COMPOSTING 101

Updated: Apr 6



Composting is easy to do at home, and super beneficial for a home gardener and sustainable home.


Some benefits include: convenient use of food scraps, nutritious mulch for fertile soil and easy physical activity to do at home.


All you need to do is choose a spot in your yard that gets light but not direct sunlight, and is somewhat sheltered from the rain.


For the purpose of this post I will be using the suggestions and tips we do in our composting practice.


However, there are SO many types of composting- like entire books and websites dedicating to the art of composting. So this is inspirational, because for the most part if you can understand the basics of how plants break down, you can master your own version of composting to suit your needs.




Before I met Brian, he built the lattice set up we have now, I simply dug a hole 1 foot deep into the ground of my backyard and began layering food scraps with trimmings from my garden.


LAYERING


For optimal compost break-down, we need to balance CARBON & NITROGEN.


Commonly referred to as a ratio of BROWN to GREEN.


The ratio is said to be optimal at 30:1 (C:N).

This is easily achieved with awareness, layering and stirring the compost pile.


Fresh plants are referred to as green because they have nitrogen when they are still alive. With time after a plant dies, nitrogen content fades and they turn brown, therefore instead bringing carbon to the mix.


Types of BROWN / CARBON- dried grass, dried leaves, wood chips, kraft paper, ash from fire pit or charcoal BBQ, pine needles.


Types of GREEN / NITROGEN- food scraps, egg shells, peels from veggies, fruits, stalks and grass clippings, weeds from the garden, coffee & tea grounds. We also put cleaned bones, animal food scraps, and birds/mice our cat hunted.


Now I wrote above a ratio of 30:1, however it is tough to keep things perfect all the time. If you drink coffee, eat veggies and fruits frequently, the supply of green is constant, versus the supply of brown can be intermittent.


Think ahead

What do I mean by this? Well brown is super easy to have in the fall- leaves are falling everywhere, garden cleanup is on the go and a bunch of plants are at the end of their lifestyle.


So generally to ensure I always have a constant supply of brown to balance out my compost pile, I gather and keep as many leaf bags as I can in Autumn.


For example: I sweep up all the leaves from the local big trees and venture down my street to pick up leaf bags from peoples driveways. I store the leaves in a dry place for use all year round.


We also began to call local arborists to dump wood chips on our property. These are awesome for mulching the surface of the garden, for moisture retention, and for adding into the compost pile to manage water levels.




MOISTURE / AIR


So along with managing the carbon to nitrogen ratio, it is important to be aware of how moist the mix is and that it has adequate aeration. To do this, regular stirring/flipping and poking the pile is useful. I use a pitch fork and shovel.


BELOW: Pretty cool to think at one time there were full eggshells, fruits and veggies in there...




HOW TO LAYER


I use a bowl underneath our sink to gather kitchen scraps and when it's full, takes about 5 days, we tend to the compost.


First stir and poke the pile. With a fork, stab as deep as you can go on an angle and pull up to loosen the mix. Stir in the sides and separate the middle.


Depending on how damp the mix is, add a layer of leaves before your kitchen scraps.

Never leave kitchen scraps (or even wet grass) on the top layer, this attracts wasps, rodents, smell and general attention you don't want. Always top with a layer of brown and stir, to contain smell and keep the pile looking nice.

Wood chips are a nice way to separate compost that is sticking together and to balance moisture. I add this intermittently. Sawdust is also great for doing this.


Charcoal and wood ash act as compost 'activator', I add 1-2 per month to keep things on pace.




Tips for getting things garden ready


To speed up the use of my compost, I created 2 bins in our backyard. I focus on adding our fresh scraps to 1 side at a time. That way, on one side I can can continue to stir and activate, bringing it into quicker use in my garden, while the other side I add my scraps. When I extract ready compost, I switch sides.


The Final Steps

When I feel like I am about 1 week away from adding compost to my garden, I begin to extract from my compost pile the mix that is close to being ready.


Using a wheel barrel or separate pile on a tarp, I combine my compost with manure, top soil and amendments such as bone meal, blood meal, algae powder/fish emulsion. These are all nourishing natural fertilizers I was encouraged to use by my farming mentors.


I don't use all these amendments at one time, but instead I have learned to identify cues communicated by my plants- and therefore have a better idea of when they are deficient and tired. Check our google photos for discolorations, curling and rot symptoms, since these are all related to infection and nutrient deficiencies.


Activation & conclusion

I let the extracted pile of compost aerate for about a week if possible. This allows for it to settle before adding it into my garden. During this time you can still stir the pile and/or spray it with water if it hasn't rained.


I have found all of this to be a successful in speeding up my compost usage while at the same time maintaining soil pH and even distribution of natural fertilizer across my whole garden.



Great indicators of a healthy compost pile: insects (especially worms), seeds from veggie & fruit scraps sprouting, heat/warmth rising/radiating from the pile.


Thanks for reading,

Samantha