A Beginners Guide to Compost Gardening

Composting at home is a wonderful way to get rid of your vegetable scraps and yard waste. Once this waste begins to break down, you’ll also have a terrific soil additive that will grow even more abundant veggies, fruits, and flowers. Composting takes a balance of waste, a little work, and time.

Composting at home is a wonderful way to get rid of your vegetable scraps and yard waste. Once this waste begins to break down, you'll also have a terrific soil additive that will grow even more abundant veggies, fruits, and flowers. Composting takes a balance of waste, a little work, and time. Finding the Right Spot for Your Compost Depending on where you live, your compost pile or bin should get some daily sun. If it dries out too quickly, the microbes can't do their job. However, if you live in a hot and dry place, you will need some shade, and you may need to add water to the mix at certain times in the year. Consider checking with a county extension office or visit an established local greenhouse for suggestions. Set your compost bin over the soil to increase the microbe access from the ground up. If you need to compost under a tree, be prepared to turn it frequently as the roots may get greedy and grow up into your pile.

Finding the Right Spot for Your Compost

Depending on where you live, your compost pile or bin should get some daily sun. If it dries out too quickly, the microbes can’t do their job. However, if you live in a hot and dry place, you will need some shade, and you may need to add water to the mix at certain times in the year. Consider checking with a county extension office or visit an established local greenhouse for suggestions.

Set your compost bin over the soil to increase the microbe access from the ground up. If you need to compost under a tree, be prepared to turn it frequently as the roots may get greedy and grow up into your pile.

Getting the Mix Right

Properly mixed compost smells like rich soil. Improperly mixed compost smells like rot. As long as you’re not trying to compost any animal products, you can manage the rotten smell by getting the mix of brown and green right.

Green waste includes:

  • leaves from the fall raking
  • coffee grounds and strained tea
  • grass clippings
  • garden waste
  • fruit and vegetable waste from your food prep

If you’re putting the remains of tea bags or coffee grounds from Brazilian coffee brands in the USA, make sure you use bags that are not stapled shut. It’s only a bit of rust, but it’s not good for the plants you’ll be adding your compost to.

Brown waste includes:

  • hay and straw
  • wood shavings
  • cardboard
  • shredded newspaper
  • sawdust

Try to use 2/3 brown waste to 1/3 green waste. If you are composting for vegetables, take care to avoid colored ink in your newspapers and treated lumber in your shavings.

Layered Composting: Build-in Aeration

A bad-smelling compost pile generally occurs because there isn’t enough air in the mix. When you’re stacking your compost in the bin, use the brown material to increase air movement. For example, if you do your food prep on the weekends, make sure you have a mix of shredded newspaper and hay to layer in on top of the food waste. This will both improve the air gaps in your compost pile and cover up anything that might smell.

Before you put out your food scraps, cut them fine. A large chunk of broccoli stalk will not smell good as it breaks down, and that breaking downtime will be fairly long. If you can cut it into small chunks before layering it with brown waste, the odor will be less intense and over more quickly.

Avoid Animal Products

Compost generates heat, which is generally enough to destroy any harmful bacteria that may grow on your green waste. However, meat products grow heartier and nastier bacteria that heat may not kill. Do not try to compost any animal products except for rinsed eggshells. You may introduce bacteria to your compost bin that will eventually put you at risk.

Schedule for Turning Compost

If you’re composting on the ground, do your best to turn the compost once a week. In no more than six weeks, you should have usable compost if the conditions are right. A winter compost pile may take longer to break down, but it still needs to be turned.

If you have a tumbler, make sure you add soil to the tumbler, so you have the microbes you need. Brown waste is critical in a tumbler; while the moisture in a compost pile will seep into the soil, a tumbler can collect water, and the stench can be intense.

Composting is a low-intensity chore that can yield amazing results. Start the bottom layer with twigs to make sure that your pile will drain properly and keep brown waste at hand so you can get in the habit of covering the green waste each time you load your composter.

Author: Sheryl Wright