Composting is nature’s way of recycling organic waste into a valuable soil amendment that boosts garden health and beauty. By composting food scraps, yard waste, and other materials at home, you can produce a free, nutrient-rich fertilizer for your plants while also reducing your environmental impact.
In this comprehensive composting guide, we’ll cover the full process from start to finish. You’ll learn the fundamental ingredients for building a thriving compost pile along with techniques to speed decomposition. We’ll also recommend top-rated composting tools and accessories to make the process fast and fun. Let’s dive into the world of backyard composting!
The Many Rewards of Composting
Here are some of the key benefits you’ll gain by composting at home:
- Nutrient-rich fertiliser – Compost contains a wealth of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients that plants thrive on.
- Improves soil structure – Compost creates a loose, crumbly soil texture ideal for plant growth and drainage.
- Increases moisture retention – Compost helps sandy soils better absorb and retain water.
- Suppresses plant diseases – Beneficial microbes fight off fungal issues like powdery mildew.
- Reduces waste – Composting scraps keeps them out of crowded landfills.
- Saves money – Free compost eliminates the need to buy commercial amendments.
- Chemical-free – Compost is 100% natural and organic.
With a bit of knowledge, you can reap all these rewards right in your own backyard. Now let’s get composting!
Composting Basics: Materials and Methods
Successful composting simply involves combining organic materials under the right conditions for decomposition. Follow these fundamental practices:
1. Balance Greens and Browns
- Greens (nitrogen) – fresh grass clippings, kitchen scraps, garden trimmings
- Browns (carbon) – dried leaves, branches, straw, paper
Aim for 2 parts browns to 1 part greens. Too many greens compact and smell.
2. Add Activators
- Manure introduces beneficial bacteria to kickstart decomposition.
- Soil brings microorganisms to break down the organic matter.
- Finished compost from another pile inoculates your pile with active decomposers.
3. Fluff and Turn the Pile
- Turning mixes contents and incorporates needed oxygen for faster decomposition.
- Use a pitchfork or compost turner tool to aerate and break up clumps.
4. Control Moisture
- Compost needs moisture but not sodden. Aim for 40-60% moisture.
- Covering retains moisture. Turn and add water if pile gets too dry or wet.
Follow these basic principles and you’ll be on your way to black gold!
Choosing a Compost Enclosure
You can compost in open piles or within an enclosure bin. Here are the pros and cons of each:
Pros: Easy to build, turn, and access. Maximum air circulation.
Cons: Exposed location may look messy. More prone to drying out.
Pros: Contain and conceal contents. Retain heat and moisture. Limit pests. Look tidy.
Cons: Requires buying or building bin. Restricted air flow. Harder turning.
Build Your Own DIY Compost Bin
If opting for an enclosed bin, you can easily build your own from scrap materials:
- Wood pallets – Tie 3+ together to create three open sides for pile access.
- Wood planks – Construct a three-sided box using landscape boards and corner posts.
- Concrete blocks – Stack blocks into freestanding walls, leaving the front open.
- Wire fencing – Bend into a circle or square shape to allow airflow.
- Trash can – Drill ventilation holes and remove the bottom if desired.
Get creative with available reused items to build custom composting enclosures.
Must-Have Composting Tools and Accessories
Equipping your compost setup properly makes the process more efficient and enjoyable:
- Pitchfork – Essential for aerating, turning, and mixing the compost contents.
- Compost turner – Alternative turning tool with aerated shaft to mix in oxygen.
- pH test kit – Ensure compost stays in optimal pH range of 5.5-7.
- Compost thermometer – Monitors internal temperature to ensure the pile activates properly.
- Sifter screen – Sifts finished compost into fine particles for sowing and spreading.
- Kitchen scrap bucket – Collects food waste conveniently for transport to compost bin.
- Garden cart – Makes transferring material to and from pile simple.
- Aerator tool – Use to poke holes in the pile if it becomes overly compacted.
Invest in quality tools to remove hassles from composting.
Maintaining Optimal Compost Conditions
Monitor and adjust your compost regularly to keep it decomposing rapidly:
- Moisture – Compost should feel damp but not soggy. Add water or turn as needed.
- Aeration – Turn and fluff every few weeks to circulate oxygen to the centre.
- Temperature – The pile centre should reach 110-160°F initially. Turn if temp drops.
- Volume – Minimum 1x1x1m size for good heat retention. Remix if the pile shrinks.
- Balance – Add browns or greens as needed if the pile becomes too compacted, wet, or smelly.
Troubleshooting Poor Compost
|Rotten odor||Excess greens||Mix in browns like leaves or sawdust|
|Ammonia smell||Too much nitrogen||Add more carbon. Leave pile uncovered briefly to release gas.|
|Won’t decompose||Lack of nitrogen||Mix in greens like grass clippings or coffee grounds|
|Slime or matts||Too wet||Turn pile to dry it out. Add coarse browns like straw or wood chips.|
|No heat||Insufficient oxygen||Turn and remix pile. Add bulking agents like twigs.|
|Flies||Overly wet conditions||Let pile dry before remixing|
|Pests||Exposed food scraps||Bury scraps deeper. Use the enclosed bin. Stop adding scraps.|
Is Your Compost Finished?
Check for these signs that your compost is ready to use:
- Volume has reduced significantly as organic matter shrinks down
- The compost is dark, crumbly, and soil-like in texture
- You no longer recognize the original materials
- The pleasant, earthy aroma
- No heating in the pile centre
- Any weed seeds or diseases are destroyed after sustained high heat
Mature compost brings valuable nutrients to your garden beds and enriches soil.
Creative Uses for Finished Compost
Here are some ways to utilize your fresh black gold:
- Mix into garden beds annually to fertilize plants
- Make compost tea to use as foliar spray fertilizer
- Top dress lawns, trees, and shrubs to stimulate growth
- Add to potting soil for containers and seed-starting
- Use as top mulch around plants to retain moisture
- Spread on muddy areas to improve drainage
- Lightly sprinkle on the lawn before mowing to prevent sticking
Get innovative with finished compost – both your plants and the planet will thank you!
Hiring Composting Services
While DIY composting is rewarding, some homeowners would rather leave the process to professionals. If you are looking for a full-service gardening crew that can handle all your garden needs then you have to make contact with Letitia from Letitia Bruwer Landscapers.