Home Composting

Home composting is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to produce fertilizer for your own organic garden. Using plant material that you would otherwise throw away, you can produce very fertile soil in which to grow fruits, vegetables, flowers, or plants. Compost can be used straight or mixed into your soil as an amendment. To make your compost fully organic, add only organic or chemical free items to your pile. 

Compost Containers: There are a variety of compost containers available on the market. The truth is that you don't need one. Composting can be done by building a pile on the ground with your compost materials. Compost containers can be useful, however; if you would like to keep your yard looking neat and clean. If a compost pile has been properly maintained, it should not give off a smell. A container may be necessary if the compost pile is frequently visited by rats and mice. 

An advantage to pile composting is that the pile will be visited by worms which will help with the decomposition process and leave behind rich castings.

What to put on your compost pile: grass clippings, leaves, weeds without seed heads, fruit and vegetable peelings and trimmings, fruits and vegetables that have gone bad, egg shells, dead house plants, dropped leaves or flowers from house plants, dead flower, manure, saw dust, coffee grounds (you can also toss in the filter), tea bags, left over coffee and tea, shredded newspaper, pizza boxes, wood ashes, biocompostable paper and plastic items, water, or old fruit juices. 

What not to use: meat or dairy products, cigarette butts and ashes, dead animals, human waste, animal waste other then manure, yard trimmings that contain torns, flowers from a florist (they typically contain high levels of pesticides), or bush or tree branches. 

How to build a compost pile: Pick an out of the way spot in your yard where you can build a pile up to 3 feet x 3 feet.  In the back of the vegetable garden or behind a garage or shed are often good choices. Start by gathering materials for your pile. You might want to start with a fresh bag of grass clippings or bag of leaves. You don't need a lot of materials to start a pile, but you will want to gather a variety of materials. Start by layering your materials. For example; put down a layer of grass clippings followed by a layer of leaves and a layer of fruit and vegetable scraps. Once you have layered your pile, water it until it is slightly damp all the way through. It should be as damp as a rung out sponge. This method can also be used in compost bins. 

Once you have your pile built, you can add additional material to the pile by dumping it on top. In this manner, you should continue adding material as you gather it until the pile is large enough that it is difficult to turn. 

What your compost pile needs: There are two things your compost pile needs in order to break down properly:  oxygen and water. If your climate does not produce sufficient rain to keep your pile moist, you will need to water it. The center of your pile should be kept as moist as a wrung out sponge. 

You can provide oxygen to your pile by turning your pile regularly. The optimum time to turn your pile is every seven days. If the pile is turned to often, then it will release to much heat and slow decomposition. If it is not turned often enough, it will slow decomposition and start to produce gases such as methane and produce a smell. 

To turn your pile, us a pitch fork or shovel to mix all of the materials together. Do this by scooping up material and dumping it on top of the pile.  Mix until all of the materials have been thoroughly distributed. 

When your compost is done: When your pile is large enought to be difficult to turn, then stop adding material to it.  You may start a second pile. Continue turning and watering the pile regularly.  Your compost will be ready for use when it resembles dark, rich soil and none of the materials that have been added to it can be identified. 

Compost Problems: If you notice that your pile is not decomposing, here are some possible reasons:

Not enough green material: Your compost pile needs green, or nitrogen rich, material. If you have too much dry or dead material (such as saw dust or dry leaves) your pile will struggle. Add green material to your compost until you have a 50/50 ratio of green to brown material. It often helps speed up decomposition to add a bag of grass clippings.

Pieces to big: If the material you add to your compost pile is too big, it will break down very slowly. The solution is to chop up or break apart material until it is in the smallest pieces possible.

Not wet enough: If your pile does not have enough moisture, then it will not decompose. The center of your pile should be as damp as a wrung out sponge. Add water to your pile to maintain its moisture level.

To wet: If your pile is too wet, cover it with a tarp when it rains. Remove the tarp on sunny days. Do not water the pile until it has dried out.

Insufficient oxygen: If your pile is not properly turned, then the material inside the pile will decompose more slowly. It will also produce methane and other gases and smell. Throughly turn your pile making sure your materials are throughly mixed. Break up any clumps. 

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