Compost is nutrient-dense, decomposed organic material that is used to augment garden soil. Not only is it easy to make, but it’s practically free. You have all the materials you need in your home and yard. Your only cost will be for a compost bin. If you recycle old decking planks, like I did, even your cost for the bin will be minimal.
Compost is made with four basic materials — organic material that is high in nitrogen (“green” ingredients), organic material that is high in carbon (“brown” ingredients), water, and air. Over time, aerobic bacteria break down the organic material, producing heat. In fact, the inside of a compost pile can reach temperatures of 120-150 degrees Fahrenheit! When you dig into your pile and see steam, you know your compost pile is working.
A balanced compost pile will contain 1/3 green material and 2/3 brown material. Examples of green material are food scraps (never meat, dairy, or oils), flowers and cuttings, coffee grounds, and grass clippings. Manure is also a green material, but it should be composted separately from your regular compost. Examples of brown material are dead leaves, hay or straw, sticks and wood chips, shredded paper or newspaper, pine needles (very acidic so add sparingly), and wood ash from your fireplace. Eggshells are not considered green or brown, but are great to compost as they add calcium to the soil. (Wash out the insides of the shells before composting.)
Once you have purchased your bin or made your own, start your compost pile with some dirt from your yard. This will give your compost a good base and help reduce any possible odors as you begin composting. Next, add your organic material. Soak your compost pile with water, then wait. If you did nothing else, you will have compost in several weeks to a few months, depending on what you added to your pile and the time of year. (Warmer temperatures aid the composting process.)
Although you can’t control the timing of compost completion, there are a few things you can do to reduce the time it takes. First, before putting your organic material into the compost, chop it up. Whole sticks and large pieces of food take a long time to break down. The smaller your organic matter, the faster the composting process. Also, be sure to add grass clippings, too. Grass acts like an activator and kick starts the decomposition. Second, keep your compost pile wet, adding water regularly. If you have an open bin, monitor your rain and add water, if necessary, to keep your compost moist. You don’t want it soggy, but it should be wet all the way through. Finally, in order to ensure the micro-organisms are getting enough air to break down the organic matter, turn your compost pile every 5-7 days. Any more often than that and you could disturb the process.
Your compost is “done” when the material is dark brown and crumbly and has an earthy aroma – like the scent of a forest on a morning hike. I love it!
Add the compost to your raised beds or mix into your potting soil about two weeks before you plant (to allow it to “rest”), and you will have a great soil amendment. And the best part about it is that you are constantly making more!