How to make Compost

One of the most important secrets to a healthy organic garden is good soil. Compost is an wonderful ingredient you can add to improve the quality of just about any soil. Composed of decayed organic materials, your home-made compost can be the perfect fertilizer for your garden. Chances are, you will have all the necessary “scraps” to make your own compost, but some first time gardeners like to supplement with store bought compost so they don’t have to wait as long to add it to the garden. Compost for a small garden should be ready-to-use in about 30 days.

Before starting, you might consider contacting your local county cooperative extension and ask how to go about getting a soil test. Volunteer gardeners are typically available to answer any questions you have about soil in your area.

First, decide on Bin or Pile:  You will need a compost bin or a designated spot in your yard to start a compost pile. Most garden stores carry ready- made bins starting at under $100 with features such as wheels and turning handles to make it easy to mix the material without doing it by hand. But you don’t need a store bought composter to make quality compost. A simple, plastic garbage bin with a lid or simple clay pots work just as well, and you can easily mix the contents using a pitch fork or shovel.  Some shade is fine, but make sure your bin or pile gets 4-6 hours of sunlight a day to speed up the heating process.

Remember:  The best compost is made up of at least half Green (high in Nitrogen) and half Brown (high in Carbon) materials, with many experts recommending four times as many browns as greens. If your compost smells, you have too much green (nitrogen). But too much brown (carbon) means your compost won’t break down. Through trial and error, you will come to learn what works best and whether you need to add more nitrogen or carbon products to the mix.

Here is a short list of the Best Browns and Good Greens to make your compost;

Best Browns:  nut shells, small twigs, leaves, pine needles and cones, straw, vegetable stalks, shredded newspaper and other papers, shredded toilet paper rolls, bark, sawdust, paper coffee filters, shredded paper egg cartons, shredded brown paper bags.

Good Greens: grass clippings, alfalfa, clover, coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, food waste (cooked pasta), bread cereal, grains), old tea bags, hedge and grass clippings, hay, manures (from plant eating animals-horse, sheep etc.), fruit pits, peelings, scraps, salad leaves, house plant trimmings, corn husks and corn cobs and egg shells.

Don’t Add: Meat, bones, fats, pet droppings, plastics, foil, glass, beverage cans, metal, pressure treated wood, colored papers, coal ash, lawn chemicals and liquids (other than water), oil, rubber, Styrofoam, cat litter, .

Toss & Mix: Start adding your scraps to a small container stored on your counter and toss it into your compost bin twice a week or as needed. Turn the material in your bin several times a week using a pitch fork or shovel. You may need to add a little water but your mix should be moist, not wet. Your compost could be ready in a month or two. It can take longer, perhaps several months to a full year, if you have a larger, uncovered outdoor compost pile.

Compost: Don’t be worried if your compost starts to steam. This means that the nitrogen and carbon are doing their work! Your compost will be ready to use when it is a dark brown or black with a earthy or dirt odor. It may be soft and crumbly but should not contain recognizable pieces of food or paper products, although twigs may be evident. It should also be free of mold. If your compost is ready but your garden is not, you can store the finished compost in used soil bags or in a separate, covered bin.

Happy Planting!

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