The secret to a healthy garden is right in your trash. Composting your organic waste keeps it out of your local landfill, and it creates a nutrient-rich humus that boosts the fertility of your soil naturally. Composting is easy, too. If you’ve never had a compost bin before, you might be surprised at how much gratification you’ll get from seeing vegetable scraps and lawn clippings turn into wonderful, fertile and sweet smelling humus. And wait ’til you see how it helps make your vegetable garden and flowers thrive.
So, let’s get started creating compost.
Here’s what you’ll need:
Lawn debris, plant clippings and kitchen scraps
A paint bucket and lid (optional)
Gather Your Materials
For a healthy compost bin, think “green” and “brown.” You’ll want to layer the “green” materials, such as lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and plant clippings, with “brown” materials, such as manure, alfalfa meal and hay. The ratio of brown to green should be at least 2-to-1. This combination will encourage bacteria to begin consuming the organic matter, which causes the material in the compost bin to heat up. That means you’re cooking up some mighty fine compost.
Almost any organic material can be added, including food scraps, eggshells, tea leaves and coffee grounds. Never add chemically treated wood, diseased plants, human or pet waste, meat, bones or fatty foods. And, though you’ll invariably pick up a few weeds in your grass clippings, avoid putting too many weeds in your compost bin. Otherwise you’ll be sprouting new weeds when eventually spread the compost in your flower beds or vegetable garden.
Cut the Materials into Smaller Pieces
The smaller the chunks you toss in, the faster they will break down, so it’s helpful to cut up the larger pieces with pruning sheers or scissors.
Layer the “brown” and the “green” materials using at least a 2-to-1 ratio. You can adjust the ratios of brown and green later as needed. (If the pile doesn’t heat up, add more green material. If it gets an ammonia-like smell, throw in some more brown items.)
Give the Compost a Boost
You’ll want to add manure or a compost starter in with the layers. Compost starters often include manure as well as other organic materials, such as blood meal, that speed the composting process. Sprinkle it on with the green layer or according to the package directions.
Add water regularly during the compost-building process and let it trickle into the pile to help get rid of air pockets. The compost pile shouldn’t be soaking. Aim for keeping the contents of the compost bin about the wetness of a sponge.
Keep Gathering Scraps
One of the stumbling points of keeping a bin going is simply remembering to keep all of those banana peels and vegetable ends. One inexpensive solution is to buy a gallon paint bucket with a plastic lid. Leave it on your kitchen counter top as a visual reminder. Of course, there are any number of other attractive lidded containers you can use. The main point is to keep using it to feed the growing pile of composting material that’s cooking in your compost bin.
Speed the process by turning the pile with a pitchfork once a week and adding fresh manure or compost starter. Mixing it allows oxygen into the center of the pile, encouraging the growth of bacteria and fungi, which break down organic material. A rotary composter will aid in this process and generally create compost faster.
Regularly turned organic matter will become finished compost in about four months—sooner if you used a starter. Compost is ready when it is dark and crumbly with an earthy smell. Sift to separate material that hasn’t finished composting. Those pieces will continue to decompose in your garden.
Once it’s ready, work the compost into soil to give it an organic boost before planting. Spread it on the soil’s surface, on flowerbeds or around the base of landscape plants. Compost may also be used as a top dressing for lawns or as an ingredient in potting mixes.
By now you will completely hooked on composting, and your garden will show it.
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