Tho composting sounds like a complicated farming chore, products at your local big box store make it an easy and beneficial task even for those of us with the smallest of gardening capabilities. Whether your “farm” is an apartment balcony, kitchen window, raised beds or row upon glorious row, here are some easy DIY suggestions to make composting a regular way of enriching your patch of earth.
What is Composting?
According to this article by bonnieplants.com,
Composting is a natural process of recycling organic material such as leaves and vegetable scraps into a rich soil amendment that gardeners fondly nickname Black Gold.
It is essentially the epitome of recycling and reducing the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and it costs next to nothing but time to create!
Composting mimics what nature does to replenish the soft, rich humus of a forest floor by breaking down the leaves, needles, and other plant and animal debris that have fallen onto the ground and enriching the soil beneath it with nutrients and microbes beneficial to plant life.
Composting is a wonderful illustration of the circle of life, casting the energy of fading life forms from one generation into the embryonic inhabitants of the next.
Why is Composting Such A Good Idea?
It is estimated that nearly half of the garbage destined for our landfills consists of kitchen scraps and garden waste. When this organic material is deposited there and breaks down, it does so without the benefit of air circulation. The anaerobic decomposition of this material is what produces methane gas.
When plants photosynthesize, they act as a carbon pump, cycling it out of the atmosphere and into the ground. This is called carbon sequestering, and compost enriches the whole process … the food grown in this carbon-rich soil is nutrient-dense and provides food security …
You can read the entire story here.
This is wonderful news for those of us with visions of building backyard organic “food factories.” The elements to make wonderful soil for our peas and carrots can literally be found in the trash!
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How to Make Compost
The traditional way of making compost starts with bins of any sort. You can use plastic trash cans, a wooden structure as pictured above, or create an area using chicken wire and stakes. (Even choosing material for your composting bins is recycle friendly!)
If you are short on such supplies, ready-made composters come in a variety of styles, sizes, and features. My favorite bins have a “tumble” feature which allows you to turn the compost pile every couple of weeks with a quick spin, as opposed to lifting and turning it over with a garden fork.
I’m too old for this, People!
Whatever you choose to contain your compost pile, ensure good air circulation right off the bat by starting it off on the bottom with a small network of dried twigs.
The next layer should be composed of 3/4’s organic material (think brown: dried leaves, coffee grounds) and 1/4 nitrogen (think green like grass clippings.)
You can let this layer practically fill your container because, as the material breaks down, it will shrink and make room for more goodies.
After starting your pile, wait about three weeks before turning it for the first time. Turning compost allows for that all-important air circulation and helps it to break down more evenly. Subsequently, remember to turn it at least every three months.
Allow your pile to regularly be exposed to the elements. Sunshine and rain are good influences on a compost pile, as long as it doesn’t get too dried out or too soggy. Think of keeping it consistently damp like a wrung-out wet sponge to avoid sliminess and nasty smells.
If unpleasant odors do occur, you need more carbon (brown) in the mix. This is easily remedied with the addition of more dried leaves, coffee grounds, and/or shredded paper.
Keep adding kitchen scraps and garden waste to your pile as you have it, always maintaining that 3-part carbon to 1-part nitrogen ratio.
With care and management, you should have sweet-smelling compost for your garden that looks like rich brown earth in six or seven months’ time!
What to Compost
As previously stated, your wet kitchen garbage (used coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, eggshells, and a little shredded paper) are great candidates for composting, as are garden clippings.
Avoid adding weeds or diseased plant material to your compost pile. Also never add dairy products, meats, seafood, or pet droppings.
For those of us who don’t have room for a compost pile or bin, containers now come in sizes that would fit nicely on a small apartment balcony or patio. It is wonderful to have a small supply to add to your potted plants occasionally.
If this is not an option for you, you might look into your area’s waste management service to see if they have a collection program for compost. Some departments and small businesses are developing such services to reduce the size of our landfills and resulting greenhouse gases, including city’s like Boston, MA.
Those who take part in these composting efforts often collect their scraps and store them in the freezer to avoid odors, then put the collection in a bucket on pickup day.
Variations on a Theme
An alternative to the typical compost pile is to buy yourself some pet worms.
I’m not kidding.
Like about 200 of them at a time.
Vermiculture is a space-saving and more time-efficient method of making compost.
We aren’t the ones making the compost.
The worms are.
A worm farm can be purchased from a number of sources (see below) or it is easy to make your own.
You really only need three stackable buckets with lids and a drill to contain your wrigglers, compost, and resulting water which has now become an incredibly nutrient-rich compost “tea” to fertilize plants with.
Starting with a cozy bed of damp shredded newspaper or cardboard you can tuck in your worms and throw in some kitchen scraps for their midnight snack.
They do all the rest.
Here is a complete video tutorial for your viewing pleasure 😀
Is Composting Right For You?
If you have never examined composting as a possibility in your lifestyle, I hope I’ve given you some seeds for thought. And if you have pursued it, hopefully you have found some encouragement here to keep going!
Look below for more information and resources to help you incorporate this holistic and practical task into your daily routine of blessing your very own patch of earth!
PS: Here are some resources for more information:
Books on Composting:
Popular Composting Bins:
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