If you have never tried composting, I really encourage you to give it a go! Soil building is the single most important thing you can do for your garden. Period. While you can buy compost and other soil amendments, composting yourself if completely free and gives you a far better quality than any product from a home improvement store. If you are just starting your garden for the first time, you won’t have time to develop and finish a compost before planting, so just use bagged mixes. But start a compost immediately, so that you will have the garden gold for next season.
To produce a quality compost, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The temperature is key! You will need to create a mixture that will heat up enough to kill the weeds and help the beneficial micro-organisms thrive. To do this, you want to add equal parts green and brown materials, all chopped to a small size. Fresh grass clippings or kitchen scraps (green) and dried shredded leaves work or newspaper (brown) are great for your first effort because they’re already in small pieces. They also bring the perfect mix of nitrogen and carbon to the party, giving you the perfect home for all the organisms you want in there.
Once you get your pile going, you will add material high in nitrogen and carbon weekly, making sure to alternate for the best results. For me, that looks like a layer of fresh grass clippings or kitchen scraps with a layer of shredded paper or leaves or cardboard on top. Then I add water for moisture and wait a week. The next week, I turn the pile and mix everything together then add more grass clippings or kitchen scraps or even spent plants, then another layer carbon material like newspaper, shredded mail, or leaves. I sprinkle with water again and wait. If your temperature is right, your ratios of nitrogen and carbon are balanced, and the pile is moist, all of what you have put in will turn into a beautifully rich organic material to add to your garden in just a month or so.
Signs Your Compost Is Thriving
- Creepy crawlies everywhere. A healthy compost will be full of life, even in the winter.
- The temperature of a healthy compost is pretty hot, so if your compost is warm to the touch, things are looking good.
- You see less organic material and more of what looks like soil. Things break down pretty quickly in a healthy compost.
- The color of your compost is dark brown or black! This means it is almost done!!
Signs Your Compost Is Struggling
- No sign of life means things are not right.
- Your compost smells bad.
- Your brown leaves aren’t breaking down. They are the easiest to decompose and are the first thing to go. If you see more brown than green material, something is wrong.
- Your compost is smoldering. If you see smoke coming from your compost, it is definitely too hot. Cool it down by adding brown (carbon) material and water.
Composting is one of the most rewarding aspects of gardening. You will be so surprised at how fast material breaks down into beautiful soil for your veggies! Give it a try! And if you do, I would love to know how it goes!
Here is my Amazon affiliate link to the compost bin I have in our garden, as well as one other that I have heard good things about. Ours is around 12 years old and is still in perfect shape. You definitely get what you pay for!
How To Layer The Bin
This is probably the most important, yet most overlooked part of composting. Most people think they should just toss their scraps into the bin and let nature take its course. You can totally do that! But if you want to compost like a wild child, and have your compost finished in a fraction of the time, you will want to layer your material, keep your bin wet, and turn it often!! Here is a great graphic to refer to! I have been composting for years, and I still use it!! Keep it handy and kick up your compost this season!