There are plenty of good reasons for gardeners to try composting, but above all, it provides a natural alternative to enrich the soil without using chemical-based fertilizers and damaging the environment. Making compost doesn’t need to be hard work and it costs you almost nothing. Here are my suggestions and things I’ve learned after years of composting.
Over the years I’ve experienced with various types of soil conditioners since I had to work with poor soil in my garden. However, composting remains one of my favorite method of enriching the soil. Based on the materials you put in your compost bin, you can also use it to help improve drainage or water-holding capacities.
Many families have a green recycling bin to recycle their waste. The resulting product is one of the most used soil conditioners. It is useful for adding organic matter even though it has little nutrient value. Green compost is used to improve soil structure and its water-holding capacities. To avoid weed roots lurking in the green compost or possible debilitating disease, I recommend making your own garden compost.
Building a compost bin and giving it a try
A simple way to start composting is to buy a commercial composter since these don’t cost a fortune. However, if you want to save a buck or two and if you are the handy type, you can build one yourself. The unit should be about 3 feet wide by 3 feet deep and 3 feet tall.
I built my composter with four recycled wooden pallets, a handful of nails, and some old hinges I had laying around the homestead. I stood three of the pallets together to form ¾ of a square. Attached them with nails (screws are a better choice, though mine has held just fine with nails). I then attached the fourth pallet on one side with three hinges.
Bins composting is also called the No-Turn composting method. Bin composting method is like cold composting and takes time for you to reap the benefits of your labor.
Starting with composting
Once your composter is done you should give composting a try, but you should do it properly.
Start with a 6-inch thick layer of brown or high-carbon materials such as old leaves, straw, hay and even soil on the bottom. Follow with a 3- inch thick layer of green or high-nitrogen materials like fresh grass clippings, kitchen waste, spent weeds and weeds with no seeds.
You should continue to alternate brown and green layers and wash each layer lightly before adding the other one. Keep layering until you fill the container then cover and leave it. Within three to four months, you should get usable compost. If you live in hot, dry climates or at high altitudes, you should make an effort and keep the compost pile watered. This will speed up the decomposing process.
When discussing composting, you will often come around debates regarding nitrogen and carbon ratio. Without this ratio, your compost could offer more harm than benefit to the soil. The fact is, carbon offers energy while nitrogen helps build tissue. However, if there is too much carbon in the soil, then the bacteria and fungi would turn to the soil for food, i.e. nitrogen, and thus would create a nitrogen deficiency in the soil.
You need to calculate the carbon and nitrogen ratio in your pile to get a good understanding of the nutrient content of the compost you are making.
So for instance, if a specific batch of organic matter is made of 2 percent nitrogen and 40 percent carbon, then you need to divide the carbon with nitrogen to get a ratio.
In this case it is, 20:1; however, once the waste decomposes or turns to humus, the nitrogen content can increase by five times more and the carbon can decrease by 50 percent, and so once the humus is ready, the carbon-nitrogen ration would be around 50:5 or 10:1.
The following chart shows the carbon-nitrogen ratio for a few basic ingredients for compost:
- Grass clippings – Carbon-Nitrogen Ration: 19-1
- Table scraps – Carbon-Nitrogen Ration: 15-1
- Old leaves – Carbon-Nitrogen Ration: 80-1
- Paper – Carbon-Nitrogen Ration: 170-1
- Old manure – Carbon-Nitrogen Ration: 20-1
- Fruit waste – Carbon-Nitrogen Ration: 25-1
What to compost and what not to compost
This becomes a problem for many and they believe that composting works with pretty much anything. However, there are some things which are suited for composting while others should be avoided. Vegetable plants soak up the materials that make your compost so think about that.
Those materials will play a vital role in the development of your vegetables. When you have doubts about what should or shouldn’t go in your compost pile, remember the following guidelines.
Great material for composting
Use clean food scraps such as crushed eggshells, vegetable scraps, stale bread, corncobs, oatmeal and so on.
Vegetable and fruit peelings, but also leftovers are also good for your compost pile.
If you are a coffee or tea lover, don’t forget to throw your coffee grounds and filter, but also tea leaves and tea bags in the compost pile.
If you grow various plants in pots, when you refresh the soil, throw the old potting soil in the compost pile.
Lawn clippings are perhaps the most used compost material so make sure you are using it as well.
Prunings from your yard are also ideal for the compost pile. However, you should chop them in small pieces before composting them.
Suggested reading: How to make compost tea
Shredded leaves and pine needles.
When it comes to paper, you can use shredded newspaper or telephone books, but you should avoid the colored pages. Also, white or brown paper towels and napkins should work. Cardboard is also ideal, but once again, avoid ink printed labels and such.
Livestock manure and wilted floral bouquets, but also straw or hay.
Sawdust, wood chips and woody brush can be thrown in your compost pile as well.
Wood ash can be added as well, but use sparingly.
When adding your nitrogen and carbon mixed materials to your pile, pay attention to how large the piece of material is. The smaller the chunk of organic matter, the faster the rate of decomposition will be. Lots of small pieces offer more surface area for microorganisms to chomp on. Chop, break, and shred most of the material you plan to dump in.
Materials to avoid when composting
When it comes to what not to compost, you should pay attention to the following.
Avoid fatty or greasy food scraps such as meat waste, bones, grease and dairy products. Also, products such as dressings and sandwich spreads, but also cooking oil should be discarded.
If you are composting vegetable and fruits, make sure you remove the fruit pits and seeds. These will not break down well and it will attract rodents.
Avoid metal. It may not be obvious at first, but you should remove staples from magazines, tea bags and card boxes.
Related article: Alternative Soil Conditioners For Organic Gardening
I had a lot of trouble with weeds. These will only sprout in your garden if you don’t kill the weeds seeds and salvage the compostable bits. To do this, you can microwave or bake the plants before tossing them in the compost pile.
Any plant that has been treated with weed killer or pesticides should not be composted. Composting plants that are diseased or full of insect pests is also a bad idea.
Colored glossy ads, waxed-coated book cover and colored paper towels or napkins should be avoided as well.
Pizza boxes or other food wax-coated food wrapping should be discarded as well.
I’ve heard that some people use cat, dog or other pet waste for composting. You should avoid doing this since these materials may contain meat products or even parasites.
Sawdust from wood treated with preservatives or various types of paint should be avoided as well.
A closing word
Composting is an easy, natural and effective method that offers great benefits for minimum costs or safety hazards. No matter what your lifestyle and climatic limitations are, there are methods for composting for everyone. The only way to make sure that your compost is made of organic materials that help and does not destroy plant growth is to create your own.