Compost is also known as the universal cure to your ailing soil and by far the most effective way to enrich it naturally.
It is an excellent soil conditioner. It improves soil moisture retention and it is rich in micro-nutrients which are slowly released and easily absorbed by plants.
It is a natural process where microorganisms break any kitchen scraps and other organic materials and turn it into a beneficial substance. With that being said, composting is an easy and natural way to reduce kitchen waste.
If you’re new to composting, knowing and understanding the basics is the key to getting started. You’ll be able to manage and maintain your compost with minimal concerns which will give you the utmost benefits. Also, it’s a lot of fun!
Here are some tips to start a compost in your backyard and create a valuable resource for your garden while diverting kitchen scraps away from landfills.
How To Compost As Beginners
What Do You Need?
The appropriate tools and the right ingredients are all you need to get started. Don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it sounds!
- You can use a readily available compost bin that you can buy at your local hardware store or make a homemade compost bin by using timber and chicken wire as displayed above.
- A garden fork (to use as a compost turner.)
- Watering hose
- Compost thermometer
The Right Ingredients
There are two types of compost materials which are: the green nitrogen-rich or the brown carbon-rich. Here are some of the examples.
- Kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps
- Rice & pasta
- Coffee grinds
- Grass clippings
- Domestic animal manure (cow, chicken, or horse)
- Dried leaves
- Hay and Straw
- Shredded cardboard.
Do Not Add:
- Human feces (It is best to avoid using human feces in your compost. It carries diseases that can infect humans aside from its unpleasant odor.) I know this sounds bizarre and gross but it’s brought up time to time.
- Meat, bones, and fats (The presence of meat and fats in the compost bin can slow down the composting process, aside from attracting rodents that carry harmful bacteria.)
- Weeds with an invasive root system (Weeds with a destructive root system can be a big problem unless the compost pile gets hot enough to kill the seeds off.)
- Pressure-treated woods (You should not include chemically treated products such as wood into the compost pile. A study shows that wood treated chemically can leach arsenic into the soil when used in compost bins and raised beds.)
- Diseased plants
- Whole eggs
- Poultry and fish
- Pernicious weeds
- Car litter
- Other non-organic materials
How To Start Your Compost?
Composting is just like adding your ingredients into your compost bin in balance quantities.
Just think of your compost as lasagna, you have to add green and brown ingredients in alternating layers to create a quality compost. Simple right?
Tip 1 – Look For The Right Location
Start by finding a good location for your compost bin. Position your compost bin in a spot where it is convenient for you to use and easy to access from the kitchen.
You can place them either in the sun or in the shade. However, you must know that the warmer the location, the quicker the compost will break down. Keep that mind.
Tip 2 – Lay The First Layer Of Your Compost
When creating the first layer of your compost, it is best to use brown ingredients such as dried leaves and twigs.
Put them at the bottom of the compost and water thoroughly. Water promotes bacterial growth, helping your compost to start breaking down.
Tip 3 – Add The Second Layer Of Compost
Since the first layer consists of brown components, the second layer should include the green ingredients.
You can add grass clippings, kitchen scraps, or any other green waste you can find to have the same thickness as the first layer of your brown ingredients.
Tip 4 – Keep Alternating The Layers Of Ingredients
For your third and fourth layers of ingredients, you can again add the green and brown components in an alternating procedure.
Include materials like shredded newspapers, straw, and vegetable scraps when available. Add an adequate amount of water to moisten the compost.
Tip 5 – Add A Thin Layer Of Soil Into The Compost
Now, get soil from your garden. Add a thin layer to help keep flies and other unwanted critters away. It will also help improve your compost by enriching the ingredients for the microorganisms to break away at it.
You can now add more kitchen scraps and other organic materials to your bin. Keep adding green and brown materials in alternating layers until the bin is nearly full.
However, whenever you empty your scrap bucket, always cover by adding another layer of brown ingredients to generate a balance breakdown and enrich the compost.
Tip 6 – Add Moisture Into Your Compost Pile
Water each layer of the compost sparingly using your garden hose. (One of the common mistakes people make is adding too much moisture into the compost pile.)
The right moisture content is an essential factor you need to consider to make your compost pile work efficiently.
The ideal moisture content in an active compost pile is between 50-60%. But how many of us know how to measure the appropriate amount?
Let’s save those highly technical and complicated ways to calculate moisture for the professionals.
Instead, here is a time tested simple trick on how to judge the moisture content in your compost. Go and take a handful of compost from the midst of your pile and squeeze it in your hand.
- The compost is too wet if you can squeeze water out of it.
- The compost is too dry if it does not release water. Instead, it crumbles apart when released.
- The compost is just right if it does not release water and stays compacted when you squeeze.
Tip 7 – Turn The Compost Pile
Once your compost bin is nearly full, start turning the pile using your garden fork. You can do this every 14 days until all the components break down. Doing so will help the compost decay faster.
