Compost is a paramount supplement to add nutrient-rich humus to your garden. Aside from the restoration vitality to depleted soil and impulse for plants to grow, compost is good for the environment. The good news is it’s very easy to make. And in this post today, I’ll show you how.
What To And Not To Put Into Your Compost?
What To Compost
As all compostable materials are either nitrogen- or carbon-based, you just need to ensure a working balance between two of them for a healthy compost pile.
A basic rule of thumb is: 2/3 carbon-based materials + 1/3 nitrogen-based materials
But what is nitrogen- and carbon-based?
Well, in short, nitrogen-based matter offers raw materials to make enzymes while carbon-based matter provides its fluffy, lightweight body.
That means too much nitrogen-based (or green) materials will make the decomposing slower, smellier, and denser. And overload carbon-based (or brown) materials lead to the overgrowth of organisms residing there, which is not good at all.
To give you more ideas of what to compost, take a look at the following table:
Shred them before decomposing
Corn stalks, cobs
Chop them up to speed up the decomposing
Keep their natural fibers
Don’t use colored inks and glossy paper
Use a certain amount as they’re highly acidic
Add in layers as they’re high in carbon levels
Don’t add colored inks and glossy paper
Limit the number of wood prunings as much as possible as they’re super-low to break down
Straw or hay
Straw is better than hay
Only use from clean materials
Use little as they’re high in carbon levels
This is a good compost activator
Filter them before decomposing
Cuttings, flowers, plants
Chop them up
Veggies and fruit scraps
Add with dry carbon-based materials
Only use thin layers
Green comfrey leaves
Good compost activator
Just use the weeds that haven’t gone to seed
Kelp & seaweed
Only use thin layers
Add with dry carbon-based materials
Keep them in bags or loose them
Crushed them before decomposing
What Not To Compost
There are some materials that you definitely should not add to your composters:
- Black walnut leaves
- Synthetic chemicals
- Orange rinds, peach & banana peels – because they might have pesticide residues
- Pet droppings – you’d better use them on food crops
- Diseased plants or perennial weeds – to avoid spreading diseases and weed seeds
- Fish scraps, bones, eggs, butter, yogurt, meat & other animal products – as they attract animals (your pets or raccoons)
Sawdust is not actually a no-no material for decomposing but you should ensure it is clean (no chain oil or machine oil residues) and use it with a limited amount to prevent clumping.
How To Compost
Step 1: Find a suitable location for your composter or pile
Whether you’re going to compost indoors or outdoors, choose a discreet place with good airflow, partial shade, and close to a water source.
This makes both your neighbors or other family members happy and your finished product better results.
Step 2: Choose the right composter
It should be a container with a closure lid to cut down on odors, and besides, one to two handles for portability.
In terms of materials, choose either ceramic or stainless steel composters with a carbon filter to avoid spreading unpleasant smell to the surroundings.
If your backyard is giant, you live alone and don’t really care about occasional smells, an old ice-cream pail would be a more economical alternative. Or, you can DIY one.
When choosing the size, try to stick to 3x3x3 feet as it is small enough to turn but also large enough to make its own heat.
Step 3: Add materials
Lay straw or twigs first. Add compostable materials in layers and then, manure. Make sure to keep them moist (but not sodden or soaked) and finally, cover your compost pile with carpet scraps, plastic sheeting or wood to retain heat and moisture as well as reduce odors.
Step 4: Monitor
During the decomposing, you should regularly check the carbon to nitrogen ratio, moisture, aeration, and temperature for the best levels.
- Temperature: Check it by using a compost thermometer or sticking your hand in the middle of the compost pile. It’s good if the pile is warm to hot (140 to 170 degrees F)
- Aeration: Use a compost pitchfork, tumbler, or aerator to mix the pile. For large piles, you should add ventilation tubes or tree branches to different spots of them for maximum air circulation.
- Moisture: Keep it between 40% to 60% of moisture content
- Carbon to nitrogen ratio
Step 5: Turn
When the temperature of your compost pile peaks and then begins to drop, it’s time to turn it. Use a shovel or pitchfork to aerate the pile. Like humans, tiny microorganisms need to “breathe” and turning the pile is a way to add oxygen for them.
But if there are already coarse materials in the pile (like the straw), you can dismiss this step.
If you want to make turning easier, a rotating compost tumbler is quite handy.
Extra Tips & Composting Methods
If your compost smells like ammonia, add dried leaves, peat moss, straw, or other carbon-based materials. Another tip to eliminate or reduce smells is adding calcium or lime.
To avoid small fruit flies attracted to your compost, adding calcium or lime neutralizes the odors, covering it carefully and place a tiny pile of grass clipping next to it. When you want to add new compostable materials to your pile, cover it with 1” to 2” of clipping.
To speed up composting, you can try some “activator” materials that I’ve mentioned above. Or, add inoculant that you can find in the local garden center.
Two common types of composting methods are enclosed compost bins and no-turn composting.
The enclosed compost bins are then categorized into 4 smaller groups:
- Tumblers are considered the most efficient enclosed bin method because they can keep the high temperatures and good aeration to speed up the decomposing.
- Food waste digester, in reality, is a process of grinding and dehydrating food wastes rather than composting them. And it just takes around 3 or 4 hours to finish and gives no odors. After that, you’ll bury them beneath the soil surface in your garden.
- Standard compost digesters/bins feature closure top and sides while the bottom is open to directly sit on the ground. Though this method takes more time for decomposing, it’s quite affordable and suitable for homes in residential areas.
- DIY compost bin is known for the most cost-effective method to build a compost pile. If you want to learn more, take a peek at this video:
Now, the no-turn composting is suitable for people who want to skip the turning step during the composting process.
With it, you just need to mix straw and other coarse material thoroughly when making the pile. After a certain amount of time, just harvest the fresh compost from the bottom of the composter while adding new materials on its top.
Some Common Troubleshoot
The Compost Pile Is Cold And Unfinished
There are some common reasons leading to this matter:
Not enough nitrogen-based materials: Just add some more and thoroughly mix/turn them to activate the heating. If the pile isn’t heated up after doing that, check if the pile is too wet or too dry.
Too much moisture: As water can fill the spaces and gaps inside the compost pile, driving out the oxygen aerobic bacteria needed, you should incorporate the pile with dry leaves, hay, straw or other absorbent materials (but don’t be too much) then, turn it regularly.
Too dry: Add water
Lack of microbes: To overcome this, add soil, fresh compost or inoculant to the pile and meanwhile, save some fresh old, finished pile to incorporate into the new one. Also, don’t isolate your pile from the ground.
Compost normally doesn’t smell so if it does, there’s something wrong. Two common sorts of smells in composting are ammonia and rot.
Ammonia smells mean your pile is currently excessive in nitrogen-based materials. To neutralize it, you should mix in carbon-based materials (like sawdust, straw, shredded cardboard, peanut shells), turn the pile and spread it out to vaporize the excess ammonia.
With rotten smell, it means the pile is anaerobic, implying not enough oxygen supported. You just need to turn it thoroughly.
The decomposing process will normally take within 4 weeks to 6 months to get done. You will know your compost pile is ready to use or give to other gardener friends when it is crumbly, dark, and earth-smelling.