I’ve read many articles and a few books on methods for composting, but it all boils down to tending, microbes and mixture. They all say just about the same thing, so I figure I’ll share the 5 steps we took to start composting successfully.
You see, we’ve got a lot going on, my husband works full-time and I tend to two little kids who, if they had their way, would take over the house and then some! Besides running around town, keeping the house half-way clean, cooking, and other odd projects I have going on, our compost can be neglected. While this is good, too much neglect equals little compost, so we settled on building a 3-bin system that would help us quickly produce compost while allowing for more neglect than usual.
The idea behind the 3-bin system is that one bin is resting, one is actively receiving and the other is somewhere in-between, or at least this is how we used ours before our move. We built it because we had too much to compost between the chickens, our kitchen scraps and yard waste and those tiny plastic bins from the big box stores weren’t cutting it. This system, made from pallets, worked well for us and held all we could possibly need for composting!
So you have land, you have a plethora of yard waste, kitchen scraps or you at least plan to, and you have decided to compost. Here are the 5 steps we took towards composting and creating black gold for our gardens.
- Choose Your System: Pick which system you want to work with, based on how much time and effort you want to put in to composting, most are relatively maintenance free, however some are easier than others. You can do the 3-bin system like we did, or you can choose from any of the following options: Heap, which is just as it sounds, heaping your compostables into a pile. Wire, Wood, or Plastic bin, which is a single bin made of plastic, wood, or wire. You can do a tumbling bin, which is still a single bin but you can rotate it with a handle, it takes away the hassle of “stirring” your compost periodically with a shovel or pitchfork. Finally, vermi-composting, which I personally find to be complicated but if you have limited space, and still want to compost this a great option.
- Pick Your Location: Ideally you’ll have an area on your property that is not in full sun. Having the compost in partial shade allows the mixture to warm up but not cook. If it is in full sun, moisture will not be retained, and the microbes will have a harder time breaking down all that “yummy” material into the nutritious dirt for your garden. Also be sure that the compost is easy to get to and close enough to your house that you will actually use it, even during the winter.
- Know the Purpose of Your Compost: Are you making a lot of compost to start your spring garden, or to amend soil to begin a new garden? Trying to reduce your trash production by taking out organic material from your garbage can? Looking for a quick solution until you know more of what your goals are? These are some questions to consider, and will help you know what size compost pile you want and how quickly you want it.
- Know the Proper Mix: As I said above the “proper” mixture can be found simply with a quick google search, however, some sites can make composting seem out of reach by listing a complicated set of requirements. Composting is really very simple. Just avoid dairy, meat and items that are too large or thick, i.e. tree branches. If you put in as much yard waste as you do kitchen scrapes you should be good. Every time I “stir” my mix, maybe once a month, I toss some dirt in to freshen up the microbes. You stir to add oxygen to the mix, which is necessary for decomposition. Finally, if my mix is too dry I add water, so that everything is nice and moist, adding to the ability of the microbes and a host of other organisms decomposing the organic material. See? Nice and easy.
- Voila! You’re Composting: So you’ve set everything up, and added the right mix, stir frequently and wait just the right amount of time. Congratulations you have a compost and it’s working! How do you know when your soil is actually ready? When you can no longer discern what is what in it. There might be tiny, noticeable pieces of things, but they should be small and the mix should mostly look like dark dirt. There should not be a strong smell, other than an earthy one, and ideally few insects, or other organisms, besides the microbes, will be present as they have little left to feed off of and have moved on to other compostables.
If you follow these 5, easy steps you should be well on your way to the black gold that gardeners love, and your plants love even more!