Composting 101: How to Get Started

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written by:  Laura Beiler

editor's note:

Having a compost pile is a huge eco-friendly option for your garden and is so versatile, no matter where you live you can start composting. It is the most natural way to fertilize and feed your garden, providing nutrient-rich soil that can be used in flower beds, vegetable gardens, and more. It is sustainable and cuts down on food waste; in fact, the average person can save almost 277 pounds of waste per year by composting. It also provides a satisfying return on investment when you have dark, rich soil that provides a perfect place for your garden to thrive.

written by: Laura Beiler

@blovely

editor's note:

Having a compost pile is a huge eco-friendly option for your garden and is so versatile, no matter where you live you can start composting. It is the most natural way to fertilize and feed your garden, providing nutrient-rich soil that can be used in flower beds, vegetable gardens, and more. It is sustainable and cuts down on food waste; in fact, the average person can save almost 277 pounds of waste per year by composting. It also provides a satisfying return on investment when you have dark, rich soil that provides a perfect place for your garden to thrive.

So, let’s get started with 6 tips for composting.

1. Think about your space

No matter how large or small your home or yard is, there are many different options for composting. If you don’t have a large garden, or the space to have a large compost pile, you can buy countertop compost bins to store in your kitchen. These are also handy to have around so that you don’t have to make so many trips to a larger pile outside, or if you are just getting started.  If you have the space for a bigger pile outside, you can simply create a pile and use a shovel to turn it, or you can build simple bins from wood. Many people choose to purchase large bins, and you can even find ones that rotate, saving you time.  Compost is perfect for vegetable and flower gardens, but it is best to assess your needs and your space before making a larger purchase.

2. The importance of “browns and greens”

All compost websites I have read mention “browns and greens.” But what does that mean exactly? Basically, it means having a good balance between dead/decaying items and fresh items. The “browns” can consist of twigs, dead leaves, straw, sawdust, shredded paper, and even pine needles. Items like straw and brush help keep air in the compost, which is important for the oxygen flow. These “browns” are carbon sources, which also helps your compost and make your new soil rich. The nest step, “greens,” can be things from your kitchen like fruit and veggie scraps (but not citrus), grass clippings, coffee grounds and tea. Cut up your food scraps to help them break down better. The “greens” in your compost add nitrogen, which also creates rich soil. You want about 30 parts of “browns” to 1 part “greens” for the best mix.

3. Organisms for composting

Earthworms are always good for composting, but there are also micro-organisms that are important to the composting process. You can get these from old compost, potting soil, manure (you can buy in bags at most garden centers or directly from farmers), and compost starters. Having one or more of these is essential to a healthy compost!

4. Time to layer

Once you have your bin, browns, greens, and compost starters, it is time to make your compost layers. First layer on the sticks, straw, or brush. Next, add all your “browns,” then your “greens,” and lastly, your soil or manure. Then you are going to wet it down until it is slightly damp (too much moisture leads to mold and maggots). After you have dampened it, you will want to give it a good turn. If you do not have a rotating bin, grab a shovel and start mixing!

5. What not to add

As you are starting and maintaining your compost, there are some things you will not want to add to your compost as they can breed bad bacteria, germs, and maggots. First, while manure from farm animals is good, you want to avoid dog, cat, bird, and other pet feces. Dairy products, meats, and oils should also not be added. And, as mentioned earlier, citrus fruits should be avoided as they disturb the pH levels in your soil, which inhibits the process.

6. Maintaining your compost

Now that you have started your compost, you will need to do some work to keep it going. Remember, oxygen is important, so turning the pile helps. Piles will naturally heat as nitrogen and carbon build up, so it is important to make sure the pile is hot and has good drainage. Your pile should always be damp and not overly wet. A good visualization is to imagine a damp sponge; wrung out but not dry.  By adding in kitchen scraps you are feeding the good microorganisms, and this cuts down on how much water you need to add to your compost.

7. How long does it take?

Most compost piles will take 3-6 months to complete. This means that you will have to plan ahead. Once you have completed your compost, you can store it, but you should protect it from extreme weather. If you are able to make compost twice a year, you can spread it on your garden in the spring before planting and in the fall after harvest to help keep your garden healthy.

We hope these tips help to bring you a healthy garden full of fresh flowers, vegetables, or whatever your heart desires!

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