Compost: How to Make it and Use it
Do You Compost?
…and just like that I’m all up in your personal business! But we’re all friends here, so I hope I haven’t gone too far and that it’s O.K. to delve into this personal matter.
Terry and realized very early on into our Organic Vegetable Garden journey that the quality of our soil was the Number 1 determinant of the quality and quantity of our garden harvest. To that end we amend our very sandy soil with compost every year. The compost is literally alive with microorganisms, worms and bugs, affirming the benefit to our vegetable garden.
The decomposed vegetable matter that results after the composting process is fondly named ‘black gold’ for a reason. Good compost will improve your soil structure, add nutrients to your soil, reduce the amount of water your need and fight plant diseases and insects that a more sterile soil is not able to.
Reasons to Compost your Kitchen and Yard Waste
- Composting is nature’s way of recycling. Compost is the end result of the breakdown of food, leaves, grass that ends up being the rich organic matter known as humus. Humus is vital for your healthy gardens as it is rich in microbial activity, insects and micronutrients. Your gardens are richer and healthier for the compost you add to it.
- What you compost at home doesn’t need to go to our landfills, thereby reducing all the dangerous by products of burning the waste.
- Instead of buying a bag of compost at your local hardware store, save the money and fuels necessary to package and transport it by making your own at home.
- The list of items you can compost is long. Obviously, any vegetable or fruit can be thrown into your composting bin. But coffee ground, tea bags and newspaper printed with soy ink are also compostable.
What Can You Compost?
In the perfect world you will have a ration of 2:1, Green matter to Brown matter. Green matter would be those typically soft, fresh or wet items, while Brown matter is usually hard, dry or dead material.
Truth time, I’m not going to measure and weigh my compost additions to make sure that I have that ratio. In the worst case, if you have too much green your bin will start to smell…so add some brown. If you have too much brown, it will just take longer for your compost to be finished.
- Raw or cooked Fruit and Vegetable peelings, cuttings, leftovers,etc… (Avoid those with butter or oil)
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea bags
- Shredded Newspaper
- Fish bones, scraps, shells (bury them 10-12 inches deep to minimize smell)
- Old/Outdated seeds
- Dry Leaves
- Bad Wine or Beer
- Nut shells, other than Walnuts (broken down if possible to speed up decay)
N&N Fun Fact for the Day: Walnuts contain a chemical called Juglone which is toxic to Tomatoes…who knew!?
- Eggshells (broken down if possible to speed up decay)
- Fruit and Vegetable pits and seeds (including olive, date, etc…)
- Plant trimmings
- Grass clippings (avoid if has dog waste on it)
- Wood ash from your fireplace
- Plant trimmings (avoid fibrous or very woody plants or shred them before adding)
- Pine Needles
What to Avoid in Your Compost Bin
- Bread Products (attract vermin and other unwanted pests)
- Any oils (cooking or motor)
- Diseased Plants
- Aluminum Foil, Magazine/Catalog Paper, Thermal Receipt Paper
- Animal and Human Waste, unless from non-carnivorous animals like cows, chickens, rabbits
- Meat Products
- Milk Products
- Sawdust from treated wood
- Weeds as they will happily propagate
- Anything with human blood
- Weeds with seeds
What Equipment You Need to Compost
There is no equipment that is absolutely necessary for composting. You could build your own bin with a couple of lengths of lumber or pallets and some nails very easily. Ideally, you would make two of these bin, turning the ‘hot’ compost from one bin to the the empty bin as necessary. The downside to a bin like this is that it is not animal proof and you will most likely attract rats and raccoons to your composting bin.
If you aren’t in to building something at the moment, there are many options on the market. There areStationary Compost Bins, which is one of types we use.
These stationary bins usually have the largest capacity, holding between 10-15 cubic feet. They typically have a ‘door’ at the bottom where the finished compost will settle and be easily retrieved. The downside of these bins is that is hard to aerate the contents which means it will take a bit longer for your raw materials to ultimately transform into finished compost.
I do like that this bin sits on the ground, making it accessible to beneficial worms, insects and micro-organisms. You can find them at most hardware stores and on Amazon. Often, city and county waste services will offer them at discount prices.
Another option we use (yes we have two…we are very SERIOUS composters) is the Compost Tumbler which is a sealed container that can be turned to speed the decomposition process.
These tumblers typically sit off of the ground and as such don’t provide access to the beneficial worms, insects and other micro-organisms. However, it is very appealing to be able to turn your compost to aerate it on a regular basis, thus speeding the process. These tumblers can be found at most hardware stores and on Amazon.
If you don’t mind composting indoors or possibly in your garage, Worm Composters are another option. These composters are composed of trays on which your waste is placed The worms travel up, consuming the new waste and leaving the nutrient rich waste and compost on the bottom tray. Worm castings are considered super-duper black gold in a garden.
I have 2 of these compost buckets that I rotate and keep under my kitchen sink. It’s my son’s job to empty the compost bucket into the bin each night after dinner. By emptying it frequently we avoid the fruit flies that can accompany a compost bucket.
However, I do keep a little fruit fly trap under my kitchen sink as well just in case these little pesky little critters do crop up. My fruit fly trap is nothing more than a bit of wine/beer/vinegar with just a drop of dish soap in a glass jar with small holes in the lid. I will also add a small piece of fruit to the jar. The flies go in through the holes and the small bit of soap ultimately makes them unable to fly.
How to Speed Up the Composting Process
From the first day your put your first scraps in until you can ‘harvest’ some of the black gold can take up to1 year or 18 months. That process can be shortened by employing the following:
- Make sure your compost pile is the right size; too large or too small and you won’t get the microbial action you need. The optimal size is 3 feet wide by 3 feet tall.
- Keep that Green:Brown ratio as close to 2:1 as possible. You can always add a nitrogen in the form of blood meal or bone meal if you feel your pile needs a boost.
- Shred or chop the material you put in your compost bin. Smaller items will understandably compost quicker
- Aerate it.
- Keep it moist, like a damp sponge but not soggy.
How to Use your Compost
We use our compost in a variety of ways
- We mix compost into our soil when we plant our new plants in the spring and fall. The added nutrients and moisture in the soil help your plants get off on the right foot.
- We add some as mulch around our vegetables (or any plant) during the growing season. It helps keeps weeds down, the soil moist and continues to feed the soil.
- We continue to amend our soil with compost whenever we have enough
- We make compost tea in our compost tea brewer to feed our plants and soil throughout their growing season.
So, it’s no surprise that you will find Terry and I in our garden this weekend top-dressing our vegetable plants with compost and starting a batch of compost tea. Have you planted your vegetable garden yet? Any tips or secrets you’d like to pass on?
If you are interested in composting to improve your soil for healthier and more productive plants, pin this for your future reference:
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