hot Compost
Whether in a pile or bin, start the compost with a layer of porous material. The bottom of the compost pile will need to have drainage and air flow channels, so twigs and branches are always your best bet. Start by alternating layers of recycled materials, thoroughly combining the nitrogen-rich with the carbon-rich recyclable materials.
Once the compost has been started, you will want to introduce moisture to encourage growth for microorganisms that will speed up the growing process. Sprinkle, not soak, a compost pile on a daily basis until it has the consistency of a damp sponge.
After your compost pile begins to decompose, take some time each day to stir it up, using a rake or a garden fork. Turn the layered material to expose it to oxygen while preventing the bottom layers from turning mushy and slimy. Stirring the compost layers also reduces the odor.
Once the compost has reached a dry, brown and crumbly texture, you are ready to use it! Spread it around the roots of the plants and into the soil to allow the cultivated microorganisms to do their job and provide valuable nutrients to your plants.
You will reap several benefits by producing your own garden compost.
1) It’s healthy. Gardening provides an opportunity for exercise while spending time in nature which is known to improve ones health. You can skip the pesticides and grow organically.
2) Saves money. Growing your own food helps reduce the cost of groceries.
3) Helps the planet. Composting recycles materials that would otherwise end up in a land fill. Growing you own food reduces your carbon footprint a bit because those vegetables haven’t traveled miles, maybe only a few feet, from garden to kitchen. (The average carrot travels 1000 miles to your plate.)
Composting isn’t the hardest job in the world and you can give yourself a little credit for helping to preserve the environment for future generations.