Whether you’re an avid gardener or just starting out on your plant-parent journey, you’ve probably wondered if composting is for you.
For many, the idea of composting is both exciting and intimidating. Intentionally decomposing materials in your backyard — or even in your house? How do you know what to compost? How do you keep it from getting smelly? Today, we’re here to answer all your most crucial composting questions.
Though your garden’s needs will differ depending on your local climate, here are some basics of composting to get started.
PICKING YOUR COMPOST BIN
Now, you may think that composting requires an extensive setup, but you don’t need a ton of yard space to start a composting bin. You can even start one indoors if you live in an apartment or condo! But which type of bin is best for your garden? Consider your space, how much compost you need and whether you want a slower or more accelerated composting process.
THE NITTY GRITTY
First, what exactly is compost? Compost is decomposed organic material that can enrich your soil and help your plants grow. It’s often prepared by combining ingredients like yard clippings and food waste that then decompose, over time with the help of beneficial bacteria, fungi and other organisms. Depending on where you live and what you’re composting, the decomposition process can take several months, or even beyond a year!
Composting has many benefits. Compost can help your garden more efficiently retain moisture and nutrients. In addition to providing a nutrient-rich, natural fertilizer, composting also cuts down on landfill waste. According to the EPA, food and yard waste makes up more than 30% of what we throw away. Composting can help keep your plants happy, while also helping you meet your personal sustainability goals.
There’s no shortage of composting products out there. Compact composters are perfect for indoor spaces (some even have filters to reduce any odors). If you are looking to compost faster, hot composters are insulated to help speed up the composting process. Then there are wormeries, designed to let a tiny team of worms munch away at your compost and quicken the work. This is also known as vermicomposting.
Of course, you can also make your own composting bin, using materials like wooden pallets or concrete blocks. Connect with a local plant nursery or hardware store for advice on constructing a bin that will work well with your garden and space.
A LITTLE TLC
Although composting is a totally natural process, some upkeep is always beneficial. Think of it this way: the fungi and organisms working to create nutritious compost for your plants are living things that need food, air and water. So, keep your pile moist, aerated and layered so those helpful little guys and your compost can thrive.
When you’re adding new ingredients to your compost, be sure to shred any large pieces into more compact bits, to help make them easier to break down. You’ll also want to layer browns and greens one after the other.
It’s helpful to create a well of sorts within a brown layer, nestle the greens within, and then cover with another layer of brown. Add moisture to each new layer, and occasionally turn the pile to help aerate it. How often you’ll need to turn your compost heap differs depending on your regional temperatures, so talk to a local gardening center for pro tips.
While some things are fantastic ingredients for a flourishing compost, there are some that are better left for the trash. Here is a quick look at what to add and what to toss.
A happy and healthy compost requires a 50/50 mix of brown and green ingredients.
Brown Ingredients - add bulk, create air pockets and are high in carbon.
Dead leaves • pine needles • branches • saw dust • napkins • newspaper • coffee filters
Green Ingredients- provide nitrogen and nutrients
• grass clippings
• vegetable and fruit scraps • egg shells
• coffee grounds • tea bags
These materials can attract flies and animals and introduce harmful pathogens and parasites.
fats and oils • meat scraps • animal waste • diseased plants, tree branches or leaves
You’ll know your compost is ready when the materials you’ve added have transformed into rich, crumbly soil, with an earthy smell. Composting can be wonderfully nourishing for your garden, and wonderfully rewarding for you and the environment! Whether you’re caring for a patio of potted plants or an entire backyard ecosystem, consider taking on this eco-friendly endeavor to help your garden thrive.