Updated: Feb 10, 2022
Composting is simple to do, uses what you would otherwise be throwing out, and is food for your plants. Composting consists of taking kitchen and yard waste and facilitating an environment where it grows healthy microbes and breaks down the materials into nutrient rich soil that can be added to your garden and feed your plants. Creating compost for your garden soil will go a long way towards producing more, larger and healthier vegetables. Composting is not an exact science but more of an ongoing experiment. Here are a few tips on composting we have found helpful in our own backyard compost pile.
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1. Browns and Greens
Having the correct ratio of browns to greens will go a long way in allowing your compost to quickly heat up and break down. I recommend aiming for a ratio of 70% brown material and 30% green. Browns are rich in carbon whereas greens are rich in nitrogen. When you have the proper ratio of each, your compost microbes will multiply quickly and the compost pile will heat up and break down at a rapid rate.
What are Browns? - Carbon rich brown compost material is generally like it sounds, dried brown grass clippings, dried leaves, wood material or straw. My personal favourite brown material is the wood shavings from cleaning my chicken coop. I have found these a wonderful base for my compost!
What are Greens? - Nitrogen rich green compost material is again much like it sounds, with the exception of manure which is considered a green. Green grass clippings, green leaves and household food scraps are other sources of green compost material.
If your compost pile smells bad and seems slimy, you have too much green material and need to add some brown.
When you think of how much moisture you want in your compost pile, think of a wrung out cloth. You want it to be damp without being soaking wet. You probably are familiar with the fact that bacteria thrives in a warm, damp environment. In the same way, healthy compost microbes thrive under those same conditions. If your compost pile seems too dry you can either add water or add greens.
When your compost heats up properly it will break down rapidly, kill weed seeds and kill unhealthy bacteria. You want to aim for 40 - 55 °C (or 105 - 130°F). Once it gets up to this temperature leave it for a week and then turn. Allow it to get hot prior to turning again. It is unlikely that it will become too hot but if this is a concern, just turn your compost and it will cool down. Or another option if your compost pile seems too hot, is to add water to cool it down.
We do not have a compost thermometer, we just go by the amount of steam rising when we dig into the pile. (And lets be honest, this is actually mostly my hubby's job and he will go and turn in with his tractor after a week or two of it being hot.)
4. Turn It
As discussed under temperature, you need to turn your compost. We turn our compost pile about every three weeks or a week after noticing it is nice and steamy when we dig into it. If you are turning your compost pile by hand it is helpful to have somewhere you can dig your pile out to and then dig it back in. (I did do mine by hand prior to our tractor.) This can take quite a bit of hard work, but hey, no need for the gym that day! A pitchfork (like this one from