As the weather cools and leaves fall, we have the perfect opportunity to spend some time outdoors tidying our yards and putting the garden and flowerbeds to sleep. While this upcoming season of rest is welcome, now is a great time to take stock of the wins/losses in our outdoor spaces and think about changes or improvements we can make. What grew well? Did you have problems with pests or diseased plants? What do you wish you had more of in your garden? (Answer: flowers, flowers, flowers) What are you going to do with everything that’s left behind?? It’s brilliant that you’ve taken up gardening in the past few years, but maybe now it’s time to take things one step further and begin composting as well.
Compost is an organic fertilizer you can make at home using waste products from your garden and kitchen, and composting is the process utilized to create that fertilizer. It’s a win-win-win situation where you, the soil, and the environment all benefit. With a little effort and attention, you can improve the soil structure in your yard, which will in turn encourage higher yields year after year.
You don’t need any special training to start composting, and armed with a little bit of knowledge you can start today. Compost is formed with five simple ingredients: soil, greens, browns, water, air. The important ratio you’ll want to remember is 40% greens to 60% browns. Greens are nitrogen rich materials such as food scraps – including coffee grounds and egg shells – and green plant material such as fresh grass clippings, plant trimmings, and flowers. Browns consist of dry plant material, untreated wood products, and paper. Any time you add greens, make sure to add browns as well since too many greens can cause things to rot instead of decompose which can be smelly and attract pests. An easy way to make sure you always have adequate brown material is to store all those dry leaves, whether in a pile next to your compost or in bags.
You’ll need to add some soil, water, and air to your mix of greens and browns. Soil is teeming with microorganisms that break down the waste, water keeps the process moving along (dry compost is slow and inefficient), and air is vital to keeping bad smells away. The bacteria need access to oxygen to stay healthy; smothered bacteria stink. Adding water to your compost and turning it regularly will keep the decomposition process moving along smoothly. It takes a little attention and not a lot of effort to keep your compost healthy, and it all pays off in the end with a fertilizer for your garden that is natural and you can feel good about.
Depending on the attention you give and the size of your input, your compost can be finished in as little as eight weeks or as long as one year. When the ingredients you’ve added have turned into a dark brown material with an earthy smell, your compost is finally complete and ready to be added to your garden. Success!
When we think about composting, likely the first image that comes to mind is a backyard method – possibly a store-bought bin or a larger homemade compost bin system. These are both great options and you can choose whichever best suits your yard and the amount of waste your household produces.
But did you know there are two ways to compost right inside your house?
Bokashi composting could be considered next-level composting. Not only is it a way to deal with organic waste matter from your kitchen, but it is a method that composts even meat and bone scraps which are a big no-no in typical outdoor compost situations because they attract critters. Bokashi buckets use lactobacteria, phytobacteria, and yeast to ferment food. The fermented waste can then be added to an outdoor compost pile or buried in your garden to finish decomposing. If this interests you, you’ll want to do some research first since things can get smelly if you don’t get it right.
Vermicomposting is the second indoor composting method, and if you’re bothered by creepy crawlies, this option may not be for you. “Vermi” means worm, so this method of composting is accomplished by a bucket full of red wigglers living in your house with you. Worms living in a special aerated bin eat plant material which they convert into nutrient-rich compost in the castings (droppings) they produce. These castings can be added directly to your garden or included as part of a potting mix. This method of composting takes little work to maintain but does require some extra knowledge, so you’ll want to do some research to see if it’s a good fit for you.
Whether you live in an apartment or on a sprawling acreage and whether you regularly make meals for one person or ten, there is a form of composting that can work for almost any situation. No matter what method you use, composting is a great way to improve the health of your soil and ultimately increase production in your growing spaces. Our landfills benefit from less waste, the land we live on gets healthier, and we benefit from more time spent outside and connection with our surroundings – not to mention the food we get to eat and share with others.