What is compost?
It is a mixture of various decaying organic substances, as dead leaves or manure, used for fertilizing soil. Compost is an important supplement you can give your garden soil!
Composting is a simple way to add nutrients to soil which fuels plant growth and helps to restore depleted soil. It’s also free, easy to make and good for the environment.
- Compost adds nutrients to your plants and helps retain moisture in the soil.
- Compost recycles kitchen and yard waste: Composting can divert as much as 30% of household waste away from the garbage can.
- Compost introduces beneficial organisms to the soil. The organisms help aerate the soil, break down organic material for plant use and ward off plant disease.
- It is good for the environment: Composting offers a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers.
- Compost reduces landfill waste: Most landfills in North America are quickly filling up; many have already closed down. One-third of landfill waste is made up of compostable materials.
What to compost:
- table scraps
- fruit & vegetable scraps
- leaves (leaves break down faster when shredded)
- grass clippings (add in thin layers so they don’t mat into clumps)
- graden plants (use disease-free plants only and plants that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides)
- lawn & garden weeds (only use weeds which have not been sprayed with pesticides or chemicals)
- shrub prunings
- straw or hay (straw is best; hay (with seeds) is less ideal)
- green comfrey leaves
- pine needles
- flowers, cuttings
- seaweed and kelp
- wood ash
- chicken manure
- coffe grounds (filters may also be included)
- tea leaves (loose or in bags)
- newspaper (avoid using glossy paper and colored inks)
- shredded paper (avoid using glossy paper and colored inks)
- cardboard (shred material to avoid matting)
- corn cobs, stalks (slow to decompose; best if chopped up)
- dryer lent (best if from natural fibers)
- sawdust pellets (high carbon levels; add in layers to avoid clumping)
- wood chips/pellets (high carbon levels; use sparingly)
You can also add garden soil to your compost. A layer of soil will help to mask any odors, and microorganisms in the soil will accelerate the composting process.
What not to compost
- Meat, bones, or fish scraps – they will attract pests
- Perennial weeds – they can be spread with the compostor diseased plants.
- Pet manures – do not use if they are being used on food crops.
- Conventional banana, peach, or orange rinds – They may contain pesticide residue. Only use organic peels and rinds for composting.
- Black walnut leaves
- Sawdust – may contain machine oil or chain oil residues from cutting equipment. “clean” sawdust can be added to compost, scattered thinly to avoid clumping.
Composting kitchen waste
For kitchen wastes, keep a container with a lid and a handle under the sink. Consider using a stainless steel compost pail with air filter, or the ceramic model. If you don’t mind occasional smells, use an old ice-cream pail. Chop up any large chunks before you toss them in. When the container is full, take it out to your composter and toss in the contents.
Yard and garden waste
With yard and garden wastes, different composting materials will decompose at different rates but they will all break down eventually. If you want to speed up the composting process, chop the larger material into smaller pieces. Leaves and grass clippings are also excellent for compost, but should be sprinkled into the bin with other materials, or dug in to the center of the pile and mixed. Avoid putting them on in thin layers – they will mat together and reduce aeration, which slows the composting process.
How to Compost
- Start your compost pile on bare earth. This allows worms and other beneficial organisms to aerate the compost and be transported to your garden beds.
- Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
- Add compost materials in layers, alternating moist and dry. Moist ingredients are food scraps, tea bags, seaweed, etc. Dry materials are straw, leaves, sawdust pellets and wood ashes. If you have wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down.
- Add manure, green manure (clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass, grass clippings) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.
- Keep compost moist. Water occasionally, or let rain do the job.
- Cover with anything you have – wood, plastic sheeting, carpet scraps. Covering helps retain moisture and heat, two essentials for compost. Covering also prevents the compost from being over-watered by rain. The compost should be moist, but not soaked and sodden.
- Turn. Every few weeks give the pile a quick turn with a pitchfork or shovel. This aerates the pile. Oxygen is required for the process to work, and turning “adds” oxygen. You can skip this step if you have a ready supply of coarse material, like straw.
Once your compost pile is established, add new materials by mixing them in, rather than by adding them in layers. Mixing, or turning, the compost pile is key to aerating the composting materials and speeding the process to completion.
Note: If you want to buy a composter, rather than build your own compost pile, you may consider a buying a rotating compost tumbler which makes it easy to mix the compost regularly. A variety of rotating composters are available online. They can simplify the composting process and may work best if you live in a suburban neighborhood or urban area!