Home Composting Made Easy

These 10 facts about home composting will help you turn food and yard waste into garden gold.


| October/November 2006, Issue #218


Many people start composting for practical reasons. Home composting your leaves, grass clippings, garden waste and food scraps reduces the amount of garbage you generate. Plus, compost is essential for a great garden, and starting your own pile ensures a free, regular supply. But I think there’s an even better reason to compost: it’s fascinating. In fact, once you understand the basics of how the process works, composting can be one of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of keeping a garden.

Composting mimics and intensifies nature’s recycling plan. A compost pile starts out as a diverse pile of kitchen and garden “waste.” Left alone, any of these materials would eventually decompose. But when a variety of materials are mixed together and kept moist and aerated, the process accelerates. Compost matures into what soil scientists call active organic matter: a dark, crumbly soil amendment that’s rich with beneficial fungi, bacteria and earthworms, as well as the enzymes and acids these life-forms release as they multiply.

Adding compost to garden soil increases its water-holding capacity, invigorates the soil food web and provides a buffet of plant nutrients. Compost also contains substances that enhance plants’ ability to respond to challenges from insects and diseases.

Starting a new compost pile can be a fast, easy project. (See Starting a Compost Pile or Worm Bin.) But new composters sometimes feel frustrated as they struggle to learn more about how the process works — an understandable problem since there is a wealth of information available about composting and not one, absolute “right way” to do it. As we take a close look at 10 basic composting facts, it’s obvious that the world of composting is seldom black and white — or shall we say brown and green? At the same time, composting is much easier than what you might have heard.

1. Balancing ingredients is optional. To help compost decompose rapidly, a balance of “two parts brown to one part green” is often preached as composting gospel, but in truth, keeping a balanced ratio is simply an option. (Dry materials, such as leaves, pine needles and dead plants, are usually considered “browns,” whereas wetter materials, such as grass clippings and kitchen waste, are considered “greens.”) It’s not that balancing browns and greens is wrong; it simply makes home composting more complicated than it needs to be. You can pile up all your organic material without worrying at all about greens and browns, and it will still mature into compost.

Precise balancing of materials is crucial in commercial composting operations, for example, the composting of city sewage, manure from animal feedlots or byproducts from food manufacturing plants. But the needs and objectives of a gardener are far different from those of a dog food manufacturer with a waste disposal problem. The goal of industrial composting is to neutralize the pollution potential of various materials. The goal of home composting is to support nature’s self-regenerating power in ways that work harmoniously with the needs and opportunities of a person’s back yard.

dlchasta35
4/27/2013 5:01:11 PM

I have been composting for over 70 years.  When I was young it was from cow manure piled in heaps to cure. Very stinky and lots of flies but worked well.  For the last 20 years I have been sheet composting.  I collect grass clippings and leaves from all over the neighbor hood and spread it out over the garden to a depth of about 1 foot where I am not planning on planting till next year.  Then I do nothing until next spring when I  rototill it.  My garden never needs any kind of fertilizer, herbicides or insecticides.  I am 100 percent organic.

I plant potatoes and onion sets on top of about 4 inchs of grass clippings and cover with about a foot more.  As the plants grow I keep adding grass clippings.  It sure makes graveling for the new potatoes and "digging" to mature potatoes easy.

I keep several tons of grass clippings and leaves out of the land fill every year, which gives me awarm and fuzzy feeling.

 


Carol Acutt
2/4/2013 1:46:40 AM

I find a traditional compost pile is challenging for the busy urbanite. I use the warehouse composter, a composter that is insulated which creates extra heat and it creates compost quickly. It's an awesome way to create a sustainable system in your own home without too much work. My garden is loving the compost! urbanfig.com


ALEX MCKENZIE
5/9/2012 5:28:03 PM

I compost mostly garden and kitchen waste, and there are only a few things I won't put in. I compost egg shells, weeds, and occasionally very small scraps of meat. As long as you bury them, they don't smell, and my composter (one of the black plastic bin types) gets hot enough that I'm not much worried about disease. So far I haven't had any problems with wildlife, and the stuff I get out smells fine and my plants love it. I have had problems with my compost drying out too much -- I generally need to thoroughly soak the top layer every few weeks through the spring and fall, since the bin gets a fair amount of sun. I try to avoid more meat than scraps mixed in with stuff scraped off plates after dinner, and I refuse to put thistles in when I pull them out -- I really don't need those kinds of spines in my soil!






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