Composting has become somewhat of a trendy thing for families to do, even in suburban areas. Done correctly it gives you dark, nutrient-rich material you can spread into your raised vegetable beds and flower gardens to help the plants thrive, the soil to hold water and the overall health of your plants improve.
The great part about composting is it is not that difficult. In fact, it isn’t rocket science at all. It’s just a natural process you can follow to make it happen effectively and quickly. Even if you don’t follow the process perfectly and maybe mix the wrong combination of ingredients, it actually still will work. So at the end of the day, it’s hard to fail.
Before you begin composting, you need to figure out where you are going to do it. You want the space you create the compost to be near where you are eventually going to use it, and also close to where you are getting the raw materials that you are going to throw into your compost tumbler or pile. Trust us. Nobody wants to haul wheelbarrows full of stuff back and forth.
You also have to take into account your water situation. Wherever you are starting your pile or tumbler, it has to be within reach of a hose. Also, if you are doing a compost pile, remember you need to pick a location that isn’t exposed to the wind.
If you are composting in a pile instead of a tumbler, you have to also decide on how large of an area you are going to need for your compost workspace. A general rule of thumb is to allow between 60 to 90 square feet of composting workspace for every half acre you are going to be pulling “waste” materials from.
As for holding the compost, as we’ve noted a couple times, you have choices in how to go about this. If you have very limited in space, a compost tumbler is going to be your best bet. Compost tumblers are compact, efficient ways to make your compost. They come in many shapes and sizes, but they all work in the same general fashion. You can open a lid on the tumbler and insert your composting material. Periodically add water to make the composting material moist, and use the spinning function of the bin to help promote composting activity.
If you have more room to work with, you may want to consider creating a compost pile. If you do a pile, we recommend that you either build some sort of bin or purchase a bin to hold it all together. You’ll need to make sure it will hold at least one cubic yard (3 feet wide and 3 feet deep) of compost material.
What To Make Your Compost Out Of
When it comes to composting, there are two basic types of materials. You have the green materials which include things such as yard debris, manure, grass clippings, fruit and vegetable peels, and coffee grounds. You also have your brown materials which include dried leaves, straw, wood chips, sawdust, straw and even clothes dryer lint.
The brown materials are known as carbon-rich materials. The green materials are known as nitrogen-rich materials.
The idea with compost is to create a mix of the brown materials and the green materials in proportions that provide a particular balance of carbon and nitrogen. Enough of each type of material is needed by the microbes responsible for the decomposition of your compost pile. These microbes are naturally occurring things that are in the air and soil. The ideal mix of materials is to have one part of green materials to two parts of brown materials.
PRO TIP: These measurements are measured by volume, not weight.
So for example, for every single shovelful of green material you put into your compost pile, you’ll need two shovelsful of brown material.
Building Your Compost Pile
To build your compost pile, assemble the correct proportions of green and brown materials as described above. You want to layer them alternately in your bin or tumbler. Use a hose to water down each layer to where you get a good glisten and the material becomes sticky (do not overwater). Each layer should be only a few inches thick. Dense items such as kitchen scraps should be at the bottom or center of your pile. This reduces the risk that your pets (or any wild animals) will use your pile as an all you can eat salad bar.
The Decomposition Process
As your pile is working, the microbes begin feeding on the materials. This will cause a noticeable increase in the temperature at the center of your pile. After a few days of decomposition, the center of the pile will feel hot to your touch. Be careful as temperatures can reach up to 170 degrees. As the insect larvae and microbes being to die off, you will notice that your pile will start to shrink. It’s not uncommon for your pile to lose 30-40% of its original volume.
The balance of nutrients, air and water changes as the decomposition progresses. That is what stops the heating process. For faster decomposition you will want to turn the pile, mixing the contents. Use a manure fork to do this if you are composting in a pile. If you are composting in a tumbler, you simply need to use the rolling feature that the tumbler was built for. When you fluff up and turn the pile it helps keep the heat up and therefore the decomposition process happening faster.
Start Composting Today
Again, the best thing about making compost is while there is a specific series of steps to do it, if you miss something, or perhaps take a different route than the steps described in this article, it’s okay. Your composting project will still work out.
Test different methods to figure out the best process for you that gets you the best compost in the right amount of time and you’ll have a repeatable process that will work for your specific uses every time.