If you are an avid gardener, you are well aware of the value of composting. The combination of usually discarded materials from inside and outside of your home creates a rich substance that can help your plants and garden grow without having to use harsh chemicals.
In addition to improving your garden and any other things planted around your home, composting cuts down on the amount of materials that are added to landfills in your area.
It is an inexpensive way to improve your trees, flowers, and produce while reducing the amount of trash that builds in local dumping areas.
How Do You Make a Compost Pile?
Composting is easy and you can start it no matter how big or small an area you live in. If you live in an apartment, you can begin composting right in your kitchen. It is as easy as 1-2-3.
1 – Find a large plastic or stainless steel container, bowl, or bucket, for your compost pile. Make sure it has a lid that fits snugly. The best place to keep it handy is right in your kitchen on the counter.
2 – Look for plastic bags that are biodegradable and will fit your container. Do not use plastic bags from the grocery store, you need a bag that will break down when you are ready to put your compost to work.
3 – You will want to switch out your accumulated scraps every week or two so it doesn’t create any strong odors in your kitchen. When you reach a full capacity you can keep your compost bag in the freezer until you are ready to use it.
If you have a large area outside of your home you can start a compost bin right away with just a few materials. There are several sites online that can show you step-by-step how to create a compost bin out of pallets or other wood materials.
If you are not the handy type, you can purchase a compost bin from a hardware warehouse chain, such as Lowe’s or Home Depot. And even easier than that, you can find bins and all types of composting supplies online.
One simple way that noted gardener P. Allen Smith illustrates is creating a compost bin using a large plastic trash container that has a lid. You drill holes in the bottom of the container and in the lid to let air circulate and you rest it on top of concrete blocks.
When you want to mix the materials inside you just put the container on its side and roll it around on a hard area.
What Materials are Best for Composting?
There is a wide variety of materials that can be used for composting and they mostly fall into two categories: green and brown.
Green materials are made up of items that are rich in nitrogen, while brown materials are rich in carbon. When combining them together to create your compost pile you should aim for two parts of green materials to one part brown materials.
You might want to keep your green materials in a container in the kitchen. A large empty coffee container would be perfect to store these items and these containers even have a lid so you won’t have to deal with a growing aroma.
The brown materials can be kept outside so it will be closer to the grass and plant clippings you will be gathering. Storing each group separately will help you to be able to combine them in the right ratio when building your compost.
Green composting materials consist of:
- Fruit and vegetable peels – except from citrus fruits or onions
- Grass clippings
- Coffee grounds
- Loose tea leaves
Brown composting materials are made up of:
- Rolls from paper products – toilet paper and paper towels
- Old newspapers
- Shredded paper except for colored or glossy paper
- Wood chips
- Leaves that are dried out
If you have too many carbon-based materials (brown) in your compost pile you will know because the mixture will be dry and it will seem like it is taking forever for it to decompose.
If your mixture starts to smell and looks slimy, it has too little nitrogen (green) materials in it. These situations are easy to fix by increasing the materials that will bring them back to the right levels.
What Should You Never Include in Your Compost Pile?
While there are a good amount of items you can use to create your compost pile with there are things you should never use. Here is a list of items you should not include when composing:
- Anything made from dairy
- Any meat products
- Plant leaves or branches that are from sick or diseased plants
- Cooking oil
- Any types of bread or bakery items
- Excrement from your cats or dogs
- Large tree branches – they will take too long to break down.
How Long Does Composting Take?
The time period in which your compost pile will break down and leave you with the rich organic fertilizer you will use on your plants depends on many factors. It could take from four weeks to a year. Things you need to consider are:
- The size of your compost pile – the larger the bin the faster it will break down
- The quality of the materials you are using in your compost pile
- The type of materials in your group of brown items
- The type of materials that make up your green group
- How much sun your location gets on a regular basis
- How much air your compost pile is getting
What Can You Do to Make Composting Faster?
If you feel like your compost pile is taking forever there are some things you can do to move things along faster.
- If you have a small compost pile consider moving it to a larger bin. When you have a bigger bin you have a wider area for the heat to spread out and work the compost more evenly and quicker. Try to work with a compost bin that is between three or four feet.
- Make sure your compost pile is moist at all times. Water it regularly but don’t make it sopping wet. If things aren’t moving along your compost may be drying up.
- When gathering your compost materials smaller is better. Cut food items into smaller pieces, break any twigs and garden gatherings down as little as you can, and tear paper into strips rather than just tossing full sizes into your bin.
- Keep your compost pile properly aerated. Make sure you take the time to keep shifting things around inside the bin. Turn it regularly or invest in a tumbler. If you switch to a compost tumbler you can increase your decomposition time from several months to around three weeks.
- If it looks like your compost is almost there and you have just a few pieces that are holding things up, you can use a screen to separate these pieces so you can begin using your compost right away. Take any of the pieces that need a little more time and use them to start your next compost batch.
How Do You Know When Your Compost is Ready to Use?
You will be able to tell right away when your compost is ready. The first time you open up your bin and the bits and pieces of kitchen scraps and twigs have come together into a smooth combination resembling dirt it is ready.
The regular aroma from the combination of elements will be gone and your compost will actually have an earthy smell and you will be able to hold the newly rich soil in your hands.
5 Ways to Apply Your Finished Compost
Once you complete your first composting experience you are not going to want to stop. The sense of accomplishment you will feel from gathering items that would normally be tossed into a landfill and turning it into a useful fertilizer better than anything you could buy in a store, you will be eager to start up your next bin.
Here are five ways you can make good use of your compost and turn your indoor plants and outside garden and landscape into a lush paradise.
- On your lawn – spread a thin layer on your existing lawn or create a base of up to six inches when starting up a new lawn.
- Add compost to the roots of your trees. Do this two times a year and it will help your trees grow and any weeds away as they flourish.
- You can add a handful to the soil of any of your indoor plants and save time and money from having to get store-bought plant food.
- Spreading your compost over your vegetable bed or flower garden in the fall is preferred (cover it with mulch and it will work its magic gradually), or you can simply apply it a couple of weeks in the spring before you begin planting.
- Make a batch of compost tea. In just a day or two you can create what has been referred to as “liquid gold” fertilizer for outdoor and indoor plants. You don’t have to wait until you have a large amount of compost to make this tea. Just put some compost in a 5-gallon pail, empty it into a larger pail and add enough water to cover it. Stir it around and you can use it right away or let it steep for 24-36 hours to let it get totally infused. Just make sure you stir it twice a day and fill a watering can when you are ready to use it on your plants and flowers.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.