So you want to compost but have no idea where to begin? You are already halfway there. Making the decision to take on the task is the first and biggest step of the process.
Siting a compost setup. The first thing you need to do is decide where you will do your composting. There are many options for this: You can build a three- or four-sided bin or buy one from your local farm and garden store. You can also find many simple DIY plans on the web that use items such as plastic totes or barrels with drainage holes drilled into the sides — here’s one using pallets (with video). It’s best to start small and expand your composting operation as you grow in skill. Two things that are necessity are drainage and air flow, both essential to the compost process.
Brown vs. green content. Now you have a bin and are ready to start composting! The materials you will be using fall into two categories, nitrogen-rich greens and carbon-rich browns. You will need to keep the material inside your bin about 2/3 browns and 1/3 greens. Browns are dry, brown material such as cardboard, straw, hay, dry leaves, pine needles (used sparingly as they are acidic), saw dust, peat moss, wood shavings, corn shucks, and other similar natural material and non-shiny paper scraps. Your greens will consist of fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, weeds and grass clippings that have not seeded, egg shells, dried manure, and other similar organic items.
What to avoid. You should not include the following items in your compost bin: table scraps other than organic material, seeds from fruits or vegetables (they will germinate in your compost pile), yard clippings where domestic pets are kept or pesticides are used, or glossy or waxy paper products.
Feel free to toss in leftover or used planting materials, like coconut fiber liners used in wire baskets, or used or extra potting soil. You can also add worms to speed up the whole process. You can order worms from companies online or buy them in stores that sell live fishing bait. My preferred method is to grab a handful when I find them around my yard under a rock or log and just toss them in and let them work their magic!
Monitoring. The hardest thing you will encounter on this adventure is monitoring and managing the compost. The pile should be kept damp, but not wet. If you notice a foul smell coming from your compost bin, it is either too wet or contains too much green material. Either problem can be fixed by adding more dry, brown materials. If your compost is at a standstill and seems to not be progressing or "working", you can add more greens.
Turning. You will need to turn your pile at least a few times a week to help move the process along. This will mix the materials and help with faster decomposition. You will recognize the finished product as it will look like dirt! It’s fine if you see a few small particles or pieces not yet completely transformed into plant food. You can also sift the compost and throw larger pieces back into the compost bin. The process time will vary depending on materials used and size of materials. You can cut, shred, or tear it into smaller pieces for faster decomposition.
Time. The general time frame is three months to one year, depending on the many factors listed in this article as well as the season and weather.
There is also, always the option of just tossing everything into a pile and leaving it to run its course naturally, but hey, where's the fun in that? Happy composting!
Beth Smith and her husband decided to become full-time campers when their youngest child started college. The pair now travel every few months working as camp hosts and exploring old-growth forests, bouldering, viewing wildflowers, scoping out wild ponies, and photographing nature. Follow Beth on Facebook.
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