When you create your pile correctly, the internal temperature should reach 140° F within ten days. The ideal pile must heat up to 160° F, which is enough to kill weed seeds and pathogens.
Bacteria needs air to survive. But after a week of having an ideal temperature, microbes start to die off because there is no more available air in the compost.
As the amount of bacteria dies, the compost pile will start cooling off from its peak temperature. It is now the right time to turn and aerate the compost pile.
Also, as you turn your compost pile, split up any clumps of leaves and grass clippings to ensure air can get into the compost pile. Lightly water the compost if it seems too dry.
Tip 8 – Your Compost Is Ready!
It takes from two weeks up to 12 months to produce a humus-rich compost. The duration differs depending on the materials and procedure you used, how often you turn the pile, and the ratio between brown and green ingredients.
To tell when the compost is ready varies on how and where you will use the substance.
Usually, your compost is ready when it looks like a rich, dark loam. It has to be crumbly with a pleasant earthy-like smell.
The balance of green nitrogen-rich and brown carbon-rich materials, along with the right method of layering the ingredients efficiently promotes the breakdown.
Note: Do not use your compost too early. Unfinished compost can burn plants, particularly younger ones. It also prevents seeds from germinating.
The Ideal Ratio Of Carbon And Nitrogen
You can achieve a compost pile with temperatures of up to 140°F/60°C when the C:N ratio of all the materials you add can range to an average of 30:1
A balanced diet for microorganisms responsible for digesting the compost requires 30 parts of carbon for every part of the nitrogen consumed.
If nitrogen in the compost is too much for the microorganisms to use, the excess will evaporate as ammonia gas.
Nitrogen loss in the pile can range up to 60%. It is too valuable for your plants to let it just evaporate into the atmosphere.
Note: Avoid this mistake!
It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need a volume of brown materials that are 30x greater than the number of green ingredients.
This ratio describes the chemical composition of the materials used in the compost.
5 Frequently Asked Questions
1) Why Does My Compost Smell Bad?
An outbalance combination such as too much moisture and not enough air is often the cause of the strong smell in your compost.
To address this type of problem, you can go and turn your compost to get it aerated. Add a layer of brown materials if you find the pile has too much moisture.
Also, ensure that every time you add green ingredients, you would also add enough amount of brown materials. Remember to always keep the compost in balance.
2) What Should I Do To Keep Rodents Away From My Compost?
Rodents dig holes underneath the soil to break into your compost.
Dig a chicken wire fence into the ground surrounding the compost. This will safeguard your food scraps and discourage rodents from intruding.
Avoid adding ingredients like fish, meat, and dairy because their specific smell is quite strong and will attract many more rodents.
3) Why Isn’t My Compost Breaking Down?
Compost does not decay quickly if it’s too wet, too dry, or does not receive the right amount of air it requires.
If the compost is too dry, you can water the layers until it looks like a moist sponge.
If the compost is too wet, add brown materials like newspapers or straw to help absorb moisture excess.
Also, every time you add ingredients to your compost, ensure you’re giving an equal amount of green and brown materials. You also have to turn the pile regularly to keep the compost aerated. This will help to resolve your compost problems.
4) Can Compost Kill Plants?
Uncured compost has an unstable nature that can harm plants when used. It contains a high level of ammonia that makes the soil too acidic, resulting in weakening or the death of plants.
It also reduces the amount of nitrogen available to plants. Microorganisms in the compost will continue to break down materials that have not fully decomposed, taking up the nitrogen in the soil for themselves.
Phytotoxicity is a negative effect to plant growth caused by uncured compost. It lessens oxygen and nitrogen in the soil, making it difficult for plants to grow.
5) Do You Still Need Fertilizer Even If You Use Organic Compost In Your Garden?
It all depends on the soil and the nutrient requirements of the plants that you are growing. Compost provides micro-nutrients with your plant needs, but it happens gradually in small doses during the entire growing season.
If the soil in your garden isn’t fertile and you are growing a crop that needs a higher dose of nitrogen right after planting, then you would like it to supplement with other types of fertilizer.
It is always best to have your soil tested in a reputable soil testing laboratory for a reliable result. You can then make your decision if your plants need more fertilizer or not, based on the results of the tests.
To clearly understand if your plants need more fertilizer or not, you can checkout our article:
Final Thoughts On Composting For Beginners
Composting is a fun activity that helps you cut down waste production and put your kitchen scraps to exceptional use in gardening.
You don’t need to be knowledgeable to get started. All you need is to learn the basics, dedicate an adequate amount of space, have the tools and supplies to start and you will be able to make it a success.
Expert gardeners know that the work given in composting can provide high returns and quality. Your interest in learning how to compost could bring changes into your garden for the better. Believe me, composting wouldn’t be this popular if it weren’t for its success. With that being said, why not start composting today?
If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to ask below. We are always happy to help. Happy composting!