Compost is gardening gold. This nutrient-rich, soil-like matter is the result of nature’s recycling. But what’s so great about letting a bunch of microorganisms and earthworms munch on a bunch of waste?
The benefits of compost are many, including that it:
- Nourishes your plants
- Improves soil structure
- Retains water
- Maintains soil pH balance
- Puts waste to good use
So, let’s get the dirt on dirt! Read on to learn how you can enhance the fertility of your garden with compost.
What you’ll need to make compost
Organic material and time are really all you need to make compost. However, the natural process of decomposition can be sped up – and fortified – with a little help from you. To do this, you’ll want to create an ideal environment for microorganisms, fungi, worms and bacteria to thrive.
Focus on these four inputs if you want to generate lots of compost in a short amount of time:
Carbon-rich material. Think: brown! Dead leaves, woody branches, newspaper, cardboard, straw, and other matter are crucial for compost.
Nitrogen-rich material. Think: green! Freshly cut grass, fruit and vegetable scraps, and kelp are great additions to your compost pile. You can also add in coffee grounds, eggshells, and manure (from non-carnivorous animals) to boost the nitrogen content of your compost.
Water. It’s very important to keep your compost pile moistened (not soggy) to aid in the decomposition of the organic material you’ve added.
Oxygen. Decomposition is hard work! Give those little microbes plenty of oxygen. You’ll need to turn or aerate your pile every two weeks, or they’ll use up all the oxygen in the pile and decomposition will slow significantly.
What to leave out
Manures are great for compost, but only if they come from plant-eating animals. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of introducing unwanted parasites and bacteria into your compost pile. That’s especially problematic if you plan on using your compost to fertilize a vegetable, herb, or fruit garden.
We also recommend leaving out meat, bones, fish skins, kitchen grease, and fat, for they can lead to an unpleasant-smelling compost pile.
Lastly, leave out anything that’s been chemically treated. That includes painted or laminated wood, and plants that have been treated with pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides.
How to start a compost pile
A compost pile is a living, breathing, amalgamation of organic material and organisms. That means it’s going to get hot! For efficient composting, you’ll want to create an area for your pile that’s between 3 and 5 cubic feet. This size will allow the center of the pile to heat up, which speeds up the process.
Next up, add in your browns and greens (usually in a 3:1 brown to green ratio, but it doesn’t have to be a perfect mix) in layers. Then water the pile enough to moisten, but not saturate, the material you’ve added. Finally, cover your pile with tarp or wood to retain heat and moisture.
How to maintain your compost pile
You’ll want to aerate your compost about every two weeks (and check if it needs additional water) to speed up the process. If you’re noticing overly unpleasant odors or flies, you can try to neutralize your compost pile with lime or calcium.
How to use your compost
Mix compost into your topsoil to help replenish nutrients, balance pH, and ensure proper water retention. For newer beds, add a thicker layer of compost (up to 4 inches) to help amend the soil. For more established areas in your garden, freshen up the soil with a 1 to 2-inch thick layer of compost.
And that’s it! Bring life to your garden with some fresh compost this season. Make sure to get one of our compost aerators
to make decomposition a breeze, and tag us in photos of your compost piles on social media!