By Editorial Staff
Contributed by Info Guru Angela Hail
Compost is organic material which has decomposed to create natural plant fertilizer, the essential basis for organic gardening.
Making compost yourself is garden magic. With the aid of these ten tips, you too can embrace the power.
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10. Get a Good Bin
You can either buy a compost bin or look up plans to make one yourself. Whatever you do, make sure your bin is sturdy and constructed so that you can easily get to the composting materials inside. You don’t want to spend time and energy wrangling with an unwieldy container.
9. Learn to Layer
Compost works by microorganisms breaking down the organic material in a pile. These microorganisms require a healthy diet of two primary things: nitrogen (fresh “green” material) and carbon (dry “brown” material). By layering these materials, kind of like lasagna, you ensure the microscopic compost eaters have easy access to everything they need to work quickly and efficiently.
8. Add Your Green Things
‘Green things’ are those materials which are still fresh: grass clippings, vegetable ends, coffee grounds (I know, they look brown, but trust me), and most kitchen scraps. These are high in nitrogen and should constitute 50% of your compost materials at any given time.
7. Add Your Brown Things
‘Brown things’ are carbon-based materials. Think dry and dead, and you’ll probably have it right. Dead leaves, hay, shredded paper, eggshells, and wood chips are all good brown things to add to the pile, and like your green things, should make up 50% of the materials in your bin.
6. NO Animal Products
I know, I know—in nature EVERYTHING decomposes and eventually turns into soil. But you have a closed system here, and what you do not want is to attract nature’s meat composters: animals, insects (you’ll get some of these anyway, and that’s fine, but do you really want to up the ante?), and pathogens which could make you, your family, and your pets sick. So, nix the meat, fats, and animal wastes (yes, this includes Fluffy’s litter box). It’s not worth the mess. The one strong exception you can (and should) make is eggshells. Compost those. Your compost loves eggshells.
5. Save Your Kitchen Scraps
DO, however, add other vegetarian kitchen scraps to the heap: fruit and veggie trimmings, nutshells, eggshells (did I mention eggshells?), tea bags, etc. This is a great way to make sure those veggie trimmings–and that moldy cabbage sitting in the back of the fridge–don’t go to the landfill (where, by the way, they will not decompose in any reasonable amount of time). All the cool kids are doing it. Even in New York, where Mayor Bloomberg has started collecting all the kitchen scraps of Staten Island. Tell me that ain’t cool.
4. Get Your Shred On
Give your compost a kick start by being the first part of the breakdown process. Shred your materials before adding them to the pile. This is obvious for large, slow to decompose items like logs, sticks, heavy paper, and cardboard, but you can also shred kitchen scraps and other items to speed up the process. Throw apple peels and celery stalks, etc., into the food processor and give them a whirl. The smaller the surface area, the faster it will break down. And, when you’re waiting on compost to feed your hungry garden, faster is always better.
3. Turn, Turn, Turn
Ok, so our little microbe buddies need the proper food, but like most living things, they also need oxygen. Turning your compost regularly is a must to get air down to the nether regions of that pile of green waste and scraps. Some commercial compost bins are designed for this very purpose, like the one in the picture, so all you have to do is turn a crank. Others, however, require your materials be turned with a pitchfork to get the pile properly aerated. Either way, this is a chore that must be done.
2. Playing with Worms
Vermicomposting is a method of composting using earthworms, and boy do these little guys do the job! Worm castings (the finished product of vermicompost) is a rich natural fertilizer, much like regular compost but even more nutrient dense. As an added bonus, you can keep your worm bin inside, making it a great option for apartment dwellers.
1. Behold the Wonder
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You know your compost is ready when it feels like rich, dark soil. It should be moist and crumble between your fingers. This is your black gold, the prize for all your tossing, turning, and waiting. And best of all, it’s free! All those grass clippings, dry leaves, and kitchen scraps—things you normally would’ve just tossed and left for the garbage truck–have now become the greatest growing medium and fertilizer you can have. All it took was a little time, and a marginal amount of work. When they say the best things in life are free, most gardeners would agree that this is what ‘they’ were talking about.
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