Compost has never been my thing. I'm an active gardener who loves to utilize natural practices, but I forget to turn the pile and it always turns out too dry, too wet, or too warm.
When we moved to our homestead and became much more dependent on our vegetable garden, my husband graciously took over the compost pile duties. His dedication to the task has produced the beautiful black, earthy, crumbly substance responsible for making our herbs and vegetables flourish.
Like most organic gardening concepts, compost production can be somewhat controversial. Some gardeners are very particular about what should and should not go in the pile, and how the pile should be managed.
However, everyone agrees on one thing: the end result should be black and crumbly with a pleasant, earthy aroma.
Some may consider a few of my tips as “rule breakers”, but they have worked well for us and yielded consistent results. If you choose to begin a compost heap (and I hope you will) I encourage you to have an open mind and experiment, taking note of what works best in your climate and garden.
1. Select a good spot.
Choose a spot outside with convenient access to your home and your garden. Compost can be piled on the ground or in compost bins, which can be as simple or complex as you like. Ours are comprised of slats with space in between for good aeration. We have two: one for a compost pile in progress, and one for a finished pile ready to be used in the garden.
2. Keep it covered.
One of our rule breakers. This is primarily for the purpose of attracting heat to the pile. While decomposition will happen on its own in any environment, heat will hasten the process. In order to attract heat to the pile we use a large heavy piece of black plastic.
3. Keep it moist.
Moisture will help speed up decomposition. When our compost pile is on the dry side, my husband grabs the hose and wets it down. Take note: as mentioned, good compost doesn’t smell bad. It has a nice, earthy aroma. If your compost pile becomes too wet, it will begin to smell rotten. It may take some trial and error to figure out the right amount of moisture for your pile.
4. Weigh it down.
This is another way to get faster decomposition. We have found that weights compact the particles, keeping them in close contact with the bacteria that makes everything happen. We use concrete blocks placed on top of the pile.
5. Turn every so often.
Turning helps to aerate the mix and keep it from becoming too compacted underneath the weights. It also helps to combine the older, decomposed bits with the fresher, lesser decomposed bits for a more homogenous mixture. As to frequency… honestly? We turn it whenever we think about it. Consistency would be the key, however — whether it is once or twice a month or whatever pattern you choose.
6. Keep a good mix.
A blend of the following types of ingredients are perfect for the pile: freshly cut grass or freshly pulled weeds that haven't gone to seed (these are considered “green” items); leaves; and kitchen scraps — like vegetable peelings, tea bags, coffee grounds, and egg shells.
On the other hand, avoid adding these to your pile: grease, meat scraps, chemically treated grass clippings, or dog and cat manure.
Do you compost? What are some of your tips for getting great results?
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