Imagine a lush garden with bountiful fruit and vegetables that keep your family happy and satisfied all year round. It isn’t a pipe dream. With a little trial and error and the right gardening tools and soil, you can reach the goal of living off the land. One key component many gardeners have realized is essential to making their gardens fruitful is compost. You may have heard about compost and even seen the stuff before and turned your nose up at it. It may not seem like it would be anything you would be interested in considering it is basically trash that you are spreading in your garden, but compost is a lovely thing and it will work wonders in your garden soil.
Benefits of Compost
Composting has many benefits for you and the neighborhood in which you live. Considering compost is nothing more than broken down organic material, you are going to reduce the amount of trash you produce by turning it into a natural soil enhancer. Along with reduced trash in the landfills, there are plenty of other benefits.
- Compost improves existing soil structure. Garden soil should be somewhat crumbly. Water and air need to be able to move through the soil freely. By adding organic matter i.e. compost to sandy or loamy soil, you can improve the overall structure.
- The organic nature of compost will increase the nutrient content of the soil. Your roots will have the nutrients they need to grow healthy, productive plants.
- Healthier soil with better soil structure will use less water.
- Healthier plants in general when they are given a nutrient rich soil.
What to Compost
Now that you see how beneficial compost is, you are probably wondering what you can actually throw in your compost pile. Basically, anything and everything from the kitchen and from yard cleanup. If you have chickens and horses, when you clean out the coop and stalls, toss the poo in the pile. There are only a few things you would not want to put into your compost pile simply because it can cause bacteria and attract bugs that you don’t want.
What NOT to compost:
- Meat bones, skin, fat
- Dairy products i.e. milk, sour cream, yogurt
- Cooked rice
- Cat litter box material
- Dog poop
- Seed heads from weeds
- Ashes from fireplace or firepit
- Used oil or grease
When you think about what you throw in the trash now, you will see that about 50 percent of what you would normally send to the landfill can actually be recycled and turned into something great for the garden.
You can help aid the decomposition process by shredding things like cardboard and newspaper. It isn’t a good idea to put glossy magazines into the pile simply because there are lots of chemicals and what not on the pages of the magazine.
How to Compost
There isn’t much involved with composting, which makes it easy for anybody to do no matter how busy they are. You have a couple of options when it comes to setting up a compost bin. What you choose will depend on where you live in relation to neighbors. If you live in the suburbs, you can still compost but you will definitely want to invest in the closed composters you can buy at your local hardware store.
If you have plenty of space to set up an open air compost system, go for it. Ideally, you would want to have 3 bins. You can use old pallets to create boxes for your compost. The first bin you would start and then after a month or so of adding material, you would move on to the second bin and eventually the third. This ensures you always have new compost going through the break-down process.
Depending on how much and what you put into your compost pile, it can take anywhere from 3 months to a full year for it to break down completely. During the decomposition process, the pile can get a little stinky. This is when it is “hot.” The nitrogen is heating things up and breaking down the organic matter. You can help aid in the decomposition by using a pitchfork to turn the pile from time to time. This helps air to get to the matter in the middle. If you are used a closed compost bin, they are typically equipped with a handle that allows you to spin the bin, turning the material.
Your compost is ready to put into your soil when it resembles dirt. It should have a rich, earthy smell. It is okay if there are still some bits and pieces of paper shreds, leaves or other items. They will continue to break down in the soil.
One of the benefits to composting in your own backyard is the fact you know exactly what it going into the pile and what you are putting into your garden soil. Depending on how much compost your produce, you may be able to sell it to your neighbors who are not willing to make their own. Imagine making a few dollars off of your trash!
Are you ready to start composting? Take a look at our article on building a 3 bay compost bin.