It really isn’t all that hard to learn how to make your own compost with just a little bit of knowledge. The hardest part is simply committing to making it a part of your everyday lifestyle.
If you simply devise a composting system that works for your family, throw in a little personal discipline to make it a habit, you are sure to succeed.
After these mild hurdles, there are many health and environmental benefits to composting.
In case you’re not familiar with the ins and outs of composting at home, let’s begin with the basics:
Definition of Composting
Nature creates compost all the time by causing the decomposition of organic matter and returning the resulting humus to the earth for constant soil enrichment.
Humans can speed up the process by creating the optimal environment for rich humus that can be used for organic gardening, flower beds and exceptionally soil rich environments for any growing or farming purpose.
Benefits of Composting
Here are the following benefits:
- Protects soil from erosion
- Reduces the need for additional fertilizers and pest control
- Recycles organic wastes instead of dumping in land fills
- Saves money by reducing or eliminating the need for manufactured fertilizers or pesticides
- Adds rich nutrients to soil
- Helps reduce pollution
- Increases soil organisms that are beneficial
- Reduces carbon plant diseases
How to Start Composting
The best place to begin is to devise the simplest composting system that fits in well with your lifestyle.
There are a variety of containers and pails from which to choose. Some fit underneath the kitchen sink and some are made for countertop use.
If you want to get fancy, you can choose a kitchen compost container that also has a place to insert a small charcoal filter to keep odors at a minimum.
Instead of using your garbage disposal or throwing scraps in the trash, just throw egg shells and vegetable scraps into a kitchen compost pail until full.
Then, take it outside to your chosen compost bin.
Unless, of course, you are composting indoors, which is commonly preferred by those who don’t have access to an outdoor composting area or who don’t want to deal with the changing weather.
Two Types of Composting
1. Worm Composting – As mentioned earlier, worm composting is popular among those who can’t or don’t want to do it outdoors. Worm composting can, of course, be done outside, but it is the perfect strategy for indoors.
There are entire worm starter kits for composting that make this an easy, interesting and simple way to compost indoors (Of course, this should be done with the proper indoor composting bin for indoor use!).
2. Traditional Composting – Backyard composting is the most common way to use table scraps for rich humus which can be used for a number of gardening and farming applications.
Bins come in different sizes with various features, depending on your needs. If you’re particular handy, you can build your own compost bin.
Equation for Composting
“You mean there’s a composting equation?” you might ask. Yes, there is a scientific equation that when followed, delivers perfect humus. It is:
Air + Water + Carbon + Nitrogen = Compost
Again, it’s not hard. This equation keeps a 3:1 ratio of Carbon and Nitrogen which is necessary.
About Nitrogen (1 part)
The tiny microorganisms that break down organic matter need protein that build their little bodies. In gardener’s terms, these are the “greens.”ost ingredients:
- Coffee (both grounds and filters)
- Manure from stables/pens (horse, rabbit, pig, goat and chicken)
- Bone meal
- Fish meal
- Sea weed
- Cottonseed meal
- Legumes (pea clover, alfalfa, etc.)
- Lake moss
- Garden waster (still moist)
- Grass clippings (Must only be during the first 2 or 3 weeks when first cut during spring; After this time, they become less lush and tender and go in the carbon category.)
NOTE: You will know when you have more than 1 part Nitrogen in your ingredients. An excess of Nitrogen converts to ammonia gas and really stinks! If you keep a balance of 1 part Nitrogen and 3 parts Carbon, smells will be neutralized.
About Carbon (3 parts)
The energy source used by the microbes to break down organic matter ingredients is carbon. Known as “browns” by gardeners,
these yellow and brown material is usually dry.
- Pine cones and pine needles
- Newspaper (shredded)
- Egg shells
- Corn cobs and corn stalks
- Sawdust (untreated by chemicals and in small amounts)
- Dried leaves
- Brown paper bags (shredded)
- Lint from dryer
- Wood chips (untreated and in small amounts)
NOTE: If you have too much Carbon in your compost pile, it will decompose too slowly because there is not enough Nitrogen to support the microbe population which decomposes it at a natural rate.
Basic supplies you will need to get started
- Kitchen compost pail
- Outdoor compost bin (Some cities provide them free of charge. Just ask!)
- Garden gloves
- Pitch fork to stir compost pile
- Compost starter (This can be purchased from organic gardening supplies stores, or you can make your own from existing compost or very rich soil.)
- Compost accelerator (Found at organic gardening sources.)
- Instructions for Quick Compost (4 to 6 weeks)
Now that you know the basics, it’s time to get started actually making your compost pile.
These instructions are for those who want to produce compost quickly and aggressively. (You can also make compost slowly and with even less maintenance, but that is covered in another article.)
1. Collect a pile of sticks and twigs; layer them on the bottom of your new outdoor compost bin. This will allow the pile to breathe as air circulates.
2. Bring your full kitchen compost pail outside. This will contain most of your Nitrogen ingredients (greens). Also, have handy your Carbon ingredients (browns).
Begin by adding a layer of browns on top of the twigs; then a layer of green ingredients. Alternate between the browns and greens, finishing with a layer of browns on top.
This creates a 3:1 ratio that is the key to great compost.
3. Sprinkle enough water on the ingredients to make it like a damp sponge. You can test it by picking up a handful (with your gloves on!) and wringing it out. If you extract a few drops of water, then it’s just right. It’s too wet if a stream of water results.
You can add some dry ingredients to let it dry out. The pile will dry quickly and stay oxygenated if you turn it with a pitch fork or shovel every day or two.
4. Completely stir the pile every 4 to 7 days. Thoroughly mix it. This will move the cold ingredients to the warm center of the pile, replenishing the oxygen and food for the microorganisms so they can continue to break down the ingredients. The pile will operate at it’s best when the heat is distributed so that it can decompose
If the 3:1 ratio is correct and the pile is damp like a wet sponge, the temperature should be between 104°-160°. (A compost thermometer comes in handy when checking the temp periodically.) Even if you’re in a colder climate, the correct mix will self generate this temperature.
5. Keep a check on your pile. The ‘nose knows’! If you smell the pile, you will know to add more Nitrogen ingredients.
If the compost is not decomposing well, there’s too much Carbon.
And if the pile is too wet, you may suffocate the little microorganisms that are doing the work for you!
Composting is not an exact science, especially for beginners, so monitor the pile and adjust accordingly. Experience will be the final ingredient that makes great compost piles!
6. All done! A pile of compost is finished when its looks like dark brown soil and is light and fluffy. It should smell earthy and exhibit small particles that are uniform in shape. It is now ready for whatever gardening, farming or potting project you have in mind.
TIP: Successful composting is basically about heat generation in the pile. Piles will develop quickly with proper heat distribution.