Making Your Own Compost

How to Make Your Own Compost

Composting is becoming more popular among garden owners as the shift to organic gardening becomes more prevalent. All gardeners know how much organic waste a garden generates – from grass clippings to leaves and dead plants.

Unfortunately, many gardeners waste money and time having this waste transported to a landfill. Fortunately more and more gardeners are realizing that this waste has the potential to feed their own gardens by decomposing it into compost and recycling the waste instead of wasting it.

In many ways this compost can be a better supplement for your garden than any fertilizer or chemical. If you properly facilitate the decomposition of all of the garbage, it will alter chemically until it is in such a state that it can be nothing but beneficial nutrition for other plants. Therefore you can turn all the stuff you would have thrown away into top grade fertilizer for your garden.

The major benefit of compost is that it binds water and nutrients in reserve, freeing them when plants need them the most. It holds double its weight in water, hence cutting back the need to water and increasing a plants capacity for our dry months.

Utilizing compost is an inexpensive way to better the soil. Compost cuts the need to fertilize since it’s rich in plant nutrients and slowly discharges them over time. And by not having to replace plants every year and the costs connected with plants that die because of poor soils.

Humic acid is a plant-growth stimulant found in compost. Vegetable crops tests show that humic acid, even in low concentrations, produces healthy, lush plants.

Creating compost can be an easy task. And anytime is a good time to begin a compost pile. But a compost heap must be properly managed or it can turn into a smelly cesspool or breading ground for flies and rats – compelling reasons to stay away from composting.

However, if you maintain it correctly you’ll be able to produce great compost without producing an offensive odor. When I first began my compost pile in an effort to improve environmental health, I made several major errors. These included preventing the pile from the oxygen it truly needed, and keeping it to dry. It ended up decomposing in a very non-beneficial way, and producing an odor so foul that I had municipal inspectors knocking at my door.

When you are choosing your spot where you will be putting all of these materials, you should aim for a higher square footage. Having a really deep pile of compost is not a good idea, because generally the deeper sections won’t be exposed to anything that is required for the process to work. It is better to spread it wide rather than deep. I’ve even seen a shed roof used as a surface. It is a possibility to spread it over the roof (with boards to keep it from falling off, of course). I have seen this done several times, and it helps keep the pile out of the way while still maintaining a large square footage. Not something I recommend but it’s one way of getting the compost heap out of the way.

There are plenty of compost bins available commercially and many of these make composting easier. I’ve found a mesh fencing surround the most convenient. It can be made to fit any space, provides aeration and drainage and provides easy access to the compost when ready to use. More on that later in this article.

A compost heap can consist of any organic garbage from your yard, garden or kitchen. This includes leaves, grass, any leftover food that won’t be eaten, or newspaper (no more than a fifth of your pile should consist of newspaper, due to it having a harder time composting with the rest of the materials). Usually if you have a barrel devoted to storing all of these things, it will fill up within several weeks. It is quite easy to obtain compost, but the hard part truly comes in getting it to compost.

After you have begun to get a large assortment of materials in your compost heap, you should moisten the whole pile. This encourages the process of composting. Also chop every element of the pile into the smallest pieces possible. As the materials start to compress and meld together as they decompose, frequently head outside and aerate the pile. You can use a shovel to mix it all up, or an aeration tool to poke dozens of tiny holes into it. Doing this will increase the oxygen flow to each part of the pile, and oxygen is required for any decomposition to take place.

If maintaining a compost pile sounds like something that would interest you, start considering the different placement options. The hardest part about maintaining a pile is choosing a spot that provides enough square footage without intruding on the rest of your yard or garden

Time for making compost! You’ve selected your compost location and structure and now its time to for make your compost. This process is more like feeding a slow burning camp fire… you just keep placing enough wood (organic matter) on the fire to keep it from burning out.

