Composting Tips and TricksCompost & Soil Last Updated On 06/03/2020
Composting is very important for gardening. All beginner gardeners should learn some handy tips and tricks to make composting easy and more successful. Here is a quick list of some excellent composting tips and tricks for your garden.
- To get the best and fastest results, make sure to use a compost turner every two weeks. This will help aerating your pile, which will speed up the composting process.
- Keep in mind that the finished compost will usually be less than half the volume of the initial materials you put in the compost pile. However, the finished compost pile will be much denser.
- Compost will decompose fastest when placed under 120 and 160 degrees F. Decomposition can occur at lower temperatures, too, but it will take much longer.
- To get the fastest composting results, make sure to keep the compost bin in direct sun.
- Keep in mind: worms love coffee grounds.
- Finished compost should look, feel and smell like dark, rich soil. If a composting pile is finished, you shouldn't be able to recognize any of the items you put in the pile.
- Ideal size of a compost pile is individual. However, make sure that the pile is at least 3' x 3' x 3'. It's a handy size to turn the pile easily. At the same time, it's a great size for retaining heat while allowing the air flow.
- For handy and cheap compost bins, opt for wooden pallets. You should start with one pallet on the ground. Drive two metal stakes into each side. Carefully, slide new pallets over each support. This will create a quick bin you can use for composting.
- You can make layered compost piles consisting of thin layers of alternating greens and browns. Another way to make a compost pile is to throw all the materials together and mix them well. Either type of a compost pile works.
- It's handy to keep your compost pile in a black plastic bin. Even better, put it in direct sunlight. This will continue the composting process all through the winter. To further insulate the pile, you may use hay bales.
- Keep the compost pile damp but not overly wet. As you build the pile, make sure that the each layer you add is moist. The surface of the pile should also remain damp (like a wrung out sponge). This is particularly important during the summer months.
Compost Pile Materials
- Keep in mind that the microbes responsible for decomposing need a very balanced diet consisting of nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen comes from green materials, such as manure, grass clippings and food scraps. Carbon comes from brown materials, such as hay, wood chips, dead leaves and shredded paper. What works best is a ratio that contains equal portions of brown and green materials by weight (not volume).
- Seaweed and algae will make a great addition to your compost pile. Before you include them in the pile, make sure to rinse off any residual salts.
- You may add straw to your compost pile. It's a great source of carbon. Keep in mind, though, that straw can contain weed seeds, so it's important to make the compost pile "cook" fully before use.
- Grass clippings are a great addition to your compost pile. They add much-needed nitrogen to the pile. However, you need to make sure to mix them with the "brown" materials to add carbon. Both carbon and nitrogen are needed for quick decomposition and rich compost. If you make pile out of the grass only, it will become compact and it will slow down the composting process so the pile will start to stink.
- Kitchen waste can be a great source for composting. Instead of throwing the waste in the winter, make a small, indoor composter.
- Plain white paper (like the one you use for computer) or newspaper is a great material for composting. Before you add it to the compost pile, make sure to shred the paper to speed up the process.
- To start a new compost pile quickly, you can add aged manure, alfafa meal, blood meal, cottonseed meal or compost starter. These materials are very rich in nitrogen. They will help jump-start the microbes needed for breaking down the organic materials and creating the compost.
- Compost pile should contain organic matter. Anything that was once living can be a good addition to your compost pile. Things such as vegetables, leaves and grass clippings make a great compost pile material.
How to Avoid Problems
- Never compost fats, pet droppings or any animal products. These materials will only attract pests to the pile. Additionally, the can also spread diseases.
- Smelly compost piles are common. It happens mainly due to a large number of anaerobic microbes. These microbes are working hard to break down the compost. To cut down on this process and make the compost pile less smelly, you should aerate your pile regularly. This will create air spaces in the pile and limit the anaerobic microbes. It will also stimulate the aerobic microbes, and these are less stinky.
- If you want to add ashes to your compost bin, you may do it, but make sure to add it sparingly. Keep in mind that the ashes are alkaline and they can affect the pH of the pile. Acidic materials, such as pine needles and oak leaves can make the pile acidic, so it's another thing to keep in mind.
- Avoid to add plants that have been treated with pesticides and/or herbicides (lawn clippings and weeds). These plants are not good materials for the compost pile.
Using Finished Compost
- When you have a finished compost, soak it in water to "brew" compost "tea". This is a nutrient-rich liquid you can use for feeding your plants. Use it for watering or foliar feeding of plants in your house, garden or backyard.
- You should apply the finished compost to your garden about 2 to 4 weeks before you plant. This will five the compost time to integrate into the soil and to stabilize within the soil.
Photo credit: Emma Nagle