Adding compost to your garden soil helps your vegetables and flowers grow. This black gold adds nutrients to the soil and helps the soil retain water.
If you’ve ever bought some at the gardening store, you know that it’s pretty expensive. Good news! It’s easy to make compost yourself. You just need a little bit of space and a little bit of time.
Here’s how to make compost, the things you need (and the things you don’t).
Kinds of compost piles
First, you’ll need to decide how much space you have for your compost pile. There are three main types of compost piles, listed from largest to smallest.
- Open pile, for those who have lots of space. This is made of two or three enclosures with compost materials piled inside.
- Sealed bin, for city backyards. You put compost ingredients in this large plastic bin and close the lid. Some bins have a door at the bottom to scoop the finished compost out.
- Pit composting, which is as simple as it sounds. Dig a hole, put compost ingredients inside, and cover with dirt.
What to put in your compost pile
What do you put in your compost pile? Just two things: “browns” and “greens”. This is an easy way to categorize the two main ingredients for making compost.
Browns are plant materials that are high in carbon. They’re usually dry, and they will make up a majority of your compost pile.
Here are some examples of brown items to add to your compost:
Spoiled hay or straw
Shredded paper (not glossy paper)
Greens are plant materials that are high in nitrogen. As you’ll see by this list, they are moist and must be mixed with the browns in your compost pile. If they’re left in a big clump, they’ll become slimy and smelly.
Here are some examples of green items to add to your compost:
Fruit and vegetable scraps
Weeds that haven’t gone to seed
Rabbit (or other herbivores) bedding
You want a ratio of 30:1 with more browns than greens. No, this is not something you can measure don’t worry about it too much. Just remember that when you put in some greens, you need to add a lot of browns to balance it out.
What you shouldn’t put in your compost pile
While just about any plant item can go in your compost pile, there are some things you shouldn’t compost. Here are some items that you shouldn’t add to your compost pile:
Invasive plants (ivy, kudzu, bermuda grass, etc)
Weeds that have gone to seed
Dog or cat droppings
How compost is made
Now that you know the method and ingredients, you’re ready to get started. If you’re using the pit composting method, you donÕt need any fancy instructions. Dig a hole and put your ingredients in it. Cover with soil and leave it alone.
Open pile composters and sealed bin composters, think of your compost bin like gardener’s lasagna. You’ll start with a large pile of browns (as much as 6 inches deep), then add a 1-inch layer of greens. Add some soil from your garden, too. This will help add microbes and bacteria to the compost pile.
After adding the soil, spray the pile with water. You don’t need a ton–just enough to moisten the materials (water should not run out of the bottom of the pile). Follow with another large pile of browns and a thin layer of greens and soil, and repeat until you’ve run out of material.
Unlike lasagna, you’re going to stir your compost. This helps add air to the pile and gets the decomposition bacteria going. You don’t need a fancy compost turning gizmo–a shovel or pitchfork will work just fine.
Open pile composters have the easiest time with this because it’s easy to access their pile. Sealed bin composters, like me, have it a little bit tougher. You can open the top and scoop/stir with a shovel to mix everything up. Do the best you can and don’t worry about mixing up every last leaf.
Composting Gadgets You Don’t Need
The fancy gardening catalogs will try to sell you a bunch of fancy gadgets to make compost, but you don’t need them. Remember, those companies are in business to make money. They charge $159 for a seed starting light that you can make yourself for $10!
Here’s the truth about compost tumblers and other composting gadgets that you don’t need. Some of these are a downright rip-off.
Compost tumbler bin
The compost tumbler is supposed to ‘save time and effort’ because you put the materials in and then occasionally turn the crank to produce compost. Guess what! The bin isn’t what makes the compost…its your ingredients and a little bit of mixing that does the trick. Instead, get a big plastic trash can, lay it on its side, and roll it around the backyard.
Food waste pail for kitchen
This is a tiny, decorative trash can for your kitchen counter. Some even come with tiny trash bag liners and/or charcoal filters to keep odors down. Save your $29.95 and put your kitchen scraps in a large, empty can or bowl and empty it daily.
These are an expensive tool that stirs your compost, the same way that a shovel or pitchfork does. I bet you already have a shovel or pitchfork, so don’t buy another gadget! Use what you have, it will work just fine.
Now you know the ingredients and techniques for making compost, and the items you should use and avoid. Which method will you use for your compost pile? Happy gardening!