A Beginners Guide To Backyard Composting
A Beginners Guide To Backyard Composting
We treasure our garden for so many reasons, including the healthy, delicious food it provides and the relaxation that comes from time spent closer to nature. Turning garden scraps into nutrient rich soil and food for the garden is the definition of composting - a natural way to give back to your garden, and limit landfill use.
We connected with Mark Kelly, the owner of Yard Care Gurus, providing lawn care product reviews, advice and buying guides. His site is a wealth of information, catering to the home gardener. Mark agreed to share information on how to get started composting in your garden:
Composting is an easy and effective way of growing healthy plants and protecting the environment. The dark, dirt-like soil can be made naturally, or at home, from organic matter like leaves and food scraps. Compost will improve any garden by increasing your soil quality and enabling better water drainage. It is also an excellent way to lessen your environmental footstep by reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides and landfill waste.
What You’ll Need
- A bin for storing the materials
- Food and lawn clippings
- Pitchfork (optional)
- Screens (optional)
1. Your first step to a better garden is choosing the right compost bin. You can go full DIY and make one from an old trash can or even wood pallets and chicken wire. The important thing is size. Your bin should be approximately one cubic yard (3'X3'X3'). Proper bin size means proper temperature. If your bin is too small, the microbial life will freeze. If it is too big, they will suffocate. You can also compost free-style, without the use of bin. While this method does not require any start-up money, there are two major disadvantages. Many cities and towns don’t allow bin-free compost piles, and they attract pests like raccoons and squirrels.
2. Once you have picked out a bin, or spot in your backyard, you are ready to start composting! If you just throw in food scraps, your compost will be fine. However, if you want the really good stuff, you will have to feed your bin a balanced diet. It is a really simple recipe: add two parts of carbon-rich browns (dry leaves, small twigs, straw) with one part nitrogen-rich greens (grass clippings, kitchen scraps). Alternate layers, but always keep a green layer on top to reduce odor and bugs attracted to the decomposing food scraps. Chopping or breaking your materials into smaller pieces will cut down on compost time. If you plan to compost entire plants, do not forget to remove any seeds or roots. You do not want to end up with a whole new plant growing in your compost!
3. You cannot throw just anything into your compost pile. As a general rule of thumb, if it came from a plant, you can compost it. However, you should avoid adding diseased plants or weeds. Things like chemically treated wood, pet or human waste, meat, dairy, animal bones, and cooked foods should not be included. While you can throw in newspapers, you should not include magazines or any glossy paper.
4. You should add water between the layers of your compost sandwich to keep moisture on the bottom layers. You do not need to flatten or squish your pile. You want air and moisture to reach the inner parts of your compost pile so that everything will decompose at the same rate.
5. If you do nothing beyond this point, you will have usable compost in about a year. If you want to actually use your new soil this growing season, you will have to do a little compost maintenance as time goes on. First, you need to keep adding water to your bin. The materials are in the sun all day, warming up and drying out. Keep it damp but not dripping wet – just like your house plants. You should also use a pitchfork, large stick, or other sturdy tool to aerate your pile. Turning and mixing the layers ensure enough oxygen gets into every nook and cranny. The more often you repeat these steps, the faster everything will break down. If you water and aerate your compost weekly, you should have a finished product in a few months.
6.The last step is to wait. Finished compost is dark, moist, and has an earthy smell. If you are unsure, grab a screen to sift the materials. You can also use your hands to separate the larger chunks that still need more time from what is ready for use. Compost should never be gross. If you notice foul odors or sites coming from your bin, you have either added something from the “do not compost list,” your pile is not getting enough oxygen, or you have over-watered it. Once you have finished compost, add 2-4 inches of the rich soil to your garden, potted plants, or even around trees. All your hard work and patience will be rewarded with strong, healthy plants.
Composting is an ideal way to improve your garden: it is cheap and environmentally friendly. Adding compost will balance your soil’s texture by allowing proper water retention and drainage as well as much needed nutrients. Composting also eliminates the many hundreds of pounds of usable organic waste that is sent to landfills each year. Follow this easy guide and start composting now!
For more information about composting, please check out Mark's Yard Care Guru's garden blog.
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