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.
For those looking to get started ASAP, here’s a quick breakdown of what it takes to start composing.
- Choose an area or container for your composting.
- Select items for composting. Go with a ratio of 2:1 favoring “brown” materials.
- Layer your chosen items and lightly water them for a little moisture.
- Keep your compost pile in a sunny location, and mix it every other week.
- Compost is ready when it’s a uniform, dark-brown color. It should look, feel, and smell similar to soil.
- Continue adding to your pile to keep a constant stream of fresh compost available.
That’s all there is to it, composting is very easy and doesn’t take much setup. That should be enough to get your started, but if you want more details on any of the above points read on.
Benefits Of composting
If you’re not quite sold yet on starting your own composting bin then this section is for you. Composting has a lot of benefits, here’s some of the key ones that are sure to get you excited.
It Saves Money
First off, composting can save you money, and a lot of it at that if you grow a large garden. Composting will largely replace the need for store bought fertilizers as your plants will be able to get nutrients from your compost. Considering that most compost is make from scraps, it is extremely affordable or even free to get started. For a large garden that can add up to a significant savings.
It Provides Tons Of Nutrients For Your plants
A well made compost is one of the best things you can feed your plants. It’s completely natural, so you don’t run the risk of burning out your plants with chemicals, but no less nutrient rich than store bought fertilizers. This means you can safely feed your plants without worrying about chemicals or lack of nutrients.
It Helps Reduce Waste
Building your compost pile is also a great way to reduce your own waste and re-use material that would otherwise be garbage. Most composting material would be thrown away otherwise, so re-using it is a great way to recycle and reduce the amount of waste your produce.
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 a 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 a mixture of decaying, organic matter that creates a nutrient rich medium. This mixture is perfect for feeding your plants, and is a great, organic fertilizer.
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. Many types of organic matter are great candidates for your compost pile.
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 in your compost bin and call it a day, 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.
Should You Use a Composting Bin?
When you start composting you have two general options, to use a bin or not. While you can simply start a pile in your yard, most people will choose to start with a bin. This helps contains your compost pile and keeps it looking tidy. If you’re keeping your pile indoors, then having a good compost bin is a must.
In terms of bins, any container is largely acceptable. Many will use large plastic totes like this, but any material and sizing works as a compost bin. Choose a container that is large enough for your needs. There are also many pre-made solutions which are great and easy options.
Once you have a container, make sure to add some drainage holes to it if it doesn’t have some already. These help promote good airflow and proper humidity, both of which are important for proper compost development. If you’re keep it indoors, you’ll also want to add some sort of drainage tray to catch any spills.
It really is as easy as that to get started. Find a container, drill some holes, and get composting. Of course, you can always just create an outdoor pile, and this is a great option for those making a lot of compost or that have a lot of yard space.
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 most cases a nice sunny spot is a good choice. Heat helps the microbes that create the compost work more quickly, and you’ll actually notice a compost pile heat up even when not in the sun. 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 compost 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.
How Do I Know When Compost Is Ready?
A compost that is ready to use should look, feel, and smell like soil. Wait until it’s a rich, dark-brown color, and any signs of the previous material are gone.