• how and what to compost
• simplest composting methods
• enclosed composting bins
• build your own compost bin
• tips for successful composting
• buy a compost bin
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Compost is the single most important supplement you can give your garden soil.
Composting is a simple way to add nutrient-rich humus which fuels plant growth and restores vitality to depleted soil. It's also free, easy to make and good for the environment.
compost, you are creating rich humus for lawn and garden. This adds nutrients
to your plants and helps retain moisture in the soil.
Recycles kitchen and yard waste: Composting can divert as much as 30% of household waste away from the garbage can.
Introduces beneficial organisms to the soil: Microscopic organisms in compost help aerate the soil, break down organic material for plant use and ward off plant disease.
Good for the environment: Composting offers a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers.
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|
can also add garden soil to your compost. A layer of soil will help to mask any odors, and
micro-organisms in the soil will accelerate the composting process.
Do not compost meat, bones or fish scraps (they will attract pests), perennial weeds (they can be spread with the compost) or diseased plants. Do not not include pet manures in compost that will be used on food crops. Banana peels, peach peels and orange rinds may contain pesticide residue, and should be kept out of the compost. Black walnut leaves should not be composted. Sawdust may be added to the compost, but should be mixed or scattered thinly to avoid clumping. Be sure sawdust is clean, with no machine oil or chain oil residues from cutting equipment.
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.
|How to Compost|
your compost pile on bare earth. This allows worms and other beneficial organisms to aerate the compost
and be transported to your garden beds.
All compostable materials are either carbon or nitrogen-based, to varying degrees. The secret to a healthy compost pile is to maintain a working balance between these two elements.
- carbon-rich matter (like branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of
wood, bark dust or sawdust pellets, shredded brown paper bags, corn stalks, coffee filters, conifer
needles, egg shells, straw, peat moss, wood ash) gives compost its light,
Nitrogen - nitrogen or protein-rich matter (manures, food scraps, green lawn clippings and green leaves) provides raw materials for making enzymes.
healthy compost pile should have much more carbon than nitrogen.
A simple rule of thumb is to use
one-third green and two-thirds brown materials. The bulkiness of the brown materials allows oxygen to penetrate
and nourish the organisms that reside there. Too much nitrogen makes for
a dense, smelly, slowly decomposing anaerobic mass. Good composting hygiene means
covering fresh nitrogen-rich material, which can release odors if exposed
to open air, with carbon-rich material, which often exudes a fresh, wonderful
smell. If in doubt, add more carbon!
|Simplest Composting Methods|
The biggest chore with composting is turning the pile from time to time. However, with 'no-turn composting', your compost can be aerated without turning.
The secret is to thoroughly mix in enough coarse material, like straw, when building the pile. The compost will develop as fast as if it were turned regularly, and studies show that the nitrogen level may be even higher than with turned compost.
With 'no-turn' composting, add new materials to the top of the pile, and harvest fresh compost from the bottom of the bin. This can be easily done in an Aerobin Composter, or a Eco King compost bin.
If you have too many leaves to incorporate into the compost bin, you can simply compost the pile of leaves by itself. Locate the pile where drainage is adequate; a shaded area will help keep the pile from drying out.
The leaf pile should be at least 4' in diameter and 3' in height. Include a layer of dirt between each foot of leaves. The pile should be damp enough that when a sample taken from the interior is squeezed by hand, a few drops of moisture will appear. The pile should not be packed too tightly.
The pile will compost in 4 - 6 months, with the material being dark and crumbly. Leaf compost is best used as an organic soil amendment and conditioner; it is not normally used as a fertilizer because it is low in nutrients.
You can also use leaves to make a nutrituous "tea" for your plants. Simply wrap a small pile of leaves in burlap and immerse in a garbage can or large bucket of water. Leave for three days, then remove the "tea bag" and dump contents into the compost. Scoop out the enriched water with a smaller bucket and use to water your plants and shrubs.
|Enclosed Compost Bins|
For small-scale outdoor composting, enclosed bins are the most practical. The least
expensive method is to build one yourself from
a heavy-duty garbage can. Simply drill 1.5-cm aeration holes in rows at roughly
15-cm intervals around the can. Fill the can with a mixture of high-carbon
and high-nitrogen materials. Stir the contents occasionally to avoid anaerobic
pockets and to speed up the composting process. If the lid is secure, the
bin can be laid on its side and rolled; a length of 2" cedar ( use
a 2x2 or a 2x4) can be bolted to the inside, running top to bottom, to help
flip the material. Without this, the contents tend to stay in place while the
bin is rolled.
Another option is a compost bin, sometimes called a 'compost digester'. Compost bins are enclosed on the sides and top, and open on the bottom so they sit directly on the ground. These are common composting units for homes in residential areas where bins tend to be smaller, yet enclosed enough to discourage pests. These bins are inexpensive, but it is difficult to turn the compost, so it can take several months to produce compost. These bins are thin-walled plastic, and may chip along the edges, especially during a freeze.
most efficient enclosed bin method is the compost tumbler. It's possible to maintain relatively high temperatures in drum/tumbler
systems, both because the container acts as insulation and because the turning
keeps the microbes aerated and active. Some designs provide an interior "paddle"or "aeration spikes" which aid
aeration and prevent clumping of the composting materials. Other designs have holes on the ends for aeration. This greatly
speeds up the composting process.
