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How to Compost for Your Garden

Let’s face it.  Backyard gardens are in style again.  Whether you live in a rural area with lots of space for plants, a small suburban neighborhood  with a corner of your yard reserved for veggies, or an urban apartment with a few plants in pots.  Everyone is doing it these days.  There are plenty of benefits to growing your own veggies, from knowing there are no pesticides to the freshest tasting produce you’ll ever have.  But, did you know that there is something you can do to make your gardening experience even better? It’s free, too, and takes virtually no effort on your part.  All you’ll need is a bucket in your kitchen and a small corner of your backyard, and you’ve got all of the essentials for making a compost pile.

Compost Pile

Compost Pile

Why You Should Compost

Composting is the single best thing you can do for your garden.  It adds vital nutrients to your soil which helps your plants grow bigger, healthier, and more fruitful.  Sure, you can buy compost, too.  But there are so many reasons to make your own, including:

  1. It’s free
  2. It’s easy
  3. It has a wider variety of ingredients
  4. You know what’s in it

By purchasing compost from a big manufacturer, not only are you spending money on something you could get for free, but you are also usually getting a more limited variety of nutrients, since commercial products are usually from big industries.  So you might get wood compost, or chicken compost, or straw compost, etc.  These are all great, and certainly better than just using fertilizer, but by doing it yourself, you can get much more balanced nutrients for your garden.

So, now you’re probably wondering how to compost, right? I know I’ve told you it’s free, and that it’s easy, but you probably don’t believe me.  Yet.  Trust me, I know.  It seems so overwhelming at first, but once you get started it’s the easiest thing you can do for your garden!

Getting Your Compost Pile Started

To get started with a compost pile, all you need are a small bucket or bowl, veggie scraps, dried yard or plant material, and a corner of your back yard.

There are two basic ways to make compost.  You can do an open-air compost pile, or compost in an enclosed drum or barrel.  I only have experience with open-air composting (I’m too cheap to buy a compost barrel), so that’s what I’ll be talking about here.

Personally, my compost pile is just a big pile in the corner of my yard (like the photo above), but you can also build a small wood box about the same size as a raised garden bed.  Don’t build it too high, though.

Once you have your spot picked out, it’s time to start composting! This is where the bucket and kitchen scraps come in.  I keep a small bucket in my kitchen, and throughout the day, I empty all of my fruit and veggie scraps into it. This means that every time I peel a carrot, I put the peels in the bucket.  When I core an apple, into the bucket it goes.  You get the idea!  Some things you can compost from your kitchen include:

  1. used coffee grounds (and filter)
  2. veggie peels and scraps
  3. fruit scraps
  4. old bread and pasta
  5. tea bags
  6. crushed eggshells

Things you don’t want to include in your compost bucket include meat and dairy products, which will rot and smell in your compost pile.

At the end of each day, Pistache runs our bucket of kitchen scraps out to the compost pile and dumps it. See? I told you.  No effort! Instead of dumping your kitchen waste into a trash can, you dump it into a bucket.  And now it’s useful!

So, that’s the first part of composting.  However, if you only add food scraps (otherwise known as “green matter”) to your compost, it will begin to rot instead of slowly decompose.  It will also smell and attract rodents, which can be a big problem. Then you’ll get frustrated and give up, and we don’t want that.  So, how do you avoid this? By adding brown matter to your compost pile as well.  This is the part that many people forget about, or feel that they don’t have anything to add to the pile.  However, brown matter is almost easier to come by than green matter, believe it or not.  Some things that count as brown matter include:

  1. Dried yard clippings- Every time you mow your lawn, let those clippings dry out for a day or two and then shovel them into your pile.
  2. Leaves that fall off of trees- During the fall, rake up all of your leaves and add them to your compost pile.  Or, as your neighbors for theirs!
  3. Shredded paper products- We all have a constant influx of paper products coming into our homes.  Simply throw those into a shredder and add them to the compost pile.
  4. Straw or pine shavings from your chicken coop- When you clean the coop, add that to your pile as well! This will add a little green matter as well, in the form of chicken poop, which is amazing for a garden.

You want to aim for about 1 part green matter (food stuffs) to 4 parts brown.  At the very least, aim for a 1:1 ratio to ensure that the pile doesn’t begin to rot and smell.

When is Your Compost Ready?

Your compost pile is finished when it looks like rich, brown soil.  There should be no noticeable materials left in the soil when it’s ready. If there are any kitchen scraps visible in your pile, stir them in and wait for them to decompose.  Remember, every time that you add new matter to your compost pile, you’re starting over at day one.  It might be a good idea to keep two piles.  Feed one the new matter, and let the other one “cook.” This way, you can get two compost harvests in a year.  Once it’s done, you can till it into your garden bed or layer it on like mulch.  Wait a few weeks before planting in it, to make sure it’s fully ready, and you’ll have amazing garden soil for your new plants!

This is pretty much everything you need to know to start your own compost pile.  If you start today, you’ll have the makings for perfect garden soil for next year’s garden!

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