How to make compost, what are the benefits of compost, and what can you put in your compost bin
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 benefits of composting are that it’s literally alive with microorganisms, worms, and bugs that are very beneficial to add to the soil of our organic 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 you need. Additionally, good compost will fight plant diseases and insects that a more sterile soil is not able to.
Benefits of Composting: Recycle your Kitchen and Yard Waste
- Composting is nature’s way of recycling. It is 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 compost bin. But coffee grounds, tea bags, and newspapers printed with soy ink are also compostable.
What Can You Compost?
Let’s grab ourselves a compost bin and get busy! In the perfect world, you will have a ratio of 2:1, Green matter to Brown matter. The GREEN MATTER would be those typically soft, fresh or wet items, e.g., discards from salad prep or the old veggies from the bottom of your produce drawer, while BROWN MATTER is usually hard, dry or dead material, think dried leaves and such here.
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
- Shredded Newspaper
- Fishbones, scraps, shells (bury them 10-12 inches deep to minimize smell)
- Wood Shavings from untreated wood.
- Old/Outdated seeds
- Dry Leaves
- Bad Wine or Beer
- Nutshells, 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
- Shredded brown paper bags and cardboard, but avoid heavily printed material.
- Contents of Vacuum Cleaner Bag if your home isn’t heavily carpeted (want to avoid polyester/nylon)
- Sourdough Starter Discard
- Kefir grains
What to Avoid in Your Compost Bin
- Bread Products with sugar.
- 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
How to Compost: What Equipment You Need to Compost
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There is no equipment that is absolutely necessary for making compost. 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 bins, turning the ‘hot’ compost from one bin to the empty bin as necessary. The downside to a compost bin like this is that it is not animal proof and you will most likely attract rats and raccoons to your composting bin.
Many options are on the market if you aren’t into building something now. There are Stationary Compost Bins, which are one of the 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 compost bins is that it 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 microorganisms. 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 about making compost) 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 regularly, thus speeding the process. These tumblers can be found at most hardware stores and on Amazon.
If you don’t mind making compost 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 bucket into our compost bin each night after dinner. By emptying it frequently, we avoid the fruit flies that can accompany a compost bucket.
However, I keep a little fruit fly trap under my kitchen sink as well, just in case these little pesky critters 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 that you put your first scraps in your bin until you can ‘harvest’ some of the black gold can take up to a 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 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.
- Occasionally add some compost tea to infuse it with micro-organisms, and keep it moist, like a damp sponge but not soggy.
How to Use Your Compost
We use our black gold 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 me in our garden this weekend, digging into our compost bin to top-dress our vegetable plants with the rich soil 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 the benefits of composting to improve your soil for healthier and more productive plants, pin this for your future reference:
Thanks again for spending a few minutes of your busy day with me today.
Please know that I welcome each and every comment that comes my way.