An enclosed 'tumbler' system offer the following benefits:
- speeds up the composting process
- can compost year-round, due to higher internal temperature
- cannot be accessed by rodents, raccoons, dogs or other critters
- keeps compost neatly enclosed and odor-free, well-suited for residential areas
To learn more, see Compost Tumblers: Comparing different compost tumbler models
For more info, or to purchase a compost tumbler, click here
|Tips for successful composting|
'Activators' can be added to your compost to help kick-start the process and speed up composting. Common compost activator materials are: comfrey leaves, grass clippings, young weeds, well-rotted chicken manure.
~ Flying insects attracted to your compost?
Small fruit flies, especially, are naturally attracted to the compost pile. They can be discouraged by simply covering any exposed fruit or vegetable matter. Keep a small pile of grass clippings next to your compost bin, and when you add new kitchen waste to the pile, cover it with one or two inches of clippings. Adding lime or calcium will also discourage flies.
~ Unpleasant odors from your compost pile?
This can be a concern in urban and suburban areas with small lots and neighbors living close by. Odors can be reduced, or eliminated, by following two practices: first, remember to not put bones or meat scraps into the compost; second, cover new additions to the compost pile with dry grass clippings or similar mulch. Adding lime or calcium will also neutralize odors. If the compost smells like ammonia, add carbon-rich elements such as straw, peat moss or dried leaves.
~ Is your compost pile steaming?
No problem. A hot, steamy pile means that you have a large community of microscopic critters working away at making compost.
~ Is your compost pile soggy?
This is a common problem especially in winter when carbon-based materials are in short supply. You can restore your compost to a healthy nitrogen-carbon balance.
To learn how restore your compost pile, read our article "How to fix a soggy compost pile".
~ Matted leaves, grass clippings clumping together?
This is a common problem with materials thrown into the composter. The wet materials stick together and slow the aeration process. There are two simple solutions: either set these materials to the side of the composter and add them gradually with other ingredients, or break them apart with a pitchfork. Grass clippings and leaves should be mixed with rest of the composting materials for best results.
~ Problems with raccoons?
If there's a population of raccoons in your area, they will be naturally attracted to your compost pile. The best solution to this problem is to bar their entry to the compost. (Traps and poisons are more trouble than they're worth.) A wood or metal lid can be easily hinged to the bin described above on this page, or you can buy a commercially-made compost bin with secure fitted lids which are pest-proof, such as the Aerobin or Jora JK270.
~ A moveable feast.
The soil beneath a compost bin becomes enriched as nutrients filter down with successive waterings. You can place your bin on a plot of earth which you plan to use for a future vegetable or flower bed, or fruit tree. Each year, you can move the bin to a different area; you'll get a double benefit - the compost from the bin, and a bed of nutrient-rich soil ready for new plantings.
~ Additive only.
Compost should be used as a soil additive, and not exclusivley as the growing medium. Compost is a source of rich organic matter which provides nutrients for growing plants, but should be thought of as one component of a healthy garden bed. To learn more about developing healthy soil, read our articles:
How to Build and Nourish Healthy Garden Soil
6 Tips for Building Soil in your Raised Garden Beds and Planters
~ Take advantage of autumn's bounty.
The biggest challenge for small-scale backyard composting is finding enough carbon-rich materials to balance the regular input of nitrogen-rich materials which come from kitchen scraps, fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, grass clippings and other fresh materials. To learn how to make the most of autumn's bounty, read:
Autumn Composting Tips
~ What about people living in urban locations, can we compost indoors?
Yes, you can still reduce your organic waste and produce your own compost for potted plants, balcony planters, or your plot in the local community garden. There are several different methods for composting indoors which are odor-free and compact enough for even small apartments. For more information about these methods, read our article:
How to Compost in an Apartment
|Composting and weed seeds|
|A liability in composting is the unexpected introduction of new weed seeds to your garden. This is caused by slow or incomplete composting which did not generate enough heat to kill any and all weed seeds. Weed seeds in compost are a nuisance because once the compost is transferred to your garden beds, the compost acts to fertilize the weeds and make them even more persistent!
With home compost bins or piles, the way to eliminate weed seeds is twofold:
1. Make sure your compost is hot enough.
Reach your hand into the center of the pile - it should be almost too hot for comfort. Specifically, the temperature shoud be 130 - 150 degrees F. It takes about 30 days at 140 degrees to kill all weed seeds.
2. Mix your pile.
While your compost may be hot in the center of the mass, the outside of the pile is cooler, giving seeds a chance to survive. Mixing brings cooler material to the warmer area and also increases aeration which helps attain the higher heat levels. Compost tumblers are very useful for this.
If you are buying bedding for animals, mulch or carbon-rich material to bulk up your compost pile, be aware of introducing seeds to your garden, via the compost. For example, make sure to get straw, and not hay, since straw is mostly weed-free. Ask the sales staff if there have been any complaints about seeds in these products.
Below are a few samples. To see all the composters in our store, click here
Click to learn more about the Jora Composters (available in three sizes)
EZ Compost Wizard Compost Tumbler - 12 cu ft
~ Large capacity: holds up to 90 lbs. of compost.; smaller unit also available
~ Efficient material: Black 100% recycled plastic heats up quickly for faster composting.
~ Convenient design: Easy to spin composter on wheeled base
Click to learn more about the EZ Compost Wizard
Stainless Steel Compost Keeper
~ Prevent odors: carbon air filter in lid.
~ Attractive & Convenient: keep on your counter for easy access.
Click to learn more about the Stainless Steel Compost Keeper
Autumn Composting Tips
How to build your own compost bin
Buy a compost bin
Buy a compost tumbler
Compost Tumblers: Comparing different compost tumbler models
How to Compost in an Apartment
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