Even though the calendar says it’s February, it’s not too early to start thinking about gardening. Have you considered composting? Many people start composting for practical reasons. Composting your leaves, grass clippings, garden waste and food scraps reduces the amount of garbage you generate.
Getting started isn’t difficult and with a little practice and research, you can feasibly have some ready this Spring when you’re ready to start planting!
1. Inside – get a compost pail or a kitchen compost bin
Find a container to keep in your home where you can add vegetable scraps and other material without having to go outside to the main compost bin each time. You can purchase a compost pail or kitchen compost bin from a hardware store if you don’t have a suitable container. Compost pails are also available online from retailers such as Amazon and many others. Most of them come with a charcoal filter which helps eliminate odor, so don’t let that deter you.
2. Outside – buy a compost bin or make one yourself
There are many kinds of containers that are suitable for making compost. Commercially made plastic bins do the job well enough if you aren’t planning on a large composite pile. Plastic compost bins are great at keeping rodents and other animals out of your compost. However, if you have a large amount of material, they aren’t ideal. They can also make things more difficult when it comes to turning your compost. Making your own homemade compost bin may be worthwhile if you’re serious about composting.
3. Determine the right compost mixture
Compost materials can be separated into two types, brown (carbon rich) materials and green (nitrogen rich) materials. These materials include:
Brown Compost Materials
• Hay and Straw
• Paper and Cardboard
• Woody tree and shrub prunings
• tea bags
• corn cobs
Green Compost Materials
• vegetables and fruit
• grass clippings
• fresh manure
• coffee grounds
• young hedge trimmings
• plant cuttings
What not to add:
• meat and animal fats
• weeds with mature seeds and plants with invasive root systems
• pressure treated wood
• cat litter
• other non-organic materials
How to make a compost pile
Turn the soil over in the area where you will put your compost bin. It’s best to choose a sunny, well-drained spot that is easy to reach from your house. Cover the bottom of the compost bin with a layer of branches, twigs or other loose organic material – this allows for good air circulation. Once this layer is down, you can start adding your other material.
The ideal mixture of material is a carbon (brown) to nitrogen (green) ratio of about 30 to 1. Many people struggle at first getting this combination right. Start by adding a 3 inch layer of brown material on top of the sticks and twigs. Then add 2 inch layer of green material on top of the brown material and cover it with a thin layer of good garden soil or some finished compost (optional but it acts as an accelerator and helps to keep flies and other unwanted critters away). Keep adding new layers, alternating between green and brown until the bin is almost full.
Once a week, you will want to turn your compost over with a shovel or garden fork which will help aerate the pile. Getting oxygen into the center of the pile activates the beneficial organisms and helps your compost to break down more quickly and evenly. Check the compost for moisture. It should feel like a damp sponge but shouldn’t release any water when squeezed. Add some water if it seems too dry. Continue turning the mixture until is mostly broken down and is dark, crumbly and smells rich and earthy.
4. How and when to add finished compost to your garden
It can take a few weeks to about a year for compost to be ready to use. The time it takes depends on the materials you used, how often you turned the pile and the ratio of greens to browns. Be careful not to use your compost too early. Unfinished compost can burn some plants and can prevent some seeds from germinating effectively. If in doubt, test a small amount in a limited area before applying to the entire planting area.