One of the best steps you can take to improve your garden this year is composting. It allows you to turn kitchen scraps like banana peels, eggshells, garden clippings, and trimmings into valuable organic matter that improves the soil in your garden. Composting helps the environment, too! When you compost at home, you greatly reduce the amount of waste you send to the landfill each year.
Choosing a Compost Bin
To get started, you’ll need a compost bin or tumbler. There are many DIY options if you want to make your own, and a little searching online will reveal plenty of choices. For example, you could recycle a shipping pallet. Alternatively, you can purchase a compost bin. That way you don’t have to look at the pile, and you can get started right away, no building required! Compost tumblers are another great choice for home scale or urban composting. Compost needs to be stirred or turned over at least every couple of weeks to break down quickly, and a tumbler makes quick work of this task.
Apartment dwellers should consider vermicomposting or composting with worms using a special bin. Worm bins can even be used indoors. Most specialty worm bins consist of stackable trays and use red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) to digest food scraps and paper. When the worms eat the waste in one tray, you add another above it and the worms eat their way up. The finished compost, or worm castings, accumulate in the bottom tray. Some people call worm castings “black gold.” They are fantastic soil amendments for huge plant growth.
What to Compost
In order for compost to break down properly, you need a mix of carbon or “brown” and nitrogen or “green” materials. If your pile appears too wet, smelly, or slimy, you need to add more carbon materials. If it appears dry, and isn’t breaking down, you’ll need to add more nitrogen materials.
- Fruit and vegetable peels and scraps
- Plant matter and grass clippings
- Coffee grounds
- Tea bags
- Old flowers/plants
- Livestock manure
- Dried leaves
- Hay or straw
- Wood shavings/chips
- Brown cardboard
- Paper towels/napkins
What Not to Compost
Certain materials should be avoided, because they attract animals, don’t break down well, or can be harmful to your garden. Leave these out of the compost pile:
- Cat and dog feces
- Glossy paper (ex. Magazines)
You should also avoid adding any material that has been treated with chemicals. For example, you don’t want grass clippings from a lawn that someone has sprayed with herbicide. These chemicals won’t break down in your compost and can kill plants when the compost is applied to your garden.
While a compost pile will eventually break down with no added effort, a few small steps can help it break down quickly so you will more quickly obtain quality compost for your garden.
Water the Pile
If the compost isn’t breaking down at all, it is probably too dry. If a couple weeks go by without rain, or your compost is in a closed bin that doesn’t get rainwater, you may occasionally need to add a bit of water.
Turn it Over
Every week or two, you should stir or turn over your compost. This keeps the material well-blended and evenly moist so that it breaks down at the same rate. It also helps moderate the pile's temperature. When natural material breaks down, it heats up, and if it gets too hot, it can kill off the good bacteria and microorganisms within the pile, essentially stopping the composting process. The pile can also cool off too much if the material isn’t stirred regularly or gets too dry.
Composting is a simple step you can take at home to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle and improve your garden.
Want to learn more? Read DIY: How to make your own compost pile or come and speak with one of our experts in store.