Updated: Apr 14
Composting is simple to do, uses what you would otherwise be throwing out, and is food for your plants. It 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 tricks we have found helpful in our own 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 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 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 it is dry, 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 ours about every three weeks or a week after noticing it is nice and steamy when we dig into it. If you are turning it 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. Building your Compost Pile
We built our compost inside three pallet walls. This only took the cost of a few screws and it makes the pile easily accessible while containing it. The other benefits of pallets are that plenty of oxygen is available through the walls. You can also have an un-contained mound of compost. The tumbler compost bins are great for containing your compost pile but don't normally allow as much air movement, depending on how well the turning feature works.
6. Other Additions to 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 will cause scabby potatoes so go easy on adding it to your potato bed.
Don't forgo adding your coffee grounds into your 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 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?