Autumn is approaching and that means leaves will be falling! Fall is the ideal time to start a composting project. Composting is an easy and rewarding way to recycle natural matter and reduce landfill waste, and it’s critical to any organic garden. This “black gold” is loaded with nutrients and can be used as a fertilizer, weed preventer, and soil conditioner. The best part? It’s completely free! Follow these simple steps to get started!
Build your box
You can spend hundreds on specialized composting bins, but if you’re a first-timer, working in a small space or just want to save money, we recommend starting simple. Something as affordable as chickenwire can be used to fence in your composting pile, keeping it nice and neat and keeping critters out. You can pick up a roll for as little as $3.00 at your local home improvement store.
If you are looking for a more discrete or elegant way to store your compost matter, here is a great tutorial to create your own wooden compost box. (insert link). Be cautious when choosing your wood and stain or paint choices. Some pressure-treated wood, like those treated with CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenate), contain chemicals which can be slowly released into your soil as the wood decays. Plastics and metal often last longer and are great at retaining ideal temperatures for composting.
Your compost area or container should allow for a compost heap 3 ft. wide, 3 ft. deep, and 3 ft. high. This size heap is ideal to create the right amount of pressure and heat needed to allow for rapid decay.
Did you know there are more microbes in a teaspoon of compost than there are people on the planet? Microbes are the little organisms responsible for the breakdown of the organic matter in your compost.
Start off by creating a thick layer of brown matter. Brown matter consists of plant matter that has started to dry decay, such as straw, sticks, dry leaves, etc. A ratio of three parts brown matter to one part green matter makes for an excellent compost.
Tip: A common concern with compost is odor or if it will attract rodents and other pests. Compost heaps with good airflow won’t experience these issues, so it’s actually beneficial to leave compost exposed outside! Fluff up each layer with a rake or by hand to aerate your compost. This allows precious oxygen to help in the process of decomposition! Compost left in sealed containers with little airflow tend to develop stronger odors and will decay more slowly.
Next layer up green matter overtop the brown matter you placed in your compost area. Green matter is not dried. Fresh grass clippings, vegetable or fruit peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, dead houseplants, cut flowers, or manure from herbivores (like chickens, horses, or cows) all make great additions to your compost pile.
Turning your compost
Properly turn your compost with a shovel or rake by churning the center most portion of your heap (this will be the most mature compost, and will be dark in color and steamy), drawing it outwards to allow under-developed portions to take their turn in the center of the pile where the heat and pressure is strongest.
If you are a dedicated composter, turning your pile every week can result in ready-to-use compost in as little as two months. If you never turn your pile you will have compost in roughy 6 months or more. Add new layers of composting material as you turn your compost heap.
And be sure to keep your compost pile damp and full of moisture to help in the breakdown cycle. As you turn your compost, simply spray your pile with a hose as needed (just be sure not to go overboard and saturate it).
Compost is ready to use when it has developed a rich dark brown color throughout and is sweet smelling and crumbly. Layer compost around the base of garden plants about a half an inch thick, or add to holes when transplanting. If you are just starting a bed mix about 3 inches of compost in with the top 6 inches of soil.
You can even add in compost as a fertilizer to houseplants to replace essential nutrients that are lost in potting soil over time. Or create your own potting soil by mixing equal parts compost, sand and top soil. And in the fall time apply a 1/4 inch of compost to your lawn to help improve the health of your grass!