Composting for Beginners

Here is a great article from guest writer Travis McKnight

Composting for Beginners

Gardening is a wonderful way to spend time at home, and adding compost is a great addition to any garden. Compost pits utilize billions of microorganisms in healthy soil to decompose kitchen scraps and lawn rubbish into nutrients and fertilizer usable by growing plants. They also serve as an excellent way to recycle trash that would otherwise clog up landfills, and save money at the same time. Creating a compost pit is a simple process, and anybody with the required space is able to take this step toward making a more self-sustainable, healthier garden. 

The Pit

Where a compost pit or pile is created often leads to its success or failure. The EPA recommends the area be a dry, shady, or partly shady spot near a water source and preferably out of sight from people and pets. Ideally, the compost area should be about one cubic meter. “This size provides enough food and insulation to keep the organisms in the compost warm and happy and working hard. However, piles can be larger or smaller and work just fine if managed well,” the EPA states.  

If digging up the yard isn’t a viable option, creating an artificial compost bin is a great solution. The environmental website Treehugger has created a few DIY videos on what these containers look like and how to build them. 

The Materials

The great thing about making a compost pit is it recycles materials that would otherwise be thrown out with the trash. There are four conditions required to be present for optimally creating compost: air, water, carbon and nitrogen. For composting purposes, these materials are categorized into being either “brown” or “green,” and they’re both needed. 

Green materials serve as the nitrogen base, and are typically items like wet, fresh grass clippings, green leaves and soft garden waste, or vegetable and fruit peels, eggshells, tea bags and coffee grounds. 

The brown ingredients are where the carbon comes from, and that is mostly derived from shredded paper and cardboard and dry yard waste like dead leaves, small twigs, straw, sawdust and used potting soil. 

Do not use any metals, glass, dairy products, fatty or greasy foods, cat or dog waste, meat or seafood, diapers, black walnut tree leaves or twigs, yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides or roots of perennial weeds. Be sure to dispose of the waste properly or use a reliable junk removal service.

Getting Started

With knowledge of the materials in place, it’s time to get started. The ideal amount of browns and greens in the compost is a three-to-one mixture; that is three scoops of brown ingredients for every one green, with the layers intermingling. Once the pile begins decomposing it will become warm, and may even let off steam on cold days. Once this happens, “fluff” the compost heap by mixing it with a shovel, and then add more to the mixture. 

Once the material is dark and absent of any food or yard waste it’s ready to use as fertilizer. This ready to use compost serves as a nutrient and conditioner for soil used in gardens, but it shouldn’t be used with household plants because it might still contain vegetable and grass seeds. 

Troubleshooting

As with every new experiment, problems are bound to arise. If a rotten egg smell comes about that means the compost pit isn’t getting enough airflow and needs fluffing. If an ammonia stench begins drifting from the pile that means it has too much nitrogen in it, and more coarse browns like sawdust need to be added. If the pile is decomposing too slowly, try to heat it up by covering it with a tarp. 

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