Composting can seem like a daunting task; the price of a specialized composting bin alone can deter even the most fervent gardener. And once you start considering the benefits of compost you start to wonder if that $80 bin from your local hardware store might just be worth the investment. Luckily, there are a few easy ways to kick start your compost, reduce your household waste, and save money at the same time.
Compost is an amazing thing. Not only is it packed with micro- and macro-organisms that give your garden a boost like no synthetic fertilizer possibly can but it is the best time-release fertilizer there is; often taking anywhere from months to years to completely deplete the nutrients in it. Compost can also help to balance any pH problems you might have by neutralizing either acid or alkaline soil while improving your soil texture. The organic material can help sandy soil retain water or give clay or silt filled soil a chance to properly breathe and drain. Whatever your garden needs, it is likely that compost can provide it.
To begin your compost pile, as quickly and inexpensively as possible, visit your local hardware store and purchase a small tarp (whatever size you anticipate you will need to hold your kitchen waste). When you get home cut a few holes for drainage in the tarp and lay it wherever you have room. Next, find a starter you like and then begin piling scraps from your kitchen on the tarp.
You don’t have to buy expensive compost starters from the store. Manure, soil, or some compost from a friend’s pile will work just as well. Use one or all three of those materials to get some of those essential decomposing organisms mixed into your compost. As you begin collecting your scraps your first concern may be not knowing exactly what to keep. A good rule of thumb is to exclude fats and proteins. This means to leftover meat scraps, bones, lard, oil, and so on. It’s not that those items won’t compost, they simply will attract unwanted critters and are very difficult to compost. Some of the best ingredients you can include in your compost are egg shells, coffee grinds, the moldy end of the bread loaf and newspaper. Yes, newspaper. Tearing the paper into small shreds and adding a small amount can help regulate the moisture in your compost while helping keep the nitrogen-carbon balance that is so important in composting balanced. Once you know what’s important to add and important to keep out, go ahead and throw all your waste in there; don’t forget the used tea bags, melon rinds, and the moldy end of that loaf of bread.
Some of us are a bit image conscious about where to keep your scraps. You don’t want to send them piecemeal out to your compost pile but you don’t want a bucket of old food sitting on your counter. Cookie jars or canister sets can make a lovely counter-top option, but be sure to dump the air-tight jars frequently; the anaerobic environment can cause your scraps to give off an awful odor. If you’d like to keep your compost next to the door between your kitchen and patio go ahead and keep it in bags or old milk cartons that are set inside a wicker basket or old wooden milk crate. I’ve even heard of people filling umbrella stands with scraps.
Now that you’ve lain your tarp, piled scraps on top of it, and waited three or four weeks it’s time for your first turning. Some people will leave the pile for a few months and then pull the tarp out from under it turning the bottom of the pile to the top for the first turning. Some people like to remove the top two-thirds of the pile and then pull out the tarp so you can begin using the finished product from the bottom layer immediately. Whatever you choose to do remember that “almost” is perfectly acceptable when you’re talking about composting. Not everyone has the patience to wait until your compost is a fine, smooth, ready to sieve mixture. If there are still come melon rind scraps, twigs, or other slower composting materials but pull them out and save them for your next pile. The organisms in the pieces you pull out will give your next compost pile a good head start.
If buying tarp and waiting anywhere from a few weeks to a few months sounds like a whole lot of work, trench composting might just be the choice for you. Dig a four to six inch wide eight inch deep trench along your garden row. Invest in some chicken wire and pull it over the top as you fill your trench over time. The chicken wire will keep any curious animals out of your trench and will help mark your place so you don’t forget where you last buried your scraps. As the scraps decompose it will release nutrients into the surrounding soil, giving your current garden a boost. Then next season you can plant your garden on top of the trench you dug, and then buried, and you’ll have beautiful compost infused soil that will provide your garden with the healthy soil it needs all season long.
There are numerous creative ways to compost. Ask your local Master Gardener or maybe just the enthusiast next door for tips on what has worked best in their garden. As long as you’ve got the basic formula, air flow, food and lawn scraps and patience, you will be good to go!
About the Author
Emily Hall is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club.