If you have any gardening experience, you already know that compost is the most important supplement you can give your soil. Compost helps add nutrients to your plants while helping the soil retain its moisture. The organisms in compost help improve the soil’s quality, including prevention of plant diseases. Furthermore, composting is free, easy to do and great for the environment – as much as 30 percent of household waste can be diverted from crowded landfills into compost. Learn how to start composting at home with these simple instructions.
Step 1: Place a compost container (store bought or homemade) in an easily accessible area in your yard. For a cheap and easy open bin, use welding wire or plastic garden fencing, 3 to 4 feet high, to make a circle that is 3 or 4 feet in diameter.
Step 2: Add layers of twigs or straw, plants, leaves or other course material in the bottom of the bin. As they become available, add kitchen wastes, dead plants, lawn clippings and leaves to the pile by digging a hole and stirring in the new materials. Add water as needed to keep the pile moist but not soggy.
Step 3: Turning the pile with a pitchfork or shovel every few weeks can help aerate it, but you can skip this step if you have a ready supply of course materials, like straw, to continually add to the pile.
Step 4: Keep your compost bin covered to help retain moisture and heat and prevent over-watering by the rain. The cover can be anything – wood, plastic, sheeting, carpet scraps or even an old rug.
The compost is ready to use when the original ingredients are no longer recognizable. Composting can be a smelly process but it shouldn’t be overwhelmingly bad. Strong odors are a sign that your pile is too wet or contains too much green material. You can reduce the smell by turning the mix (see Step 3). You can also add a layer of garden soil to help mask odors and accelerate the composting process.
All compostable materials are either carbon or nitrogen-based, and the secret to healthy compost is maintaining a balance between these two elements. Materials that can be composted include: most food scraps (veggies/fruits), eggshells, coffee grounds, teabags, leaves, flowers, straw, grass clippings, lawn/garden weeds, paper, cardboard, sawdust/wood chip pellets and dryer lint. Items that should not be composted include: meat scraps, foods high in fat, sugar or salt, sawdust or wood chips from treated wood, clippings from herbicide-treated lawns and manure from house pets.