Composting is the process of collecting decayed organic matter to make plant and garden fertilizer. It is a key ingredient in organic farming. Thousands of people worldwide have been composting for years and reaping the benefits of free fertilizer, while millions more are beginning to see the ecological and personal benefits of it and are also starting the process.
Composting not only provides you with free soil conditioner – it means you also recycle kitchen and yard waste from your home and effectively reduce landfill waste. The time and money you invest in your garden’s soil always brings the best results – healthy, spirited plants or a great harvest.
However, a lot of budding composters are not sure exactly where to start or if the benefits of composting are even worth it. That’s why we here at homify have put together this easy guide to show you how and why to compost at home.
As we have already mentioned, there are numerous benefits to composting. One of those benefits is that the compost material you collect creates rich humus (an effective soil conditioner) for your lawn and garden, which adds nutrients to your plants and helps to retain moisture in the soil. It introduces beneficial microscopic organisms to help aerate the soil, break down organic material for plants, and even helps to ward off plant disease.
This of course means that composting is not only good for your garden, but great for the environment, as it offers a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers. Another benefit is that it recycles kitchen and yard waste. As much as 30 percent of household waste can be diverted away from the garbage can if you compost. This reduces landfill waste substantially, as about one-third of landfill waste is made up of compostable materials.
What most people don't realize is that there are so many things that can be composted. Anything organic like fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, leaves, grass clippings, the plants from your garden, and straw or hay are what most people think of when they think of compostable materials. But did you also know that you can compost coffee grounds, tea leaves, newspapers, saw dust, cardboard, and even dryer lint? Each of these materials add either nitrogen or carbon to the humus.
As for things you can't compost, meat, bone, or fish are the main offenders. This is mainly because it will attract all kids of pests, but also because flesh doesn't decompose the same way that vegetation does. The resulting compost mixture would not end up decaying in a way that would be beneficial to you.
Composting is rather simple. You start off your compost pile on bare earth, as this allows worms and other beneficial organisms to aerate the compost before it is moved to your garden. Lay twigs or straw first – a few centimetres deep – as this aids in drainage. When composting, you want to layer your materials, alternating moist and dry. Moist ingredients are food scraps, tea bags, seaweed, or anything of the like. Dry materials include straw, leaves, sawdust, and wood ashes.
Adding green manure such as clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass, grass clippings, or any nitrogen source will activate the compost pile and speed along the entire process. Although it sounds strange, you can occasionally water your compost to keep it moist – or you can let Mother Nature help you out with that one and just wait for the rain to do the job. You also want to make sure you cover your compost to retain the moisture and heat. Every few weeks, give your pile a quick turn with a shovel to aerate it. Oxygen is needed for the process to work and turning the pile allows the oxygen to get deeper into the pile. Once your pile has been established, add new materials by mixing them in rather than by adding layers.
As with just about every process, there's an easy way and a tougher way to go about it. One of the easier ways to compost is called
no-turn composting, and it's just what the name suggests – you don't need to turn your pile to aerate it. The secret to this method is to thoroughly mix in enough coarse material like straw when building the pile, because these coarse materials add a lot of oxygen to the mixture. As a result, the compost will develop as quickly as if it were turned regularly.
Composting leaves is another easy method. If you have too many leaves to put in your compost bin, you can just compost the leaf pile itself. Put your leaf pile in a place where it can adequately drain and in a shaded area to keep the pile from drying out. Add layers of dirt in between each layer of leaves. If your pile is damp enough that, when a handful is taken, a few drops of water appear, then the pile is adequately moisturized. The pile will compost in about four to six months. This compost is best used as organic soil amendment and conditioner, but it won't work as a fertilizer because of the lower nutrient count.
Enclosed compost bins are most practical for outdoor composting on a smaller scale. You can build an enclosed bin by yourself by getting a heavy-duty garbage can, drilling 1.5 centimetre holes evenly around the can, and filling it with a mixture of high carbon and nitrogen materials. This would also be the cheapest method for you, instead of going out to buy a special compost bin. You do, however, have to occasionally stir the contents to avoid anaerobic pockets. If you have a secure lid, just lay your bin down flat and let it roll a few times.
Of course, the other option is a compost bin you can buy, also sometimes called a compost digester. Compost bins are enclosed on the sides and on the top, while being open on the bottom so that they can sit directly on the ground. The bins are relatively inexpensive, too.
Activators can be added to your compost pile to help jump start and speed up the process. Common composting activators are materials like comfrey leaves, grass clippings, young weeds, and well rotted chicken manure.
Because compost piles are piles of rotting organic matter, it's only natural that it might attract a few pests. Small fruit flies are especially attracted to these piles. They can be warded off by simply covering any exposed fruit or vegetable matter you have. Keeping a small pile of grass clippings near your compost will also benefit you, as you can add a layer of a few centimetres on top of your pile every time you add something new. Adding lime or calcium to the pile with also ward off the flies.
If you are experiencing some unpleasant odours from your pile, you can reduce it or eliminate it by first not adding any bones or meat scraps to it and by covering new additions to the pile with grass clippings or mulch. The lime and calcium that wards off flies is also a good odour neutralizer.
Feeling inspired by this environmentally friendly activity? Make sure you check out these 6 steps for an eco friendly home!