What is compost?
Compost is the finished decomposed product of organic material from your garden and household, such as leaves, grass clippings, fruit and vegetable peelings, egg shells and even fluff from your dryer! Given the proper conditions these materials will turn into a rich earthy material that will enrich your soil and add nutrients to your plants. Best of all, this compost is free!
Composting is not new. But more gardeners are discovering that it is an excellent way to recycle green material from your garden, reuse household vegetable waste while at the same time reducing the amount of material sent to landfills.
Basically to make compost successfully, you need three things:
- AirThe microbes that break down and decompose the material, need air. Otherwise your compost pile could end up smelling like a garbage heap! This means if you are adding things like wet leaves or grass it is essential that you turn and “fluff up” your pile each week or add straw or similar material to add bulk and prevent the leaves and grass from matting down into a slimy solid layer.
- WaterThe material in your compost pile should be slightly moist, like a wrung out sponge. This moisture is what the microbes need to flourish and do their job of breaking down the compost materials. If you add a lot of dry ingredients to your compost pile like straw or autumn leaves, then be sure to add some moisture. However, don’t let your pile get too wet as that will pack down the materials too much and prevent decomposition.
- FoodThe microbes need a good mixture of two basic materials. Green plant materials such at green leaves, tea bags, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps and brown plant materials which are dry and dead. These include straw, dry weeds and leaves and even sawdust. Things to avoid are cooked vegetables and meat products. Although some people can successfully add just about anything to their compost piles, cooked or processed vegetable matter and meat may attract vermin.
Depending on the temperature, and how often you turn your compost pile, your finished material could be ready in just a few weeks. In colder areas, your pile will go dormant in the winter but as soon as it warms up again in the spring, the microbes get right back to work breaking down the garden wastes.
What kind of compost bin do you need?
There are dozens of types of compost bins. All you really need is a pile, but most gardeners prefer a contained area. You can readily build one yourself from slats of wood and some chicken wire. These are great because they allow more air circulation. More sophisticated types are made from plastic and they intensify the heat and speed up the process of decomposition. Some even come with cranks built in so that the job of turning is made simple.
Gardeners who are really serious about composting will generally have two compost bins going at once. That way, they aren’t adding new fresh waste to a pile that is almost finished decomposing. If you build your own, you can make two or three compartments, one for each stage of decomposition.
Whatever you choose, give composting a try and you, your garden and the landfills will reap the benefits.