When you've got a green thumb, you don't make New Year's resolutions to jog more.
You resolve to make your garden better.
And a great way to do this is by starting your own compost pile.
Composting is purposefully decomposing organic materials, which can be used as soil enhancers or a natural fertilizer for your gardens.
Composting happens naturally in the wild every day. Leaves fall. Trees and grass die. As these things were all originally living organisms, they break down and decompose.
Creating a compost heap is the same principle, just at a deliberately accelerated pace.
What Can I Compost?
You want a mixture of about 80% "brown" materials and 20% "green" materials.
What Can't I Compost?
- "Brown" Materials - The majority of your compost should be made up of dried grass clippings, fallen leaves and other dead or dried, organic debris from your yard. You can even use saw dust, in moderation. Just make sure there have been no chemicals added to whatever you put in the pile.
- "Green" Materials - These are made up of household waste such as banana peels, apple cores, eggs shells and decaying pumpkins. If it's something organic, that you would normally throw in the trash, add it to your compost pile. It's also fresh grass clippings, green leaves and recently pulled weeds.
The main things you want to avoid are meats, breads, dairy products, rice, diseased plants and human or animal feces (too many risks). These items attract too many pests and can produce foul smells while decaying.
Also, if the organic items have been treated with chemicals, do not add them to the compost pile. Shredded newspaper used to be a popular ingredient for compost, but nowadays, gardeners prefer not to allow any ink chemicals in their soil.
What Are the Benefits of Composting?
As ecological concerns become more prevalent, it's not a bad idea to try to reduce your impact on the environment. By composting, you're reducing the amount of waste you send to landfills every year.
Another benefit of composting is you can reduce, if not eliminate completely, your use of chemical fertilizers. The nutrient-rich compost will provide your gardens with thriving soil and ensure your plants have healthy food.
You need to decide if you want to do an open bin compost pile or a enclosed compost bin. Open piles are easier to tend to but are open to the elements and animals pests. Conversely, compost bins keep things out, such as rain and raccoons, but it can be more difficult to add new materials to the container.
If this is your first foray into composting, we recommend going with an open pile, as it takes less effort and money to get going.
It's important to have a healthy mix of ingredients for your compost pile, but you need to make sure you don't add too many "green" items. You can't really overdo the "brown" items, but too many fresh grass clippings will get matted down with moisture and not enough air.
Let it Cook
After you've added all the items to your compost heap, you need to let it cook, so to speak.
As the materials decompose, the pile will heat up. The ideal temperature for the core of the compost is about 160 degrees.
Much like slow-cooking chili, you'll need to mix the compost as it "cooks." By mixing, or turning your compost pile, you help maintain balance between the "green" and "brown" materials. As stated above, the core gets much warmer, so by mixing the
pile, you help the materials outside of the core decompose, as well.
Use the Compost
After the materials in your pile have decomposed for several weeks, it's time to use all that wonderful compost. Using compost in your gardening will greatly improve and sustain the health of your plants. Compost can be used in other gardening and planting applications as well, but these are the most popular uses:
- Fertilizer - Mix your compost into your garden as a fertilizer. Spread across the earth and mix into the soil with a tiller or cultivator. It's best to do this in the spring and fall.
- Better Soil - Adding compost to your soil will improve it's health, making it easier for plants to grow and thrive
- Lawn Fertilizer - If you sift the compost to get the large chunks out, you can spread the compost on your lawn. The compost will be absorbed slowly as the season goes along.