I’ve been composting for as long as I’ve been gardening – and that’s a long time! Compost is free and just about the yummiest additive you can give your gardens. I mainly use my compost for my vegetable gardens as well as a top-dressing for my flower beds. Compost is basically decayed organic matter and it is valuable to improving your soil and putting back the organisims that have become depleted.
The basics to composting is to keep it green and brown. By that I mean you need an equal amount of nitrogen rich material, like grass clippings and vegetable scraps and peelings – and carbon rich material like bark, leaves or shredded paper. You can add any vegetables, peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea (even in the bag!) and left over salad scraps. Do not use any meats, cooked food, bones or pet waste. These items will attract pest – big and small, and do not break down well. You can add additional nitrogen with manure (cow or chicken) which also contains high levels of soil organisms.
The actual process of composting generates a high heat which causes the natural break down of organic matter. It also helps to kill weed seeds and pest and some diseases. It takes a couple of weeks to reach its maximum temperature and matures in about three months. Turning the heap speeds up the process and keeps it from compacting. You want to keep the pile moist but not wet. I compost enough to mix in with the soil of my Fall garden and Spring garden which makes for some very rich planting soil.
The perfect size for a compost pile is 3x3x3. It should have a lid and slats or panels to keep the heat in and conserve moisture. I use a rotating composter I bought from Home Depot. It is much easier for me to turn and I like that it is off the ground. I place a bucket under the composter to catch ‘compost tea’ and I use that in my watering can on my container plants and vegetable garden. It is nutrient rich and my flowers love it. I don’t even use a fertilizer on my container plants, the tea is just perfect for them. ( I would NOT use this in the house – could be a tad stinky!!)
I would suggest doing a web search for ideas on making your own compost bin. You can even make one out of FREE pallets! If you would rather buy one they can be found at most garden centers and big box stores. The one constant rule is to be sure to ADD to the pile and turn and aerate it regularly.
When your compost is done it should look, feel and smell like rich dark soil. You shouldn’t be able to make out any of the things you put into it. Happy composting!!!