Before You Compost
Would like to know if anyone can help with a how-to on composting. I know there are many variations, and you can get elaborate with a physical design, but is there something simple that you can pass along?
I have had a compost heap for 5 years now, and I have used nothing fancier than a shovel to turn it over. When we moved into our place, there was already a pile of dirt and yard debris in the corner by the garage. We just added to it. Whenever we weeded, mowed the lawn, had vegetable scraps from the kitchen, or raked leaves, we threw it all on the pile. About once a summer, my husband would turn the whole thing over. In the spring, I just dig out from the bottom of the pile, and keep throwing more new stuff on the top. I have always had enough compost for my whole garden, and the pile is home to hundreds of earthworms, which also get spread around the garden to improve the soil. There is really nothing more to it!
My husband made a very effective and inexpensive composting bin out of wooden pallets. He stood them on end--one per side--and he used wire to fasten them together. The wire holding them together made it possible to remove the front of the bin so he could stir it or remove what was needed. The pallets allowed the proper air circulation also.
Susan W. in SugarLand, TX
You can start with a can, bag or what have you - in your kitchen by collecting all the table scraps, egg shells, trimmings and/or whatever (just nothing that came from an animal that eats meat - i.e. pet wastes, human wastes).
Outside, you can simply have a chicken wire contraption to a wooden box that you construct on your own - purchase plans and supplies or purchase a prefabricated kit that you put together...Whatever fits your time, your budget and your lifestyle.
You also would want a good shovel, thermometer and gardening gloves so that you can check the inner temperature of the composting pile. It should get pretty close to 160 degrees F as it decomposes. Once it starts to decline, start taking the stuff on the outside of your mound and throw it onto the center top. After a few days, it should have gone through it's cycle of ~160 F. Once the pile no longer can reach those temperatures, but stays at a moderate temp. then it's ready to be used.
This process can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months depending on your involvement in it. This method is perfect for balancing the pH levels as well as killing all your weed seeds and a wonderful recycling method.
Joyce in MA
What you really need to know is that a compost pile is made up of 2 basic ingredients - carbon and nitrogen. Anything dry supplies carbon (fallen leaves, sticks, dead plants). Anything that's still green when you put it in the pile supplies nitrogen (grass clippings, weeds, etc.) Carbon takes a long time to break down. Nitrogen breaks down really fast (which is why a pile of grass clippings smells so bad!). Ideally you should have a mix. People will tell you to layer it, but I just throw it on the pile as I have it.
You need to toss on a shovel full of dirt every now and again to supply the bacteria needed to break down the compost, and you need to keep it moist (about the consistency of a wrung out sponge, not sopping wet). It will break down faster if you go out there with a fork every now and again and turn it over. If your pile ends up being mostly carbon (usually in the fall, when all you have are dead leaves), fill your hose end sprayer to the top with plain old household ammonia and spray it every time you add a layer of leaves to the pile (ammonia supplies a lot of nitrogen).
It's also nice, but not absolutely necessary, to shred everything before adding to the pile (run your lawnmower over it) because smaller pieces break down faster. And if you live in a cold winter area and your leaves aren't completely composted by spring, use them as mulch around your plants and dig them in later.
Cindy in Newbury, OH
I recently started composting my scraps directly into my garden. About once or twice a week I chop my scrapps into fine cubes. I then bury them directly into my garden in various places. While I would love to take credit for this idea, I read about it in some gardening book or magazine a few months ago.
The easiest way to compost is to purchase some cheap wire fencing-anything that is sturdy enough to stand up in a circle by itself about four feet tall will do. Attach the fence to itself to form that circle. Put it in a place in the yard convenient to you, the house (for household composting such as veggies, etc.) and make sure it gets at least several hours of direct sun each day.
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