A Beginner’s Guide to Composting

As a gardener, you’re always looking for ways to improve the performance of your garden, and you can accomplish this by improving your soil and making more nutrients available to your plants. One of the ways to improve your garden’s output is through the use of compost. Compost is made from the decomposition of organic waste, such as leaves, twigs, paper, and kitchen waste, including egg shells. It is an excellent source of nutrients that can help to improve soil health and garden crop productivity.

Adding compost to your garden will ensure that your garden soil has a better structure due to the presence of more organic matter. Soil drainage, aeration, and nutrient availability also increase with compost. All of these positively impact your garden crops’ health.

However, as a beginner, composting can be a tricky endeavor as you may be confused about what to include in your compost pile, and how long you should wait before you turn your pile.

This post will guide you through the different composting methods and which one you should choose. It’ll also teach you how to make your own compost.

Getting Started with Composting

Composting is a great way to reduce waste, enrich your soil, and help the environment. It’s also a relatively simple process that anyone can do at home. If you’re serious about organic gardening, composting is one of the routes to achieving it. However, getting started with composting can seem daunting if you’re not sure where to begin.

Green composting material

To get started with composting, you must know the right composting method to choose and the materials that are safe for you to include in your compost pile. Another important consideration is where you’ll compost your organic waste.

Choose a Composting Method

There are several methods of composting, and the one you choose will depend on your individual need and circumstance. Some popular methods include:

Hot Composting

This method involves creating a pile of organic materials and turning it regularly to promote decomposition. Hot composting requires a bit more work than other methods, but it’s the fastest way to create finished compost.

Cold Composting

Cold composting is a more hands-off approach, where you simply add organic materials to a bin or pile and let nature do its work. This method takes longer to produce finished compost but requires less effort.

Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting involves using worms to break down organic materials. This method is great for small spaces and can be done indoors, making it a great option for apartment dwellers.

Choose a Location

Once you’ve chosen a composting method, the next step is to decide where to put your compost. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a location:

  • Choose a spot that’s convenient: You’ll be more likely to stick with composting if it’s easy to do. Choose a location that’s easily accessible and close to where you generate the most organic waste.
  • Choose a spot with good drainage: Compost needs to stay moist, but it shouldn’t be soaking wet. Choose a location that has good drainage to prevent your compost from becoming waterlogged.
  • Choose a spot that’s not too close to your home: Composting can attract pests and produce odors, so it’s best to choose a location that’s not right next to your home.

Choose the Right Materials

brown composting material

The final step in getting started with composting is to choose the right materials. Here are some things to keep in mind when selecting materials for your compost:

  • Brown materials: These are high-carbon materials like dry leaves, straws, and shredded paper. Brown materials provide structure and balance to your compost.
  • Green materials: These are high-nitrogen materials like grass clippings, food scraps, and manure. Green materials provide the nutrients that your compost needs to break down.
  • Avoid meat, dairy, and oily foods: These materials can attract pests and slow down the composting process.

How to Compost

Composting is an easy and eco-friendly way to reduce waste and enrich your garden. Not only does composting divert food and yard waste from landfills, but it also creates a nutrient-rich soil amendment that can improve the health of your plants.

Build a compost pile

The first step in composting is to build a compost pile. A compost pile can be made with any biodegradable material, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, yard waste, and even newspaper. It’s important to include a mix of “brown” materials, such as dry leaves and shredded newspaper, and “green” materials, such as fruit and vegetable scraps and grass clippings. This balance will help your compost pile decompose properly.

  • Choose a location that is convenient for you and your garden. You can use a compost bin or simply make a pile on the ground.
  • Start with a layer of “brown” materials, about 3-4 inches deep.
  • Add a layer of “green” materials on top, about 1-2 inches deep.
  • Repeat this layering process until your compost pile is about 3-4 feet tall.
  • Water the pile lightly as you build it, but don’t make it too wet.

Turn the compost pile

After about 2-3 weeks, you will notice that your compost pile has started to break down. At this point, it’s time to turn the compost pile. Turning the compost pile helps to mix up the materials, add oxygen, and speed up the decomposition process.

To turn the compost pile, use a pitchfork or a garden tool to move the top layer of the pile to the bottom. This will mix the materials and introduce oxygen to the pile. If your compost pile is dry, you can add a little water as you turn it. It’s a good idea to turn the compost pile about once a week to keep it decomposing evenly.

Monitor and troubleshoot

As your compost pile decomposes, it will heat up and start to break down. You can check the temperature of your compost pile using a compost thermometer, which you can buy at a garden store. The ideal temperature range for composting is between 120-160 degrees Fahrenheit. If your compost pile is not reaching this temperature, it may need more “green” materials or more turning.

It’s also important to monitor the moisture level of your compost pile. If it’s too wet, it can become anaerobic and start to smell bad. If it’s too dry, it won’t break down properly. To check the moisture level, grab a handful of compost and squeeze it. It should feel like a damp sponge. If it’s too dry, add some water. If it’s too wet, add more “brown” materials.

