Having a garden is a wonderful, beautiful way to connect with nature. You get to be part of the cycle of life, watching seeds grown, hearing the birds, and observing the interplay of the creatures and plants that move through your space. And while it’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of the plants and animals, the inner works of the soil and dirt can be fascinating too! Composting can be a powerful new way to connect with nature in your garden by creating the soil you need from scraps and waste. And the good news is that getting started with composting is easy! We’re going to walk you through a beginner's guide to composting for your garden and show you the best ways to approach this new gardening skill.
What is Compost?
Let’s start by defining what compost is. Compost is a mix of organic materials which may be used to fertilize soil in either garden beds or garden containers. Compost is generally made by allowing plant and vegetable matter to decay in a controlled environment, which fosters the creating of a healthy soil, beneficial microorganisms, and helpful creatures like worms. Most gardeners who compost add to their compost throughout the year and then spread it in the garden before planting for a new season.
Starting a Compost Pile
The best place to start with composting is to find a place to do it!While you can compost in almost any outdoor space, the ideal composting spot is located on bare earth, with some shade to protect it from the sun and help it stay moist.
There are a number of ways to make a compost pile—also known as a compost heap. In its most basic form, you can just pile up organic plant materials in a pile and turn them over every now and then so that they can degrade evenly. Some folks like a more contained approach, and will build a composter out of old pallets, chicken wire, or an old food-grade plastic barrel. There are commercial composters you can buy, in various forms and styles, and they can make the whole process much more convenient.
If you’re going to compost on bare earth, start by putting down a layer of twigs and sticks to help hold moisture. Keeping your compost moist throughout the process will help foster the growth of helpful critters and ensure that the nutrients remain in the soil. From there, simply pile your waste to be degraded on top. It’s helpful to think about compostable wastes as falling into one of two categories: “green” and “brown”. Green waste adds nitrogen to your compost, while brown wastes adds carbon. Both are beneficial to your future garden. Green wastes include things like fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, used tea leaves, grass cutting, weeds, leaves, and other plant waste. Brown waste includes stuff like wood shavings and sawdust, shredded newspapers or brown paper bags, cardboard, eggshells, and hay or straw. A good rule of thumb for home composting is to keep a ratio of 1/3 green waste and 2/3s brown waste. This helps create the right balance of nutrients in your compost and will benefit your future plants. Once you’ve gotten the mix right, keeping your compost pile moist and turning it over with a rake or pitchfork every now and then to help keep oxygen in the mix are all it needs!
Things to Avoid
We’ve been over what you should do to keep your compost heap healthy, happy, and ready to help your plants grown. However, there are a handful of warnings and things to avoid when working with your compost heap. Don’t let your heap dry out—a bone dry pile of waste won’t break down well and all the worms and microorganisms will move elsewhere. Don’t add animal wastes, animal products, persistent weeds, human or pet wastes, glossy paper, or chemically treated wood to your compost heap. This will add unwanted ingredients that can hurt your compost heap, your future plants, or even you! Dispose of those waste separately in accordance with your local laws.
Composting is easy, fun, and a great way to enhance your overall experience in your garden. If you’re starting a compost heap for the first time, or even if you have one established, share pics with us on Facebook and Instagram and let us know how it’s going!