Compost | Gross? Perhaps. Pure Magic? Yes.

One of the most important things you can do to improve your soil and reduce your environmental impact is to compost. Composting is the process of decomposing organic matter, such as food scraps, yard waste, and other organic material, into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. In this blog post, I’ll cover the basics of composting, including what to compost, how to build a compost pile, and how to use compost in your garden.  So fun…

Why Compost?

Composting has numerous benefits. First and foremost, composting helps to reduce waste. Instead of throwing away food scraps and yard waste, you can turn them into a valuable resource that can be used to improve your soil (happy gardens, anyone?). Composting also reduces the amount of organic material that goes to landfills and helps to improve soil health.  It is rich in nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are essential for plant growth. Adding compost to your soil can help to improve soil structure, water-holding capacity, and nutrient availability. Compost can also help to suppress plant diseases and pests, making it an important tool for gardening.

What to Compost

Before you start composting, it’s important to know what materials can and cannot be composted. Compostable materials are typically divided into two categories: greens and browns.

Greens are high in nitrogen and include things like:

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds and tea leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Manure (from herbivores only)

Browns are high in carbon and include things like:

  • Dry leaves
  • Sawdust and wood chips
  • Shredded newspaper and cardboard
  • Straw and hay

It’s important to maintain a balance between greens and browns in your compost pile. Too much of one or the other can slow down the composting process and create an unpleasant smell. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a ratio of roughly three parts brown material to one part green material.

There are also some materials that should not be composted, as they can attract pests, create odor problems, or contain harmful chemicals. These include:

  • Meat, bones, and dairy products
  • Fats and oils
  • Pet waste
  • Diseased or insect-infested plant material
  • Charcoal ash
  • Glossy paper

Building a Compost Pile

Once you’ve collected your compostable materials, it’s time to build a compost pile. There are a few different methods for composting, including traditional bin or pile systems, vermicomposting (composting with worms, mmm), and tumblers. In this post, I’m going to focus on traditional bin or pile systems.

To build a compost pile, start by selecting a site that is well-drained and receives some sunlight. The site should be easily accessible, but not too close to your house or other living areas, as compost can attract pests and create odors. If possible, it’s a good idea to build your compost pile on bare soil, as this allows beneficial microorganisms to enter the pile and help with the decomposition process.

Next, gather your compostable materials and layer them in the following order:

  • Layer twigs or straw to improve airflow
  • Add a layer of brown material
  • Add a layer of green material
  • A layer of soil or finished compost
  • Repeat

It’s important to keep your compost pile moist, but not too wet. If the pile is too dry, decomposition will slow down, but if it’s too wet, it can become smelly and anaerobic.  Try to aim for a moisture level that is similar to a wrung-out sponge.

You should also turn your compost pile regularly to ensure that it decomposes evenly. Turning the pile helps to mix the materials and provide oxygen, which is essential for the decomposition process! Depending on the size of your compost pile, you can turn it with a pitchfork or shovel every few days or once a week.

It’s also a good idea to monitor the temperature of your compost pile. As the materials decompose, the temperature of the pile will rise. In order to kill off weed seeds and pathogens, the pile should reach a temperature of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit for several days. If your pile is not reaching this temperature, you may need to adjust the ratio of greens to browns or the moisture level.

Using Compost in Your Garden

Now, the fun part.. Once your compost has finished decomposing, it’s time to put it to use in your garden. Compost can be used as a soil amendment, top dressing, or mulch.

To use compost as a soil amendment, simply mix it into your soil before planting. This will help to improve soil structure, water-holding capacity, and nutrient availability. You can also use compost as a top dressing, which involves spreading a thin layer of compost over the soil surface. This will help to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and provide a slow-release source of nutrients.

Finally, you can use compost as a mulch, which involves spreading a thick layer of compost over the soil surface. This will help to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and provide a barrier against temperature extremes.

Composting is an important practice for homesteaders and gardeners alike who want to reduce waste and improve soil health. By composting your food scraps and yard waste, you can turn what would be trash into a valuable resource that can be used to grow healthy, organic produce. Composting is easy to do, and with a little bit of effort, you can create a nutrient-rich soil amendment that will benefit your garden for years to come. So don’t throw away those banana peels or apple cores – turn them into compost and watch your garden thrive!

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