Also, making compost is like raising children, everyone has their own opinions and will tell you how do it. But as you know, raising children is about the love, time, and attention that really matters. Over time you’ll discover what works best for you.

mesh Compost Bin

Mesh compost bin

My approach is simplicity. As long as you understand a few fundamentals , it’s very hard to screw it up. And even if you don’t get it right…soils are very forgiving, as long as you focus on long-term soil health.

I recommend keeping a laid-back approach to making compost, because it involves no turning, no special decomposition additives, and low labor input. Again, keep it simple and fun. The laid-back approach is collecting and building your compost as the organic matter becomes available. The laid-back approach usually takes a year to decompose (like a fine wine), and next year’s compost is the compost you’re creating this year. IT’S EASY!

Note: Just because I recommend the laid-back approach, doesn’t mean that you can’t get a lot more sophisticated and methodical. I just don’t have a lot of time, and this works for me. Do-Learn-Experiment and you’ll discover what works for you.

The laid-back making compost approach is simply DGSW.  DGSW stands for Dry, Green, Soil and Water. That’s it! That is all you need to remember. Understanding DSGW and applying it will allow you to create quality compost that rivals any compost made by the Masters (which I’m not).

Five Steps to Laid-Back DGSW Compost Making

1. Build the foundation. This is a one-time step done at the initial phase of making compost. You do this once and forget about it.

Take a shovel or garden fork and loosen the soil base of your compost pile down about eight inches (21 cm). Once the soil is loose, water the area, but do not saturate it. Then lay four to six inches (11 cm -15 cm) of rough organic material.

Examples of rough organic material are:

Twigs and small branches
Large dry weeds
Vegetative stalks
Palm branches
Sunflower stalks, etc.

Think of this initial layer as that organic matter that you would normally use a chipper or shredding machine to break down, but instead you’re letting the composting process do it for you. Very Cool!

2. Add the Green layer. The green layer is the organic material that is high in nitrogen. This layer is also the Kitchen waste (wet) material that will decompose quickly. You can even mix in (added cost) nitrogen based organic fertilizer (to help speed up the decomposition) to really get it cooking. The thickness of this layer is not that big of a deal, and is usually dependent on what you have available. As a rule, don’t go thicker than six inches (15 cm).

Examples of organic material used in the green layer are:

Fruit and vegetable scraps
Grass cuttings
Plant material
Rabbit, pigeon, cow and horse manure
Soft prunings
Tree and shrub clippings
Vegetable plant remains

3. Add the Soil layer. ALWAYS add the soil layer after the green layer. The importance of the soil layer is not to add bulk, rather it’s to eliminate decomposition odor and add microorganism from your native soil to your compost. Add just enough soil to cover the green layer.

It’s important that you use your native garden soil, as it is readily available and contains its very own soil DNA that you’re improving and utilizing.

I usually take a 20 liter bucket full of soil for this layer from the garden. You may even want to set a side a larger container with soil so that as you add small amounts of kitchen waste you can take a small garden trowel and cover the waste as you go.

Just remember do not leave the green layer exposed.

4. Water the new layer. Much like a newly planted bed of seedlings this layer needs to be watered, but do not saturate it. You must treat your compost at this point like a living dynamic organism that will bring benefits to your garden beyond all your expectations. It’s truly remarkable what you have at this point.

5. Add the Dry layer. The dry layer is much like step one, except the organic material is much less bulky. This layer can be 10 cm -15 cm thick.

Examples of organic material used in the dry layer are:

Coffee grounds
Egg shells
Fall leaves
Old straw & hay
Paper based Egg boxes
Paper towels & bags
Rodent bedding
Tea bags
Tree Leaves
Wood ash
Wood shavings
Woody prunings

Repeat steps Two through Five

On an ongoing basis and as organic material becomes available from your yard and garden, repeat steps 2-5.

It’s important that your compost stays moist not dry – keep it moist but not saturated. It’s best to think of keeping it as moist as a wrung-out sponge. The wire mesh helps get rid of excess water if you get it too wet.