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Organic Gardening: The Beginner’s Guide to Composting

We highly recommend learning how to properly compost if you are going to be investing your time and money into organic gardening. There are numerous benefits to composting and it can really supercharge your garden and help you save money at the same time. Contrary to popular belief, composting is not that difficult and requires very little skill. All it needs are a bit of discipline and some patience. The payoff you get for a few minutes of work every few days can be well worth it. Trust us; if your plants could talk, they would love to thank you for learning how to properly compost.

Let’s Talk About a Few Frequently Asked Composting Questions

There are numerous myths and false information about composting circling the internet. Let’s take a look at the most commonly asked composting questions and concerns:

I Don’t Have Any Materials to Compost

I bet you do! Many people never start composting because they feel like they don’t have anything to actually compost. Most foods, vegetables, fruits, and even some items that are biodegradable can be composted. We will list a few- items that you can compost in the paragraphs below, but we guarantee there are items you usually throw away that you can instead start compounding.

Is Composting Really That Beneficial To The Environment?

Not only is composting great for providing your plants with the nutrients they need to grow up healthy, but it’s also great for the environment. Excess trash ends up in landfills, mixed with metals and other items that are difficult to break down. This leads to excess trash and pollution in the environment. By practicing composting, you are allowing nature to break down this waste in a safe and helpful environment, so you are preventing excess trash from piling up and also becoming eco-friendly at the same time.

What Exactly Is Compost?

Compost is the result of the natural decaying process that breaks down organic waste and creates a nutrient-rich substance. You can add compost to your garden and it will increase nutrients and supplement your plants. Think of compost as a nice steak dinner for your plants!

Is Composting Expensive?

No, not at all! It will actually save you money in the long run because you are not going to need to use fertilizers or other options to deliver nutrients to your plants. Since you are already using the organic waste from items you consume anyway, you are not purchasing any additional supplies or items.

What Do I Need To Compost?

The only downside to composting is that it requires discipline and patience. The composting and decaying process takes time and will not happen overnight. You will need to be patient and make sure you are taking the proper steps each day to ensure your compost is as rich as possible. Composting also requires discipline, and you need to be aware of the items that you are composting. Failure to stay disciplined can result in your compost being compromised. Adding the wrong items can ruin your compost pile.

What to Put Into Your Compost

This section is very important. We will separate your compost into two categories: items to include and items to avoid. You must be very careful when selecting items to include and make sure they fit the criteria. For example, you can compost paper and cardboard but not if they are covered in plastic or have high amounts of ink and dye. When in doubt, leave it out!

Items to Include

The following items will add nitrogen and important proteins to your compost:

  • Pumpkins
  • Spices
  • Herbs
  • Christmas trees
  • Flowers
  • Pine cones
  • Coffee grinds
  • Tea
  • Lawn cuttings and grass
  • Vegetable peels

The following will add carbon to your compost:

  • Egg shells
  • Sawdust
  • Toothpicks
  • Animal bedding
  • Paper waste
  • Pizza boxes
  • Light cardboard

The following are items to avoid at all costs

Meats and fish – You should avoid meats and fish as they will attract wild animals which will destroy your compost.

  • Bones
  • Fat
  • Walnuts – Certain nuts can be toxic to plants.
  • Weeds – They will grow and take over your compost!
  • Diapers
  • Plastic
  • Cat litter
  • Bread
  • Bones
  • Pasta
  • Coal

Finding the Perfect Spot for Your Compost Pile

Selecting the proper location can be the difference between a healthy compost pile and one that struggles. Many people pay little or no attention to where they place their compost pile and then wonder why their compost is not growing. Put some thought into selecting the perfect place for your compost pile before you start building and composting.

Keep Your Compost Location Away From Trees and Buildings

One of the main ingredients in compost is water. If you place your compost under a tree or a building, you might be restricting the water flow. Water is essential in the composting process and your compost will dry out quickly if it doesn’t have proper access to water.

Watch Out For Home Owners’ Associations

We highly recommend that you don’t put your compost pile in a highly visible location. Home owners’ associations will usually flag you down and make you remove it. Try to keep it in the back yard or in the corner of your yard. You can plant bushes or shrubs to camouflage it and keep it away from nosy neighbors.

Pets and Children

You want to keep your pets and children away from the compost pile. Dogs and other animals love to dig through compost piles looking for food. If you have numerous animals, we recommend you put a fence around your compost pile to avoid damage.

Keep Your Compost Within Reach of a Hose

If you are composting during the summer or fall months when rainfall is at a minimum, you may need to take it upon yourself to water your compost. Ideally, you want your compost to be within reach of a hose so you are not carrying buckets of water to and from you house. Your compost needs to be watered and constantly moist in order for it to break down and decay properly.

Keep Your Compost Pile near Your House

You don’t want to be walking long distances with heavy bags of waste to add to your compost pile. Make it easy to access. This will allow you to quickly add your items without them being a burden to carry. Many people make the mistake of putting their compost out in the middle of a forest. They quickly realize their mistake when they try to haul waste products to compost.

