Composting is an easy and effective way to recycle food scraps and yard waste into a nutrient-rich soil amendment for your garden. By composting at home, I can reduce the amount of trash I send to landfills while creating a free fertilizer. With a little effort and creativity, I can compost using materials readily available around my home.
Gathering Compostable Materials Around the Home
The key to successful composting is providing a healthy balance of “greens” and “browns.” Greens are nitrogen-rich materials like fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and fresh grass clippings. Browns are carbon-rich materials like dead leaves, sawdust, shredded paper, and cardboard. I need approximately equal parts greens and browns for optimal decomposition. Here are some common items found around my home that I can add to my compost:
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds and tea bags
- Fresh grass clippings
- Weeds without seed heads
- Livestock manure (herbivores only)
- Dead leaves
- Twigs and branches
- Sawdust and wood shavings
- Shredded newspaper and cardboard
- Paper towels and napkins
- Dryer lint
It’s also important to avoid adding meat, oils, and dairy products, which can attract pests and cause odor problems.
Choosing a Compost Bin
To contain my compost pile, I need some type of vessel, or compost bin. There are many DIY options using inexpensive or free materials from around my home:
- Wooden pallet bin: Use untreated pallets bound together to form three walls of a square bin.
- Wire cage bin: Form a cylinder using concrete reinforcement wire or chicken wire.
- Trash can bin: Use a plastic or metal trash can with ventilation holes drilled in the sides and lid.
- Wood and wire three-bin system: Construct three adjacent bins using wire fencing and scrap wood. Bins can be used in succession as one fills up.
The ideal compost bin size is at least 3 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet to allow proper aeration. I can start smaller while I gather materials. Locate my compost bin directly on the soil in a shady part of my yard or garden for access to beneficial organisms.
Maintaining Proper Conditions
With the right conditions, microorganisms will naturally break down compost materials into rich humus. The key factors I need to maintain are:
- Turn or stir the compost once a week to introduce oxygen.
- Add “browns” like twigs to improve airflow.
- The compost should always be slightly moist, like a wrung-out sponge.
- Water occasionally if it seems dry.
- Add more “browns” if compost becomes soggy.
- Chop or shred materials into smaller pieces to speed decomposition.
- Avoid adding big chunks of material.
With proper airflow, moisture, and particle size, my compost will finish in 2-4 months. I know it’s ready when the pile is dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling.
Using Finished Compost
Mature compost provides many benefits to my garden:
Improves soil structure and fertility: Compost contains essential macro and micronutrients plants need.
Increases moisture retention: Compost helps soil retain water longer.
Promotes healthy root growth: Compost offers beneficial microbes and air pockets for roots.
Suppresses plant diseases: Beneficial organisms in compost protect plants from pathogens.
There are many ways I can use the finished compost around my home:
- Spread 1-3 inches on garden beds before planting.
- Mix 25-50% compost into potting soil for containers.
- Top dress lawns with 1/4-1/2 inch of compost.
- Mulch trees, shrubs and plants to retain moisture.
With a little effort, I can produce quality compost using only materials readily available around my home. In return, I get an organic fertilizer that improves my soil and plants while reducing waste. Start composting today for a healthier, more sustainable garden!