Updated: May 31
Composting at home is simple to do, uses what you would otherwise be throwing out, and creates free, wonderful food for your plants! Composting at home in your back yard consists of taking kitchen and yard waste and facilitating an environment where that waste 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 at home for your garden soil will go a long way towards producing more, larger and healthier vegetables. Backyard composting is not an exact science but more of an ongoing experiment. Here are a few tips on how to compost at home we have found helpful in our own backyard composting.
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1. Brown to Green ratios for Composting at Home
Having the correct ratio of browns to greens in your home compost will go a long way in allowing it to quickly heat up and break down. Aim for a ratio of 70% brown material and 30% green. Browns compost materials are rich in carbon whereas green compost materials 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 brown compost materials? - Carbon rich brown compost material is generally like it sounds, dried brown grass clippings, dried leaves, wood material or straw. My personal favourite brown compost material is the wood shavings from cleaning my chicken coop. I have found these a wonderful base for composting in my backyard!
What are green compost materials? - Nitrogen rich green compost material is again much like it sounds, with the exception of manure which is considered a green material. 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.
2. Keep Backyard Compost Moist
When you think of how much moisture you want in your home compost, think of a wrung out cloth. You want your compost 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.
3. What Temperature Should Compost Be?
When your compost heats up properly it will break down rapidly, kill weed seeds and kill unhealthy bacteria. You want to aim for your compost pile to reach 40 - 55 °C (or 105 - 130°F). Once backyard compost gets up to this temperature leave it for a week and then turn. Allow the compost to get hot prior to turning again. It is unlikely that your home compost pile will become too hot but if this is a concern, turn your compost and that will cool it down. Or, another option if your compost pile seems too hot, is to add water to cool it down.
I do not personally have a compost thermometer, I just go by the amount of steam rising when I dig into the compost 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 Backyard Compost Every Few Weeks
As discussed previously, when composting at home, you should be turning or flipping the compost often. 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 Amazon.ca) is the best tool for hand turning your compost pile.
5. How to Build a Home Compost
We built our home composting system inside three pallet walls. This only took the cost of a few screws and it makes the compost pile easily accessible while at the same time, containing it. Other benefits of pallet compost systems are that plenty of oxygen is available through the walls. You can also compost using an un-contained mound of compost. The tumbler compost bins made for backyard composting are great for containing your compost pile but don't normally allow quite as much air movement, depending on how well the turning feature works. They can however make flipping your compost much easier to do.
6. Other Material to add to Backyard Compost
If you have wood ash available it is high in potassium and lesser amounts of phosphorous which makes it a great addition to compost. Wood ash is alkaline where compost is naturally acidic. If you are concerned with your soils acidity, large amounts of wood ash can be used to adjust the pH. Keep in mind too much wood ash can cause alkaline soil and scabby potatoes, so go easy on adding it to your potato bed.
Don't forgo adding coffee grounds into your backyard compost (if you are like me you have plenty of these)! You can toss them in filter and all. Coffee grounds add an excellent source of nitrogen and and encourage microorganisms.
By creating your own compost at home for your garden soil you can know exactly what is in it and keep your compost as close to organic as you desire. Compost adds nutrients, works to aerate and creates good drainage for your vegetable garden soil. What is not to love about this self-sustaining system of turning household waste into healthy organic food for us and our families?
Find more ways of improving your garden soil here.