One of the most important skills you need to master, if you plan to grow amazing food, is composting. “Composting for Beginners” will not only answer your questions and concerns about composting, but we will get your compost pile started!
Composting isn’t as complicated of a subject as some would make it seem.
Sure, there’s a ton of science and chemistry behind what happens when compost is formed, but you don’t need to know all of that to get started composting.
It’s like owning an iPhone.
You don’t really need to know how to build an iPhone, you only need to know how to use it.
Understanding the basics will help you to get your compost bin started, then nature will do the rest.
What Is Composting?
As a beginner, sometimes we can make it harder than it has to be!
Composting is quite simply the breaking down of organic materials into simpler, more absorbable material.
What does Composting Do for Me?
Soil with good compost is what allows me to garden organically with great success.
The health of your soil will determine your success as a gardener.
Soil, built with good, healthy micro-organisms, can not only add essential nutrients to your garden, but a soil rich with composted materials will do a lot to “police” itself against disease and pests.
Composting for Beginners: What is Black Gold?
Nature is so amazing.
It takes animal manure, leftover foods and other decomposable materials and breaks them down into, literally, a “black gold” for our gardens.
Nothing can replace the value of well-rotted compost in your garden! There is no fertilizer you can purchase at the garden store that will do more than good compost.
Conditions Needed to Make Compost
There are three conditions needed to make compost:
Oxygen: This is accomplished by turning your compost pile, so that oxygen can permeate all parts of your pile.
Heat: The sun is needed for the breakdown process.
Water: Rain will usually take care of this need, however, if you live in a really dry place, you may need to add a bucket of water to it once a week.
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What Can I Put in my Compost Pile?
There are two kinds of material that can go into your compost pile:
Green material: This is the nitrogen piece of your compost pile. It consists of coffee grounds, peelings from fruit and vegetables, egg shells, grass clippings, leaves, weeds, human urine and manure from ONLY farm livestock (i.e. cows, pigs, chickens, horses, donkeys).
Do NOT include: Dog or cat manure, dairy products, meat or anything greasy.
Brown material: Also known as the carbon part of your compost pile, brown materials consist of wood chips, branches and twigs, paper, cardboard, straw, soiled hamster or rabbit bedding, toilet paper and paper towel rolls, even 100% cotton clothing will break down!
The proper ratio of brown material to green material is about 30:1, but that depends on a few conditions.
In other words, you will usually need thirty times as much “brown” or carbon materials for every one part “green” or nitrogen materials.
How to Fix a Soggy Compost Pile
If you have too much green material, your compost pile will be wet and slimy. Your pile may also be getting too much rain.
Your compost pile is in need of carbon like straw/hay, leaves, shredded paper, cardboard and the like. After adding more carbon to your pile, turn it thoroughly and then cover it with a tarp for at least 30 days. The condition of your compost pile should improve drastically.
How to Fix a Dry Compost Pile
If you have too much carbon, your pile will break down very slowly.
To increase activity in your pile, add more nitrogen: fruit and vegetable scraps and peels, grass clippings, coffee grounds, fresh tree clippings, animals manure and even human urine.
While no compost pile ratio is perfect all of the time, keep an eye on the decomposition of your pile and add more green or brown material as needed.
Can I Compost Where I Live?
Depending upon where you live, composting is going to look different for you.
If you have a backyard, you simply need a sunny corner to put your food scraps, yard waste and acceptable manures.
You can build a simple structure in no time!
What I’ve found to work well is a three-sided pallet compost bin.
Keeping the fourth side open allows you access to turn your pile.
Simply wire together three pallets into a three-sided bin!
You could also use chicken wire to make a cylinder to use as a compost pile.
Whatever design you choose, just make sure that you are able to turn your compost once a week at least.
If you have a lot of animals and thereby, a lot of manure, you might consider making a larger compost bin, so that your front loader can have access it.
I first learned of this method years ago, as a beginner, when I lived next door to an elderly couple who had survived WWII in England.
They grew a lot of their own food, right down the fence line of their very small yard.
I watched as the husband would dig a deep trench into their fence-line garden in the fall, and then drop kitchen scraps, egg shells and coffee grounds in.
He covered the scraps with soil as he made his way down the garden, as long as he was able to work the soil.
Once the soil was frozen, he left it alone until Spring.
The miracle that was happening under his soil was a beautiful, micro-organism rich process that made his soil extremely healthy and fertile by the following summer!
For those of you looking to compost on your back porch, there are plenty of gadgets available these days to accomplish that!
How Will I Know When My Compost is Finished?
First of all, nothing in your compost pile will be recognizable.
Everything should be broken down into a rich, black soil.
There should also be no odor! Your finished compost should just smell slightly sweet and like fresh soil.
Where can I Use My Compost?
While your main purpose in making compost might be for your vegetable garden, don’t forget your other outdoor plants!
Landscaping will be healthier and last longer when fertilized with compost or compost tea!
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How to Make and Use Compost Tea
Compost tea is so easy to make!
Simple fill a 5-gallon bucket with 1/3 composted animal manure and fill the rest of the way with water.
Let your bucket sit in the sun for a couple of days until the water is good and dark.
YES, it will be disgusting!
But it works!
To Use: With an old pitcher or container than you won’t use for anything else, scoop out some of the “tea” and pour onto the roots of your plants. Don’t water the leaves of your plants!
Start with just a cup or two of “tea” and see how your plants respond.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and have to adjust your ratios from time to time with your compost pile, everyone has to from time to time. It’s not an exact science.
But DO make a compost pile for your garden, you’ll never regret it!