Composting offers an eco-friendly way to convert household scraps and yard waste into a valuable soil amendment that boosts your garden’s health and beauty. By recycling organic materials onsite, you also divert them from crowded landfills where they release greenhouse gasses as they slowly decompose.
This comprehensive DIY guide will teach you the ins and outs of backyard composting. You’ll learn the ingredients that create rich compost along with techniques to build and maintain a thriving compost pile or bin. We’ll recommend top composting tools and accessories to streamline the process. Let’s turn waste into black gold for your yard!
The Many Benefits of Composting
Here’s why every eco-conscious gardener needs to be composting:
- Nutrient-rich fertiliser – Compost contains a wealth of macro- and micronutrients plants need to thrive.
- Improves soil structure – Adding compost creates a loose, crumbly texture ideal for root growth and drainage.
- Increases moisture retention – Compost helps parched soils better absorb and retain water.
- Suppresses plant diseases – Beneficial microbes fight off fungal diseases and harmful bacteria.
- Reduces waste – Composting scraps keeps them out of landfills and reduces methane emissions.
- Saves money – Free compost eliminates the need to purchase commercial fertilizers and amendments.
- Chemical-free – Compost is 100% natural and organic.
With a bit of knowledge, you can reap all these benefits right in your own backyard.
Composting Basics: Materials and Methods
Composting simply involves combining organic materials under conditions where they’ll break down into humus, a crumbly, earthy material. These basic ingredients and techniques result in successful compost:
1. Balance Greens and Browns
- Greens provide nitrogen – fresh grass clippings, kitchen scraps, garden trimmings
- Browns provide carbon-dried leaves, wood chips, sawdust, straw, paper
Shoot for 2 parts browns to 1 part greens. Too many greens compact and smell.
2. Add Activators
- Manure introduces beneficial bacteria that start the decomposition process.
- Soil brings additional microbes to break down the organic matter.
- Finished compost from another pile inoculates your pile with active decomposers.
3. Fluff and Turn Periodically
- Turning mixes contents and incorporates oxygen to aid decomposition.
- Use a pitchfork or compost turner tool to aerate and break up clumps.
4. Control Moisture
- Compost needs moisture to break down, but not soggy. Aim for 40-60% moisture content.
- Covering retains moisture. Turn and add water if the pile gets too dry or soaked.
Follow these basic principles for a balanced, active compost pile that produces fertile amendment for your garden.
Choosing an Enclosure – Compost Piles vs. Compost Bins
You can compost directly in open piles or within an enclosure bin. Each has pros and cons:
Open Compost Piles
- Doesn’t require purchasing or constructing a bin
- Easy to turn and access pile interior
- Oxygen circulates freely for fast decomposition
- Exposed location may be unsightly
- More prone to drying out
- Doesn’t contain the smell of food scraps
Enclosed Compost Bins
- Contain and conceal messy piles
- Retain heat and moisture
- Prevent pests from scavenging
- Look organized and tidy
- Requires building or buying bin
- Limited oxygen flow slows composting
- Harder to turn and mix contents
Best Materials for DIY Compost Bins
If choosing to enclose your compost, build your own bin from these easy materials:
- Wood pallets – Use at least 3 tied together to form three sides. Easy access.
- Wood planks – Make a three or four-sided bin by nailing landscape boards to corner posts.
- Concrete blocks – Stack blocks into enclosing walls, leaving the front open for access.
- Wire fencing – Bend into a circle or square shape. Allows lots of airflow.
- Trash can – Drill holes for aeration and cut off the bottom if desired.
Or construct a two- or three-chambered bin to make turning piles easier. The possibilities are endless!
Must-Have Composting Tools and Accessories
Equipping your compost area with quality tools makes the whole process easier:
- Pitchfork – Essential for aerating, turning, and mixing the pile contents. Choose a sturdy, long-tined model.
- Compost turner – Alternative turning tool with aerated shaft to mix in oxygen as you twist.
- Garden cart – Makes transferring material to and from the compost pile simple. Look for larger capacity.
- Sifter screen – Sifts finished compost into fine particles, removing unfinished bits.
- PH test kit – Ensure compost balances at optimal acidity of pH 5.5-7.0.
- Compost thermometer – Monitors internal temperature to ensure pile activates.
- Kitchen scrap bucket – Collects food waste conveniently as you cook for easy transport to the compost.
- Aerator tool – Use to poke holes in the pile if it becomes overly compacted.
Investing in quality tools takes the hassle out of composting tasks.
Maintaining Optimal Conditions
Monitor your compost regularly and adjust as needed to maintain rapid decomposition:
- Moisture – Compost should feel damp but not soggy. Turn the pile and add dry browns or water as needed.
- Aeration – Turn and fluff periodically to circulate oxygen into the centre.
- Temperature – The pile centre should reach 140 to 60°C initially. Turn if temp drops.
- Size – Minimum 1x1x1m for heat retention. Turn and remix if the pile shrinks.
- Balance – Mix in additional browns or greens if contents become too compressed, wet, or nitrogen-heavy (smelly).
With proper conditions, you’ll go from food scraps to usable compost in as little as 4-6 weeks.
Troubleshooting Poor Compost
|Rotten odour||Too much green material||Turn the pile and add browns such as leaves, straw, or sawdust|
|Ammonia smell||Nitrogen overload||Mix in carbon sources and leave the pile uncovered for 1-2 days to release gas|
|Nothing decomposing||Lack of nitrogen||Add nitrogen sources like grass clippings, blood meal, or coffee grounds|
|Slime or matters||Excessive moisture||Turn the pile to dry it out. Add coarse browns like wood chips or straw|
|Compacted and won’t heat||Insufficient oxygen||Turn/aerate pile. Break up clumps. Add bulking agent like straw.|
|Small black flies||Overly wet conditions||Let the pile dry out before remixing|
|Rodents scavenging||Exposed food scraps||Bury food under 10+ inches of browns. Stop adding scraps. Use the enclosed bin.|
Is My Compost Finished?
You know your compost is ready to use when:
- Volume has reduced significantly as organic matter shrinks down
- Contents are dark brown, crumbly, and soil-like in texture
- You no longer recognize the original materials
- The pleasant, earthy aroma
- The interior of the pile is no longer heating
- Any weed seeds or diseases are destroyed after sustained high heat
Finished compost brings life to garden beds and enriches soil for stronger, healthier plants.
Uses for Finished Garden Compost
Here are some ways to make use of your black gold:
- Mix into garden beds each season to fertilize plants
- Make compost tea to use as foliar spray fertilizer
- Top dress lawns, trees, shrubs to improve growth
- Add to potting mix for containers and seed starting
- Spread around the base of plants as nutrient-rich mulch
- Blend into muddy areas to improve drainage
- Sprinkle lightly on the lawn before mowing to prevent clumping
Find creative ways to use every last bit of your homemade compost!
Hiring Composting Services
While DIY composting is very rewarding, some gardeners prefer to leave the process to professionals. If you are looking for a full-service gardening crew that can handle all your garden composting needs then you have to make contact with Letitia from Letitia Bruwer Landscapers.