Step 3: Creating Good Soil
Step 4: Choosing Easy Crops
Step 5: Begin Composting
Because this is a beginner’s series, I’m going to teach you the most important and yet basic information about composting. Understanding this will make you a great composter.
Why compost? Every “green thumb” knows that the difference between a good crop and a poor one is fertilizer. The very best and cheapest fertilizer is compost.
First of all, realize that compost just happens. Decomposition of dead matter doesn’t require any assistance from us, nature just takes care of itself. It’s just basic biology.
Passive composting is what happens naturally, active composting is when we humans step in to speed the process up. Both render wonderful compost, one method is just quicker than the other.
With that in mind, resist the temptation to run out and buy one of the many groovy composting contraptions available on the market out there. You really don’t need any of them. If you choose to own something like that down the road, once you get a little more experience under your belt, go for it. You might find that one of those products truly fits a need you might have (like trying to compost in urban areas). But for now, let just talk “pile”.
The above diagram is just about as fancy as it needs to get, frankly. If you are in a location that would allow a “heap” or or “pile” in the corner of your yard somewhere, I would begin with that.
Compost bins made from old pallets are popular, try to make sure the wood isn’t treated, although that’s not easy to tell sometimes.
Personally, I do not care for the chicken wire idea. This makes it nearly impossible to turn your pile, which is critical to speedy composting.
Effective compost needs the following:
Take a mental picture of the first “pile”. Notice how it has mostly “brown” (or completely lacking life) materials with less “green” materials? That’s referred to as the carbon/nitrogen ratio and it has everything to do with how fast or slow your compost pile will decompose.
Here’s all the beginner needs to know. Try to add about a 3:1 ratio of “browns” to “greens” in your pile. This rarely works out exactly. But remember, compost will always happen! We’re only talking about the speed with which it will happen with proper conditions.
What’s a “green” and what’s a “brown“??
“Greens” bring nitrogen to your pile:Kitchen scraps, such as peels from fruits and vegetables.Coffee grinds and tea bagsFresh leaves, twigs and grass clippingsComposted manure(Avoid meats, dairy and fats)“Browns” are the carbons that your pile needs:Hair and dryer lintDry leaves and twigs, grass clippingsPaper and wood products, in small piecesLintStraw
A few more pointers:
* Start your pile with a 2-4″ layer of “browns”, like leaves, twigs, straw, etc.
* Continue to add layers of “greens” and “browns”, keeping in mind that 3:1 browns to greens works best.
* When you add a layer of food scraps, always cover with a little soil to discourage critters from visiting your heap.
* Water your pile every couple of days and turn several times a week. This speeds up decomposition.
* Your pile should not smell! If it does, add more “brown” materials, turn more frequently and make sure it’s getting enough air circulation. Your pile should smell like sweet soil or peat moss.
*Placing your pile at a “downwind” location from your home is recommended.
* I like using a pitch-fork to turn my pile.
* Also avoid the use of human, dog or cat manure. This is toxic.
Composting isn’t a perfect science, so don’t get hung up on the fact that you might make mistakes. JUST get started! We are all learning along the way!
Once you start to see your “black gold” developing under your compost pile, you’ll want to start more piles! It’s pretty exciting!