Make Sure Your Compost Gets Sunlight

In order to properly decay and break down, your compost will need access to sunlight and warmth. We recommend you avoid shady places that may restrict sunlight and water consumption.

Keep Your Compost Away From Runoff

If you notice large amounts of water or puddles forming in a certain area of your yard, you should avoid that location. While your compost needs water, too much water can be very troublesome. Not only will it threaten to ‘wash away your compost, but too much water can also slow down the process. Ideally, you want your compost to be moist and damp, not flooded with water.

Compost Containers

There are many compost containers on the market that will help you with your composting. Feel free to purchase one of these containers or make your own. Ideally, you want your compost pile to be between 3x3x3 and 5x5x5. Any smaller and you will have a tough time, and any larger and you will also encounter problems. There are numerous DIY guides on creating compost containers online that will allow you to quickly create a compost pile with a few items.

The Layer System

How you layer your compost is extremely important to your overall success. Each layer will work off the other layers, which will speed up the composting process and allow’ your compost to be full of nutrients for your soil.

Layer 1: Small and Easily Broken Down Items

The first layer should be very easy to decay and break down. This layer should be comprised of sawdust, lawn grass, flowers, vegetable waste, and garden waste. This layer should range between six inches and one foot. Be sure to add water to this layer and make sure it’s moist before adding layer number two.

Layer 2: Manure

If you have manure from grass-fed animals, this is the layer you want to add it to. Manure can also be purchased at local farm or home improvement stores. Manure is rich with nutrients and will break down and activate the other layers. This layer doesn’t need to be very thick; only a few inches. Once again, you want to water this layer to keep your entire compost full of moisture.

Layer 3: The Top Layer – Soil

The top layer is ‘where you will add soil to the mixture. Be sure to add natural soil and not soil that has artificial fertilizers or other pesticides added. Once again, water the soil to keep the mixture moist. You can continue to alternate between these three layers until your compost pile reaches your desired height. This layer system will allow each layer to work with each other, which will not only speed up the process but will also dramatically improve your results.

Compost Maintenance

It will take around two to three weeks before the compost process begins. You will know the process is beginning because your compost pile will be giving off heat. You want to keep the pile moist at all times to make sure the process continues to work. You also want to rotate the soil on the top and on the inside of your pile. This allows the ‘whole pile to be part of the process and will rotate the already decomposed inside to the outer part of the pile. Remember, the center is where the action occurs, and you need to make sure your whole pile gets involved.

Compost Trouble Shooting

The first few times you begin composting, you may run into a few’ problems. Just like with any other skill, composting may take a few trial and error runs before you perfect it. Below, we have broken down the most common pitfalls that most people experience and provided some tips to help you overcome these issues.

My Compost Pile Is Covered In a White Substance

These could be spider webs. The solution to this problem is to bury your food deeper into the pile. Spiders are attracted to sweets and will burrow through your pile to find them. If your food is at a deeper layer, they will not be able to detect it and their webs will disappear.

My Compost Pile Is Not Giving Off Heat after Three Weeks

If you cannot feel the heat of your compost pile after three weeks, something might be wrong. Your pile could be too small, it may have dried out, or it may lack the necessary chemicals, such as nitrogen, to get the process started. Common solutions are to increase the size of the pile, mix in ingredients that are rich in nitrogen, such as common greens, add additional water to your pile, especially to the center, or turn the pile to get some oxygen flowing into the center. Sometimes the problem is that the process has already occurred and completed. We always recommend that you check your compost pile even few days to see if it is heating up so you don’t miss the action!

Large Items Not Properly Decomposing

If you notice that large items such as yard waste, branches, and cardboard are not breaking down, chop them up into smaller pieces. You should never add any items to your compost pile that are very large. Items with a large surface area can be extremely difficult to break down. Try cutting or chopping your items into smaller, easier to manage portions.

Animals Are Attacking My Compost at Night

Do you have wild animals digging up your compost? This could mean you are adding meat or fish to your pile. You can do this but it will attract animals, so we put these items on our ‘do not add’ list. You can install a fence around your compost pile or you can purchase an animal-proof compost container. The problem is that most animals are quite clever so we would recommend just avoiding adding meat, dairy, and fish to your compost.

The Compost Gets Too Hot

If you find that your compost is cooking at over 175 degrees, it is way too hot. This happens if you fail to properly turn the pile and rotate it. You want to make sure oxygen can get into the center and cool it down. Failure to cool down the center of your compost pile will drain the nutrients out of the compost.

The Smell of Your Compost Pile

Your compost pile should never have an unpleasant smell. If it begins to smell or has a strong unpleasant odor, something might have gone wrong. The number one reason that your compost pile has begun to smell is due to poor air circulation. This is generally caused by two problems. The first is that your compost pile is too solid and air cannot properly circulate. You can fix this problem by turning the compost pile. The second reason is that your compost pile is too wet and air cannot circulate. Let it dry out and rotate some of the soil to get air flowing again.

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