Compost is easy to make once you learn how and some methods can be started any time of year – even indoors.
Things to compost: vegetable and fruit peelings, eggshells, coffee grounds, teabags, straw, leaves, cotton fabric, newspaper and cardboard (avoid slick or dyed papers), parakeet droppings, fish tank water, manures from chickens, turkey, sheep, goats, rabbits, horses, and cows.
Things not to compost: fat, bones, dairy, meat, weed seeds or roots, noxious weeds, dog or cat poop (or from any carnivorous animal), hog manure is not recommended. Also avoid things that were never alive – glass, chemicals, plastic.
I would not recommend composting grass clippings. It is better to leave them on the lawn where they can compost in place and improve your lawn. If you don’t tend your lawn organically it would be best not to have them in the compost anyway.
A mix of 1/3 green (fresh things such as vegetable peelings, fresh manures) to 2/3 brown (such as leaves, straw, or composted manure) is ideal. If your compost pile is mostly leaves you can mix in fresh or composted manure (available by the bag if you don’t own animals or know someone who does), finished compost, or alfalfa pellets (available as animal food) to help your pile begin composting.
Adding synthetic fertilizers slows the process by killing off some micro organisms and so defeats some of the purposes of composting. The composting process should not stink. Composting smells bad when it has the wrong mix of ingredients (especially too much “green”), the wrong ingredients, or it is too wet.
Smaller pieces will compost faster. If you chop or shred leaves or straw or blend vegetable peelings in your blender you will be able to use your compost sooner. When the first leaves begin to fall I mow them right into the lawn to compost in place and feed my lawn. You can also mow the leaves, bag them, and mix them in your pile.
A compost pile should be damp but not wet. Open bins need to be monitored more for moisture. If you have a open bin a tarp can be placed over top to prevent the bin from getting too wet. Water can be added with a hose if the compost gets too dry.
5+ Ways to Compost
When people think of compost they usually think of a bin or a pile.
I will teach you about bin composting plus some other methods. You can use one method or all of them. Some types of composting can be started anytime of year so even if it is winter or fall don’t think you can’t compost. It is possible to compost without a yard.
Bin or pile composting – materials are layered or mixed inside a bin or piled and sometimes covered with a tarp. Bins can be purchased or made from wood, fencing, blocks, or straw. Do not use pressure treated wood or railroad ties. Bins or piles should be about 3 -5 feet tall by 3 – 5 feet wide. Instructions for bins Purchased bins.
Turning or tumbling composter – Can be purchased or made. Having two would be ideal so you can continue adding to the second one while the first one is finishing. Turn whenever you pass by or at least every other day. Building instructions. Purchased tumblers
Sheet composting – Works well when creating a new garden bed or improving soil in an old one. Can be started directly over sod. Place materials on the ground alternating layers of the various ingredients. Often cardboard or newspapers are placed down first with 1 – 2″ layers of other ingredients alternating between greens and browns. The total depth should be 4 – 6″ to begin with although it will be reduced in height as it composts.
Trench composting – This method works best in the fall or in an area where you won’t be planting for awhile. Dig a trench 6″ deep and 4 – 8″ wide placing the removed soil along the side of the trench. As you have kitchen scraps add them to the trench and cover immediately. If you will be using this method over the winter dig the trench as long as you think you will need in the fall so all you need to do is add scraps and cover them over the winter. By spring it is unlikely you will be able to recognize any of the scraps you added.
Chickens – If you have chickens you can add vegetable and fruit peelings and eggshells to the pen allowing the chickens to scratch through and mix in their manure. If necessary just finish the composting by one of the other methods. Only add as much as the chickens can handle at a time.
Outdoor worm composter – This can be built and placed right in your garden and used all garden season. Instructions
Worm composting indoors – The best resource I know of is Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof . You can purchase kits or build your own. For indoor worm composting bins make sure you use the correct type of worms – not just worms from your garden.
Appliance composters – These composters can work well for someone who has no place to compost outdoors. The finished compost can be used for houseplants or container plants on a deck or patio.
Indoor composting – This form of composting is uses a fermenting process to make compost. Purchased indoor composter. Make an indoor composter.
Compost with a neighbor – contribute materials and effort to their compost bin and share the compost.
As a last resort you could get compost from somewhere else. Garden centers, landfills, and possibly neighbors all are places to purchase compost. When obtaining compost from other sources see what materials it is made from – either by reading the bag or by asking questions.
Biosolids are composted sewage (human waste). Whether or not you are concerned about biosolids or other ingredients you will at least know what you are getting. I avoid biosolids because of the drain cleaners, drugs, and other chemicals which are flushed down drains.
Compost in piles or bins needs aerating to add air to the mixture. Tumbling composters add air during the turning process. Piles or bins which are turned by hand decompose faster the more frequently they are turned. You can purchase or make a compost turner. Another way to add air is by drilling holes along length of a 3″ piece of PVC and placing it vertically down the center of the pile. If you don’t aerate or turn the pile you will still get finished compost but it will take longer.
Finished compost should have an earthy smell and mostly no recognizable pieces. Once your compost is ready either dig it into your garden or place it on top of the soil. I place compost on top before planting. Some will get mixed in during the planting process. When planting something larger like a shrub or tree mix some compost in with the soil when refilling the hole.
I have formed garden beds by placing 4″ of finished compost right on top of sod. The compost was deep enough to prevent the grass from growing through. I planted in the compost right away. Getting excited to compost? Questions or Feedback? Check out the rest of my gardening tips. Know someone who may be interested in this information? Send them a link to this site.