If you have read any of my posts, ever talked to me, or walked by my house it is pretty apparent that I love to garden!  Some (my husband) may even say I am obsessed with gardening.  But really who can blame me?  You put a tiny seed in dirt, give it some water, a little love, and before you know it you have grown something amazing and hopefully edible!  I just never get tired of the miracle that it is.  I could go on and on about all the many joys and benefits of growing a garden but today I’m just going to limit myself to compost.

How do I feel about compost? It is the best!  You take garbage (fruit and vegetable scraps, dead plants, paper, cardboard, egg shells, etc) and turn it into the best all-around slow release fertilizer your plants could ever hope for!

Another great thing is compost is easy!  When I started gardening I was so overwhelmed by the different needs of each plant that I grew, it made my head swim just trying to remember it all.  Now that I just use compost, it is as easy as that, I just use compost.  It is perfect for every plant that I grow!  I don’t have to worry about what each plant needs because the compost has it all and the plant just takes what it needs.  Isn’t that cool?

You take the plants from your last year’s garden who have given you everything they could, then let them turn into compost and they give again by feeding your new little seedlings. And the cycle continues. Sorry Simba, but I have the circle of life going on right here in my backyard.  It is really amazing!  Now enough about professing my love for compost, here is how to do it.

How to compost….

Heap Method

Pile all compostable items in a heap, keep slightly moist and turn the heap as often as possible with a pitchfork or shovel.

Pros:

  • You are recycling your compostable materials
  • You are making fantastic food for your plants
  • It’s free!

Cons:

  • Unsightly heap of rotting stuff in your yard
  • May attract rodents
  • Labor intensive depending on how much you turn your pile
  • Takes forever (also depending on how much you turn your pile).

Container Method

There are many different container composters available to buy with a wide range of prices and features.  The one I prefer is this kind made by Lifetime.

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I have three of them.  They usually cost around $100.  I got my first one from my husband for mother’s day several years ago (it was exactly what I wanted), the second was given to me by a friend, and the last one I bought used for $25.

Pros:

  • Relatively inexpensive compared to other composters
  • The mess is all neatly contained
  • Keeps things away from rodents
  • It spins so you don’t have to turn it with a shovel. You can just walk by and give it a few quick spins whenever you think about it.

Cons:

  • It drips so you don’t want to put it on cement or it may stain
  • Sometimes it is a little awkward to get the finished compost out (not a huge problem)

I don’t have a whole lot of experience with any other composters except my neighbor had one of those $400+ composters with the gears for turning.  The gears broke soon after she got it.

You can also make your own composter if you are talented at that sort of thing.

What to Compost

There are so many different sources that list all the things you should and should not compost.  It is helpful to look at those and then decide what you want to compost.  The major things you want to stay away from are dairy products, meat, pet waste from carnivorous animals, fruit pits, grease, whole eggs, anything man-made,  diseased plants or weeds with seeds (you don’t want to spread those things to your whole garden!). The rule of thumb that I like to follow is that if it is of plant origin then it is probably ok to compost- think paper, cardboard, fruit and veggie scraps, etc.

The ideal is to have more brown items than green items in your compost. Green items are not necessarily green in color but are high in nitrogen like garden waste, fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds, hair, manure from herbivores, grass clippings, and fresh leaves. Brown items are things like paper, dry leaves, peanut shells, sawdust (untreated wood), and straw.

Here is a list of the things I compost regularly:

  • fall leaves
  • vegetable and fruit scraps
  • paper egg cartons (not the parts with ink)
  • last year’s garden plants
  • egg shells
  • hair (from my boys’ haircuts)

I usually keep an old ice cream bucket in the cupboard beneath my sink and take it out to the compost about once a day when it is warm and only when it starts to smell in the winter (let’s be honest, I’m a little lazy about composting during the bitter cold winter months) Having the little bucket under your sink makes it really easy to catch any fruit and veggie trimmings.  You just pull it out and stick it in your sink and peel into the bucket rather than the disposal.

This is what is going into the compost today. (I’ll probably tear up the egg carton.)

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Some Things You Can Compost (but I don’t)

  • lawn clippings (you need to dry these out before composting them so they don’t get moldy and we use chemical weed killer on our lawn so I don’t want that going into my compost)
  • newspaper, it may be ok but there is color ink on every page and I just don’t know what they put in it so I don’t use it
  • Corn cobs and stalks.  These take forever to break down
  • Sticks and woody branches. These also take forever to break down but if you have a wood chipper go for it!

Keep your compost pile moist but not soggy, turn as often as possible to mix everything up, and try to shred or break up large pieces so they will break down faster.  Your compost is ready when everything has broken down so it is no longer recognizable as to what it was before. A few tough things will still be intact but those can be screened out and put in your next batch of compost.  The compost will also have a nice earthy smell (not rotten).

I have read that if you have all of the right ratios of greens and browns, turn your compost every day, shred all ingredients, and keep the right moisture levels you can have finished compost in a matter of a few months.  I have never been able to do that.  It usually takes me at least a year to get finished compost.  That is why I like having more than one composter.  One is “cooking” and one or two are being filled (but don’t go out and buy 3 composters before seeing if it’s something you really want to do).

Some Ways to Use Compost

  • Spread and tilled into the garden
  • Part of potting soil mix ( ⅓ compost, ⅓ peat moss, ⅓ vermiculite)
  • A small scoop in planting holes
  • Compost tea (I do this the easy way. I use a 5 gallon bucket and fill it about ¼ with compost and the rest of the way with water and add a few glugs of molasses.  Then I stir as often as I think about it for a day (You don’t want it sitting this way for more than a day or it could start to go bad). Then I strain it through an old T shirt and water my plants with it.  I do this mainly for my corn when it is knee-high, and when it tassels. I use the rest on whatever else I feel needs an extra boost.

Composting at home does take a little more work than just running to the store and buying a bag of compost but to me it is very rewarding! It improves your soil and the health and vigor of your plants, it is free, and it recycles what would otherwise be garbage waste.  What’s not to love about that?

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