Composting Basics

composting bin with organic material

Compost is decayed organic material used as fertilizer that can enrich the soil and help your plants grow. It is often referred to as black gold by gardeners.  There are numerous benefits to using compost such as improving the texture, nutrient composition, water-retention capacity and structure of the soil. It also helps to aerate the soil as well as provides micronutrients to plants. Additionally, it supports the growth of microorganisms that are important for the healthy growth of plants.

Composting is a way to provide low-cost manure which saves money by decreasing the use of chemical fertilizers and other soil conditioners. In addition, composting provides a sustainable solution to dispose of all of your organic garden and kitchen waste.

There are so common everyday items that can be placed in your compost pile. The list is quite long. It includes food items such as kitchen leftovers, spoiled vegetables, eggshells, and fruits. Plant-based items such as leaves, hay, weeds, grass clippings, manures, straw, sawdust, and wood chips. There are also certain items that should not be added to compost including pernicious weeds, diseased plants, chemically treated wood products, human or animal waste, fatty food wastes, milk products, meat or bones.

There are several composting devices available in the market. The simplest option is to just utilize a plain large wooden bin so that you can get started in the process of composting. However, the bin should have a width of about 4-5 feet and a height of around three feet. Place an initial layer of leaves and other biodegradable materials in the bin to a max height of 1-2 feet. On top of this, you will need to add a layer of fertilizer and spread it around so as to activate microorganisms. Finally, another layer of garden soil should be placed upon the fertilizer layer.

fork for turning compost

The soil will introduce microbes which will initiate and carry on the process of decomposition. Be sure to keep your compost pile watered on a regular basis so as to keep it moist.  As you produce and accumulate more garden waste, you can simply add it to the top of this pile. Over the course of a year, the compost material will turn into dark-brown colored humus.

Another option is to consider a professionally-made composting bin. They may be more expensive but that cost could be offset by a more efficient composting process. The process of turning your compost is also easier when using a commercial product with built-in tumbling drums. I suggest reading up on a comparison of using a professional bin versus a homemade version prior to making any decisions.

Regardless of the level of gardener you currently are, your plants will benefit from the nutrient-rich compost that you will produce. Don’t be afraid to get started. Just start saving those kitchen scraps while you begin your research.

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