Composting Basics


Are you interested in living a more simple lifestyle?  Are you interested in learning about “going green”?  Are you interested in creating your own fertilizer and mulch?  And are you interested in saving a lot of money?   If you have answered yes to all of these questions, you are a person who is interested in getting yourself off the grid to live a more independent and basic life.

One way of “living off grid” is to learn about composting.  There are many methods of composting.  All of them are relatively simple and inexpensive.  But what exactly is compost and what it is used for?  Compost is a dark, nutrient rich material that is comprised of broken down garden/yard debris, kitchen scraps, and other organic materials.  many gardeners call compost “black gold”, because it is so rich in minerals that it is a prime fertilizer for garden beds, potted plants, and landscaping in general.  Any gardener can create his own compost by combining the above mentioned materials in a simple bin or container along with some water.  But is it really that simple?  The answer is a resounding, YES!

So, how to make compost…

Step 1 – Decide a location for your compost bin/pile.  Most compost bins are wooden or wired in area that holds materials securely in a pile.  If you do further research into using worms for composting, you will definitely want a wooden box or a shallow metal or plastic basin to hold your compost materials.

Step 2 – After deciding on a location, you’ll need to figure a size of your compost pile.  This is going to depend on a few factors.  First, how much organic scrap material does your household produce in a week to put into your compost pile?  Typical home composts are about 3 foot by 3 foot and are no more than 18 inches deep.  You want to make sure your pile doesn’t get much taller than this so the pile can have proper air circulation.  Air will naturally penetrate the pile up to 20 inches.  This will help reduce odor and your chances of attracting bugs and other critters to your compost.  For smaller piles I recommend wire fencing on the outside of the pile so you have easy access through the top to turn your pile.  For larger piles you can create a box using wooden pallets as the side walls and a fifth one for the top.  The slats in the pallets allow for air flow and the lid can still be removed to help you maintain your compost pile.

Step 3 – Once you have a location, size, and basic structure, you are ready to start adding materials to the pile itself.  Every compost pile is made of green materials which add nitrogen (non greasy kitchen scraps such as fruit cores and peels, crushed eggshells, coffee grounds, grass clippings, weeds, and barnyard animal manure – not cats and dogs), brown materials which add carbon (shredded paper, twigs, small branches, and straw), and moisture.   Keeping your compost pile watered so it is damp but not sopping wet is key.  If it is too dry the materials will not break down.  If it is too wet it will start to smell and become slimy.

Step 4 – Wait.   Time will do most of the work.  Although you do have to check the pile weekly to make sure it is moist.  Also, you will want to rotate the pile from the outside in once a week or so.  This will help the materials to break down more evenly.

Step 5 – Harvest your compost and use it around your home.  Various uses are to fertilize indoor and outdoor herb gardens.  Use as a top fertilizer for any indoor or outdoor potted plants.  Use instead of expensive store bought mulches and fertilizers for your larger flower beds or gardens.  For all potted plants, you will only need about 1/2-1 inch of compost on top of your potting soil to keep your plants happy and growing all season.

Happy gardening!