Compost, also called “black gold” by gardeners, is what makes vegetables and flowers produce abundantly.
Bacteria break down biodegradable trash like; vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grounds, leaves, egg shells, and grass clippings.
The end result is a black, mineral-rich product that is an ideal amendment for garden soil. It can be added to soil any time of year without the fear of burning plants or polluting water.
Making compost at home is easy
Not only will it give you a steady supply of “black gold” for your plants, homemade compost also saves you money and recycles kitchen waste so it doesn’t end up in landfills.
Use these home composting tips and tricks so you can get started creating your own “black gold” today.
1. Pile or Bin
To keep the decomposing material, you will need a bin, a tumbler or similar container that will keep the organic material contained and animals out.
A compost pile works well for those who have the land space and large garden.
A bin or tumbler will work best for those with small or container gardens.
Place the compost pile/bin in a location with good airflow, access to water, and partial shade in the summer (to keep the pile from getting too hot), but good sun in the winter (to keep the pile warm).
Compost needs to be kept moist and warm, and the air flow helps to keep the decomposing material from stinking.
3. Start the Pile
You will need green material, brown material, and garden soil to start the composting process.
- Green materials are rich in nitrogen and include: grass clippings, spent vegetable plants, plant-based kitchen waste (vegetable and fruit peelings, but no meat scraps), or barnyard animal manure. Even though manure is typically brown, it’s full of nitrogen and considered ‘green’. * Note – Do not use manure from carnivores, such as cats or dogs.
- Brown materials are rich in carbon and include leaves, straw, dead flowers and shredded newspaper.
Start the pile by spreading a layer that is several inches thick of coarse, dry brown stuff, like straw or leaves, where you want to build the pile.
When using a bin, tumbler or bucket, adjust the thickness of the green, brown and soil layers as needed. The goal is to layer the three ingredients.
Top the brown layer with several inches of green material, then add a thin layer of soil.
Moisten the three layers, and repeat the layering process if you have more compostable material.
4. Compostable Materials
All vegetable and fruits scraps.
Coffee grounds and filters.
Egg shells, newspaper (black print only) and manure from vegetarian animals (cows, chickens, etc.).
Yard waste, like grass clippings, fallen leaves, and annual plants after they have finished blooming for the season.
When garden plants are finished producing they can be added to the compost pile too.
It will speed up the decomposing process if you chop all the waste into small pieces before adding it to the pile.
5. Non-Compostable Materials
Do not add weeds, diseased plants or vegetables or plants infested with pests to the pile.
No meat scraps, dairy products, animals bones or grease.
Pet droppings and ashes from a coal-burning stove are no-nos.
However, wood ashes are great to place in the compost pile or can be placed directly on top of the garden soil to act as a mulch for plants.
Any type of synthetic material will not decompose and should not be added to the pile.
Organic material that has been treated with chemical pesticides or herbicides should not be placed in the compost pile.
The tiny microorganisms which help turn trash into black gold need oxygen to live, so make sure enough oxygen is getting into your pile by turning your compost often.
Aeration is easy when using a tumbler composter, just turn the crank.
Piles will need to be turned with a garden fork. Extremely large piles will benefit from having a few small tree branches added to help prevent compaction and increase airflow to the center of the pile.
Turn the pile every two weeks, moving the stuff at the center of the compost pile to the outside and working the stuff on the outside to the center of the pile.
Regular turning speeds up the decomposition process.
Keep the pile moist, but not soggy, by sprinkling with water each time it’s turned.
7. Steamy Pile
Steam rising from the pile is a sign that it’s heating up as a result of the organic materials in it decomposing. When the pile is kept turned it will heat up to temperatures of 140-160°F.
At these temperatures, most pathogens and weed seeds are destroyed. You can test the temperature with a thermometer or by sticking your hand in the center of the pile. If it’s warm, you’re doing it right. If it’s cold, it needs to be turned.
8. Cold Composting
This method is easy, but it takes a long time (up to two years).
To cold compost, just make a pile of organic material and wait. It will decompose without any assistance from you, but you’ll have to be patient. This is a good method to use when you have a large amount of leaves to rake in the fall and/or a lot of shrub trimming to do.
The leaves and small shrub branches can be placed in a pile and left to decompose naturally.
9. Earthworms in Compost
If you turn the pile every couple of weeks and keep it moist, you will begin to see earthworms throughout the pile. The earthworms eat food scraps, which become compost as they pass through the worm’s body. The worms also help keep the pile aerated.
10. Finished Product
Finished compost look and feel like dense dark soil, and nothing are recognizable except crush eggshells.
Apply finished compost to your garden about two weeks before planting, giving the compost time to integrate and stabilize within the soil.
Benefits of Composting
- It’s free. You get to recycle kitchen waste, lawn clippings, leaves and other vegetation that would otherwise get thrown away.
- More food and blooms. Soil that is rich in compost produces vigorous plants regardless of whether you’re growing vegetables, herbs or flowers.
- Better soil. Improves garden soil structure, texture, and aeration. It loosens clay soils and helps sandy soils retain water. The organic matter provided in compost provides food for microorganisms, which keeps the soil in a healthy, balanced condition.
- Increased fertility. Adding compost improves soil fertility and stimulates healthy root growth so vegetable plants and flowers produce more.
- No fertilizer needed. Compost contains nutrients that plants need, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. And it supplies a sufficient amount of micronutrients, such as boron, cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc.
Compost vs Fertilizer
The main difference between the two is that compost is for the soil and fertilizer is for the plants.
Fertilizer does nothing for the soil while compost does everything for the soil. The soil feeds and supports the plants, so anything that is good for the soil is good for the plants.
Fertilizer goes directly into the plants to quickly meet their nutritional needs.
Compost feeds the plants indirectly by increasing the nutrients in the soil, improving soil drainage, loosening soil and preventing compact.
The loose, nutrient-rich soil also attracts earthworms which help keep the soil aerated and fertile with their castings.
Problems and Solutions
Get rid of the flies by mounding up all kitchen waste in the center of the compost pile and surround it with hay or grass clippings. That will mask any fly-attracting scent and prevent the flies from feasting and laying eggs in the heap.
If the pile stinks it’s either too wet or contains too much green material (vegetable scraps, peelings, etc.). To tame the stink and bring the pile back into balance you’ll need to add brown material, like hay or shredded newspaper, and turn it.
If your compost pile is covered with ants, it’s too dry. Get rid of the ants by spraying the pile with water and turning it. Deter the ants in the future by keeping the compost moist and turned regularly.
If the pile is not heating up, it needs turning. How much longer? It takes time for raw ingredients to turn into black gold, and sometimes the decomposition process does get stalled.
Jumpstart the decomposition by starting a new pile on top of the old compost pile. Place equal amounts of green and brown material right on top of the old pile, water it all down, then walk away. The new organic material will heat up so the pile will start decomposing again.