by Tammy Taylor
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Black gold, gardeners delight, compost – it’s all the same thing. All organic matter will eventually decompose, and in that decomposition will turn into rich healthy soil full of beneficial bacteria. Backyard gardeners flock to the store to buy bags of the stuff, but it’s beyond easy to make yourself.
Not only will it be less expensive, but composting is good for the environment. When food scraps that can be composted go into your compost pile (and then ultimately to organically feed your plants) instead of just rotting the landfill, everybody wins! But how do you make compost? What can be composted and what cannot? What kind of container do you put it in? There are lots of different answers and methods to those questions. Let’s start with the container.
Compost Tumbler – One Option
I have a * compost tumbler that I purchased a few years back and I love it. In past years I used an open-ended barrel shape made from chicken wire and while it was effective it was difficult for me to turn the compost properly. Because I didn’t turn it as often as I should the compost was too slow in completing the composting process to suit me, although it was obviously my lack of action that was the problem. The turning of the compost is very important – the pile needs to be turned several times each week to properly redistribute the compost as well as add oxygen.
These days everything goes in the tumbler and I give it a quick turn and walk away. When we moved to the ranch we built our house right in the middle of a cow pasture so I figured there’s bound to be at least field mice that might get into my compost. That also made the tumbler worth its cost to me since it’s enclosed. But you don’t have to have a container like mine to make compost. Many successful composters use various containment methods such as three sided hay bales, pallets, a circle of chicken wire or even an open pile in the corner of their yard. As long as you can add material, water the pile periodically and turn it often almost anything will suffice.
What Can You Add To Your Compost Pile?
What can go in the compost pile? Well I put all veggie scraps – the peels, skins, etc for the parts of our vegetables and fruits that are not consumed Peel a banana? The peel goes in the compost. Peel a potato? The peel goes in the compost. Eat an apple? The core goes in the compost.
Keep in mind the smaller the pieces are that you place in the compost, the quicker it will decompose, so chop the larger pieces up if you can.
But your compost not only needs a percentage of “greens” but also a percentage of carbons, or “browns” to work properly. Greens are very nitrogen rich and tend to heat the compost quickly. Browns are usually more carbon rich materials and they’ll not only balance out the greens but also serve to feed the microscopic critters that are working hard to make your compost for you.
A Proper Mix of Greens & Browns
A few examples of both greens and browns are:
- Grass clippings
- carrot tops
- apple cores
- banana peels
- egg shells
- coffee grounds
- black & white newspaper
- toilet paper rolls
- used kleenex or paper napkins
- waded black & white paper
- dry leaves
- coffee filters
What to avoid:
- Meats / bones (attracts vermin)
- Waxy paper (slow to decompose)
- Weeds with seeds
- Grease or fats
This is only a quick list of examples but there are LOTS of things around the house that can be composted from your vacuum cleaner’s bin to that handful of weeds you picked out of the flowerbed that haven’t yet gone to seed. The generally-accepted percentage is to add three parts brown matter to one part green matter, but it doesn’t have to be exact.
If you have too many greens your compost may begin to smell. Simple fix – add some browns. If you have too many browns your compost will slow down it’s composting progress. Again, simple fix – add greens. If your compost is too wet it may begin to smell – you want it lightly damp like a wrung-out sponge. Don’t forget to turn it often to keep it all properly mixed and to add that important oxygen.
Compost In Proper Proportion Smells Only Like Earth
Some are concerned there may be a bad smell to compost. No worries, properly balanced compost will not smell bad, and will actually smell like deep rich healthy soil. It’s easy to keep the compost balanced, in with my kitchen scraps and grass clippings (greens) I add some shredded paper or cardboard (browns)
For me almost anything goes for the browns – I’ve composted wadded up bank statements, receipts, torn up pizza boxes and toilet paper rolls. I’ve read that most inks used now are soy-based so I don’t really fret too much about what kind of paper goes in the composter, although I shy away from heavily-colored and slick-textured papers “just because”. Don’t forget to stir your compost often to distribute oxygen and add enough water so it’s slightly moist.
Rodents, Flies & Other Pests
What about rodents, flies and other pests being attracted to your compost pile? Well, a properly maintained compost pile does not smell bad and I’ve never had a rodent problem with any composting receptacle I’ve ever used, but I guess depending on where you live and what you include in your compost your experience may be different. Do avoid adding any meat, grease, milk or fat products and that definitely should help avoid that issue.
So what have we learned today? Your compost needs “greens” and “browns”, to be turned regularly and to be kept evenly moist. No kidding folks, it really is as simple as that! So get out there and start your own compost pile – your garden will thank you many times over!
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