Top tips for composting

June 19, 2015

The simplest and least expensive fertilizer is compost from your own garden. A backyard compost is the perfect spot for disposing of organic kitchen and garden waste, so here's how to get started.

Top tips for composting

When well-mixed over the course of a year, your kitchen waste turns into nutrient-rich humus, which is one of the best fertilizers you can find. With a compost pile, you're basically putting the cycle of nature to good use. The greater the variety of materials used, the richer the subsequent compost dirt. After as little as three to four months you will have raw or fresh compost, which is best for mulching or fall fertilizing of the vegetable patch. Compost needs about a year to ripen fully; you'll know when it's ready because it becomes fine, crumbly, and dark, like fresh soil.

Special considerations

  • A partially-shaded location is ideal for a compost pile. In bright sunlight, the compost will dry out quickly, and in the shade it may rot.
  • Compost needs a certain amount of moisture and should feel like a sponge that has been squeezed out. A greyish-white coating or lots of ants mean that the compost material is too dry and must be watered.
  • Good ventilation is also crucial. Use a pole to poke ventilation holes down to ground level.
  • Elder and hazelnut trees are good choices for planting near compost piles as their leaves and roots aid in decomposition. They shouldn't be too close, though, as the compost has to remain accessible and you need to be able to manipulate a shovel and a digging fork easily when you occasionally turn the pile over.
  • Surround a fairly small compost pile with a trellis, on which nasturtium, vetches, or other climbers can grow. Sunflowers are also good for concealing a compost pile.
  • Fragrant plants can be used to combat the smell of rot; but they're often unnecessary. Compost usually smells like fresh forest soil.

Materials for the compost pile

All healthy, organic materials that rot within a year can be added to the compost pile, including:

  • Kitchen waste such as vegetable and fruit peelings and cores (as long as they haven't been sprayed with pesticides); spoiled, dried-out foods; coffee grounds and tea leaves; paper filters; and eggshells.
  • Paper from napkins, paper towels, uncoated paper, and paper bags for disposing of biodegradable waste.
  • Garden waste such as shredded tree, hedge, and shrub cuttings; residue from flowers and perennials; leaves (but, because of the high tannic acid content, no leaves from nut trees and oaks); roots; and weeds without seeds.
  • Grass cuttings can be added in thin layers, preferably mixed with coarser material so that enough air still gets into the compost pile.
  • Potting soil; cut flowers, and potted plants with soil; and small pieces of untreated scrap wood.
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