By Teresa Odle
There is no better material for your vegetables and ornamentals than compost. And it’s cheap, easy to produce and earth friendly. Like any gardening activity, it takes a little planning and work up front, but once you get going, it’s easy and productive. A helpful article on Composting 101 provides basic information. This post helps you decide the best composting situation for your garden and lifestyle and offers a few tips.
First, you can start small or large. Some homeowners build elaborate compost bins made of wood that take up a corner of the backyard. Others use small compost bins or tumblers on a patio. If you’re handy and short of funds, a plastic garbage bin will do the trick. The key to composting is warmth, air, moisture and variety.
We use a plastic tumbler for the final composting stages, but have kept our old garbage can with holes cut for drainage as the first stop for scraps and plant clippings. We move both in winter to get them more sun exposure. That’s the warmth part of the equation. Commercially available bins provide air circulation for passive composting, such as holding leaves nearly a year until they break down. If you want to compost using a hot method, which is faster, the plastic bins and tumblers work more quickly. But you need to provide air by stirring the material inside (or spinning the tumbler) regularly. Add water regularly to keep the material slightly moist. The moisture helps the materials break down, but add too much and they will start to smell.
Finally, throw a variety of materials into your compost. It gets way scientific, but basically some materials are higher in carbon (browns) and some are higher in nitrogen (greens). You want a balance of both. Examples of browns are dried leaves, sawdust, paper and wood chips. Greens include grass clippings and kitchen scraps. And about those kitchen scraps — avoid meat, fats, cheese products and onions. But throw in egg shells, coffee grounds and vegetable waste. For yard materials, stay away from perennial weeds, any plants with diseases, and pet waste. Chicken, rabbit and livestock manure are great.
With a little attention and time, you’ll have your own organic material for your garden. You’ll know your compost is ready is when you can no longer recognize the original materials.