For those looking for cheap and natural fertilizer options composting is probably the most popular choice. As gardeners, composting gives us the ability to turn our waste into food for our plants. The process can see a bit daunting at first, but is actually very easy. Better yet, you can decide how much to compost, from small containers to an entire garden’s worth. Today, we’ll look at getting started with compost, and cover all the things you need to know.
Composting at its core is reusing your waste to create a nutrient rich mixture called compost. This mixture makes the perfect food for your indoor plants, outdoor gardens, and even for use directly onto your grass.
The first step to composting is to decide how much compost you want to make for your garden. The great thing about composting is that you can make as little or as much as you need. For smaller amounts, a cheap, plastic waste bin is perfectly suitable and likely enough for a small garden. For larger garden or whole yard coverage you can clear an area of your yard and compost there using cheap wire-fencing to keep it contained.
A good rule of thumb is about 50-60 square feet per ½ acre, but that’s only really applicable to whole yard usage. A little compost can go a long way, and it’s always very easy to make more.
Once it’s done, you can simply spread it into your garden’s soil or yard. You’ll know that compost is done once it looks and smells like soil, and it should crumble easily in your hand. A rich, dark brownish-black color is a sure sign of finished compost. This process can take anywhere from 3-9 weeks, usually somewhere in the middle of that. Later in this article we’ll look at compost care tips and what you can do to speed up the composting process. But first, let’s talk about what makes up a good compost.
Compost is usually made up of two broad groups of materials known as brown and green. Brown materials are carbon rich, while green materials are nitrogen rich. This provides a nice balance of nutrients that help your plants grow.
Some common items of each are:
- Dried leaves
- Grass clippings
- Fruit/vegetable peels and rinds
- Coffee Grounds
- Other moist yard waste
A good rule of thumb is that brown materials are often dry to the touch while green contain lots of moisture. There are lots of other items that are compostable, so do your own research if you’re unsure.
One word of caution is not to use any sort of meat or fish by-products. These are often not compostable, and will lead to smell and animal problems. A proper composting doesn’t have a strong odor, and these types of items will throw that off. You also want to avoid many cooking by-products like oils and fats for the same reason. Lastly, while you can compost old plants, avoid plants that have had disease problems. This can be spread through compost and cause damage to your other plants.
Building Your Compost Pile
It’s not enough to just throw the above but you also want to ensure that you have the proper ratio. A general rule of thumb is 2:1 with twice as much brown material as you do green. This keeps the nutrients balanced, and encourages good compost progress as well as eliminating smell issues.
When you’re ready to start simply layer your compost with the above proportions alternating between brown and green. Each layer should be a few inches thick.
Wet down each layer as you go with a bit of water. It doesn’t need to be soaked, but just lightly moistened so it would be slightly wet to the touch. You should wet down the pile every few days to keep it moist for optimal results.
That’s really all there is to it. There are some things you can do to speed up the process, but they’re not strictly necessary. Following the above you’ll be able to create perfectly usable compost with very little effort.
Long Term Composting
Outside of the above there are a few things you can do to help your compost progress more quickly. The first thing that helps is heat, in this case a nice sunny spot. Heat helps the microbes that create the compost work more quickly, and you’ll actually notice a compost pile heat up. While you can compost in the shade or a dark location it will be ready to use more quickly if you place it in an area that gets a lot of sunlight.
Another important concept of compost maintenance is mixing. This is just the act of turning the compost over to help speed up decomposition. You can take a shovel or pitchfork and simply stir up the compost pile exposing new areas to the air and sun. This isn’t strictly necessary, but will speed up the decomposition process and can be done every 1-2 weeks.
For quicker progress, you can also opt to use a compost accelerator or compost starter. These products are specially formulated with microbes that can help a compost file progress faster.
Outside of that, you can always keep adding to your compost pile to continually generate new, usable compost. Just make sure to follow the ratio above and avoid un-compostable materials and you can create a constant stream of nutrient rich compost for your plants.
Getting Started With Composting
If you’re an avid gardener then composting is a great way to cut down on the costs and harsh chemicals you use. Composting is a great natural fertilizer, and can be done for little to no cost. That sure beats trips to the store for fertilizer!
My Compost Is Smelly, What Do I Do?
Compost in general has little scent, and when it does it should be an earthy, soil like smell. A fertilizer that stinks is usually caused by too much green material or the use of animal products. Try adding more brown to your pile and fluff it to allow better water drainage.
Animals Are Getting In and Disrupting My Pile?
Compost piles will quickly progress past the point where animals will want to forage through it, but they may do so to a fresh pile. A good way to combat this is to put any food waste (like fruit peels) at the bottom or middle of the pile.
Does a Compost Pile Need To Be In The Sun?
No, but it will take longer to progress to usable compost. Heat is an important part of composting, and the sun will provide extra heat speeding up the process. A shady or dark spot will still work, but expect it to take a few weeks longer than a bright, sunny spot would.