Compost is invaluable in your garden! Add it to the vegetable garden prior to planting your organic vegetable seeds. Add a cupful in the bottom of the hole you plant your tomato plants in and it will give all your plants a boost of nutrition that can’t be beat! The best part is it is virtually free and it is easy to make.
Different Ways to Compost
You can make compost by just forming a pile of the material in an out of the way location of your yard. You don’t have to have a structure to hold the compost. However, most gardeners opt for the bin method. It is not only neater but also helps the material to decompose more quickly if constructed properly.
Your compost system can be a simple single-bin system where all the material is put in, and it stays in the bin until it is ready to use. A two-bin system is most common. One bin is for new material that you continually add to, while the second bin is for the partially decomposed material. This second bin contains the compost that is not quite ready (you can still recognize some of the material) but getting close.
The compost system for the serious composter is a three-bin system. The third bin is for the ready to use compost that you can access as needed. Start with a single bin so you can learn how to compost and to see the impact it will have when added to the soil in your gardens and containers. Use your vegetable planting guide to determine the optimal time to plant and watch your vegetables take off with the help of compost!
Your bin can be made of repurposed wood pallets or just chicken wire attached to a post in each corner. It should allow air to enter the pile to speed the process. The structure you build should be three-sided. You can have a fourth side, but it should be able to open or easily be removed when you need to access the pile. A stationary fourth side will be a backbreaker when you need to turn the pile or remove the compost to use.
There are also compost makers available for purchase. These compost makers are generally a barrel type structure supported on a frame. They have a crank to turn and revolve the barrel rather than turning the pile by hand. These also work very well; however, you will be limited by the amount of material that will fit in the barrel.
Generally, you want the compost bin to be located close to the garden. That is where a lot of your compostable material will come from. Any plant material that is left after you harvest will now go into your compost bin. It is also the area that will use most of the finished compost.
Any organic material can go into your compost. This includes grass clippings, fall leaves, fruits and vegetables that you missed in the refrigerator and garden waste. Even paper–if shredded first–and coffee grounds including the filter paper can be added to your compost. Avoid using dairy products and meat products. Also, never add cat or dog feces as both can carry diseases that are transferable to humans. Other animal waste such as horse or cow manure is safe to use.
Another factor to keep in mind is that the smaller the pieces you put in your pile, the faster you will have ready-to-use compost. If you pull out the remaining cauliflower plant after you harvest the head of cauliflower and throw it into the bin whole, you can imagine it will take a long time for the plant to decompose. If, on the other hand, you take the time to chop up the remaining plant when you add it to the pile, it will significantly decrease the amount of time required. The smaller the better. Tip: Many gardeners use a hedge trimmer to do this job.
Building Your Compost Pile
A successful compost pile needs four ingredients: nitrogen (green material), carbon (brown material), water and oxygen. To start your compost, you will want to layer three parts brown to one-part green. The brown material is all the dry stuff like paper, straw, fall leaves. The green material includes the grass clippings, wilted vegetables and garden waste.
After you have the material ready, add water. You will need to add water throughout the process to keep your pile damp but not waterlogged.
To provide enough oxygen, the pile should be turned once a week. This allows air to reach the material. There should never be an odor from your pile and it should not be slimy. If either of these things happen, it may be too much water, not turning the compost often enough or you added inappropriate materials.
The optimum temperature in your “cooking” compost is between 130 and 150 degrees. You can use a soil thermometer from your garden supplies to check or just reach into the pile and it should feel nice and warm. That tells you that the balance is good and you will have compost ready to use in a month or two.
Finished compost should be similar in appearance to moist chocolate cake!