Composting Tips and Tricks

As simple as composting is, you may run into difficulty if you don’t adhere to certain tricks that’ll ensure that your pile decomposes completely.

Some of the composting tips and tricks you should follow include some do’s and don’ts, and materials to compost or avoid.

Composting Do’s and Don’ts

You must pay attention to the moisture and temperature level of your compost pile. Follow these do’s and don’ts for a better result:

  • Keep your compost pile moist. A compost pile that is too dry will not decompose properly, while one that is too wet will become anaerobic, producing a foul odor.
  • Don’t add meat, dairy, or oily foods to your compost pile. These items can attract unwanted pests and slow down the composting process.
  • Mix your compost pile regularly. This will help to evenly distribute moisture and oxygen, which are both essential for decomposition.
  • Don’t add weeds or plants that have gone to seed. These can cause your compost pile to become overrun with weeds.
  • Use a variety of materials in your compost pile. This can include kitchen scraps, yard waste, shredded paper, and more. A variety of materials will help to create a balanced compost pile.
  • Don’t add pet waste or any animal products to your compost pile. These items can contain harmful pathogens that can survive the composting process and pose a health risk.

What to Compost and What Not to Compost

Keeping your compost materials relevant to your pile is important in determining how fast your compost is ready and the quality of your compost. Here’s a brief on what to compost and what not to compost.

What to Compost

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds and tea bags
  • Eggshells
  • Yard waste (e.g., leaves, grass clippings)
  • Shredded paper
  • Cardboard
  • Sawdust (from untreated wood)

What Not to Compost

  • Meat and dairy products
  • Oily foods (e.g., salad dressing, peanut butter)
  • Pet waste
  • Diseased plants
  • Weeds that have gone to seed
  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Plastic or metal

Composting for Different Climates

Composting can be done in almost any climate, but the process may differ depending on where you live. Here are some tips for composting in different climates

Hot and Dry Climates

In hot and dry climates, it’s important to keep your compost pile moist. You may need to water your compost pile more frequently than in other climates. You may also want to consider building a shaded compost bin to protect your compost pile from the intense sun.

Cold Climates

In cold climates, composting can slow down or even stop during the winter months. To keep your compost pile active, you may want to consider insulating it with straw or leaves. You can also consider using a compost tumbler, which can help to speed up the composting process.

Humid Climates

In humid climates, it’s important to mix your compost pile regularly to prevent it from becoming too wet. You may also want to consider building a covered compost bin to protect your compost pile from heavy rain.

Using Compost

Generally, when your compost materials have decomposed completely, your compost is ready to use. However, to ensure that your compost is ready to use, you must subject it to some tests.

Also, although compost is commonly used in outdoor gardens, it can be used in other settings. Here are some ways of using compost and when to use compost.

When is Compost Ready to Use?

The composting process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on a variety of factors such as temperature, moisture, and the types of materials used. When compost is ready to use, it should look and smell like dark, crumbly soil, with no signs of the original materials. You should not be able to identify any of the original ingredients, and the compost should feel cool to the touch.

when is compost ready to use

To determine if your compost is ready, take a small sample and give it a sniff. If it smells fresh and earthy, it is likely ready to use. You can also check the temperature of the compost, which should be around room temperature if it’s ready to use.

Using Compost in the Garden

Compost is a great addition to any garden, as it helps to improve soil structure, retain moisture, and provide essential nutrients for plants. When using compost in the garden, mix it into the soil to a depth of about six inches, ensuring it is evenly distributed. You can also use compost as a top dressing around plants to provide a slow-release source of nutrients.

When using compost as a soil amendment, it’s important to consider the types of plants you’ll be growing. Some plants prefer acidic soil, while others prefer alkaline soil. If your compost is made primarily from acidic materials like fruit and vegetable scraps, it may lower the pH of your soil. If your compost is made from materials like eggshells or limestone, it may raise the pH of your soil. Consider testing your soil pH and adjusting accordingly to ensure optimal growing conditions for your plants.

Using Compost in the House

Compost is not just for the garden! You can also use compost in your house to promote a healthy environment. Compost can be used as a natural fertilizer for indoor plants, or you can use it to create your potting mix. To use compost in the house, simply mix it with soil and add it to your pots as you would any other soil.

Compost can also be used as a natural cleaner in the house. Mix compost with water to create a natural cleaning solution that is safe for pets and children. You can use this solution to clean surfaces like countertops, floors, and appliances.

Final Thoughts

Composting is an excellent way of diverting organic wastes from landfills and using them to improve soil health and structure. It helps to make your garden more productive and reduces your dependence on inorganic fertilizers. However, starting it can be tricky.

Start composting by choosing a location that is some distance from your home. Choose the right mix of green and brown materials and layer them accordingly. Turn your pile periodically until all the organic wastes have decomposed. You’ll know your compost is ready to use when it smells earthy and you can find no trace of the materials you introduce to the pile.

Start composting today to help your garden improve its productivity by making nutrients available to your plants and improving your garden’s soil health and structure.

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