Just compost!

Last week was International Compost Week, and since we missed it here, the pressure’s off and we can just focus on the process of starting a compost pile.

Compost is a mixture of decayed organic matter (from vegetable peelings to manure) that provides rich fertilizer for soil (humus — not to be confused with hummus, the chickpea-based snack food). For the home gardener, compost is a great source of soil enrichment — and a way to recycle a significant amount of the heavy, stinky, gas-producing components of garbage.

Some cities have green waste recycling programs – essentially a city compost program. If yours doesn’t — or if you want to reuse your organic garbage — compost on.

Note that “organic” simply means something that grew — and while waste that is organic in the sense of no pesticides is better, any organic/grown matter can make compost.

How to compost

At its simplest:

  1. Find a place to put your organic matter. A container of some sort is best, because it keeps out critters like squirrels and neighborhood cats (and, if you asked me at 10:00 last night when one side of our bin detached in the wind, the dog who frequents your own back yard). But you can just make a pile in
    a corner of the yard, too. Sometimes compost smells, so a site downwind from your patio and not too close to your neighbor’s yard is most humane.

  2. Put some “green” stuff in the bin/pile. Green stuff, for composting, is stuff that is rich in nitrogen and not dry (carbon). This includes grass clippings, thinnings from your vegetables (that you don’t eat), peelings and leftover vegetables, livestock manure, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, urine, what have you.

  3. Put an approximately equal amount of “dry” or “brown” stuff (carbon-rich matter) in the bin/pile. This is just what it sounds like: Grass clippings you’ve let dry, leaves saved up from the fall, hay, etc. In fact, check out the EPA’s compost page, which has great “in” and “out” lists. It says you can compost cardboard rolls (like toilet paper tubes) and clean paper (per the shredding discussion we had a while back on this blog). This is excellent news, because in my experience, brown stuff is much harder to come by than green.

  4. Do NOT include: meat or dairy products, pet poop, human poop (did I need to tell you that?), or weeds with seeds (lest you grow a big healthy crop of just what you’re trying to eradicate).

  5. Give it a little water.

  6. “Turn” it. This means poke and shovel it around so it gets mixed up well. Ambitious composters will “turn” their pile frequently (every week or so) and even be sure to poke air holes in the pile so air can get to the bottom layers. Lazy composters will just leave it to rot, and eventually, it will.

  7. Watch it get hot. “Hot” is literal. The decaying action will release heat, and in a healthy compost pile, the middle of the pile will turn ashy gray. That’s an excellent sign! It’s working! Go, Mother Nature!

  8. Let it cool down. Just let it do its job.

  9. Put it on your garden or make “compost tea” (caution: If you are an easily intimidated novice, don’t click that link – it’s intense!). Your plants will love you, and so will the landfill. Plus you’ll save the $3 a bag or so that you’re spending on purchased compost — all while recycling your waste.

What if you don’t have a yard? Perhaps vermicomposting (worm compost) is for you. Read all about it at this site.

And now, what did I miss? Share your own trials, tribulations and tips with composting – ’tis the season.


4 thoughts on “Just compost!

  1. L'an says:

    I love making stuffed portobello mushroom caps–you scrape out the gills, fill with cheese/spinach/spices and bake–and so for a while we were throwing *lots* of mushroom gills into the compost. We’re also lazy composters, meaning that everything gets tossed in, but rarely turned, and maybe once a year we’ll shift around the un-composted stuff to get at the thick rich soil-y compost at the bottom. Last time we did this at our old house (where all those mushroom gills went into the pile) we were amazed and thrilled to discover, under a layer or two of still-recognizable flower stems and the like, a very healthy patch of home-grown portobellos 🙂

  2. jean says:

    I have access to a lot of shredded paper and would like to use it in my yard. I had thought of putting it on the ground, wetting it down to make a mushy consistency and then covering it with dirt. Since I have some areas that need to be built-up in my yard, I thought this would be a useful way to use the shredded paper and save money on dirt as well since it shouldn’t take as much dirt to fill up the holes, etc.

    Do you see any problems with this idea?

  3. cheaplikeme says:

    @jean, I don’t think it’s a problem, although I don’t know if you’d want to wet it down … if your soil dries out after you add it, I’d think the paper might turn into a papier-mache-like consistency that would make it hard for water to get through.

    I found another answer for you here. It notes the following caution:

    Working a little shredded paper directly into the soil is fine. It’ll quickly decay and add organic matter (not to mention serving as a nice “dessert” for earthworms). How much is a little? I’d go with an inch or less of paper worked into the top 8 to 12 inches of soil.

    If you overdo it, the main concern is tying up some of the soil’s nitrogen that the paper would use in the decomposition process. Nitrogen is a key nutrient needed for plant growth.

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