Compost is a critical building block for growing organic food at home. Be sure you’re using clean organic compost by making your own. Here are some pointers to get you started, so next year you won’t have to say — yet again — “I’ll do my own composting…um…next year.”
Buying organic compost to help you grow organic fruits, vegetables and herbs at home can work fine. But making your own compost is better. You know what’s in it, and you’re using materials you might otherwise waste. Plus, you can make it for free, or perhaps with a small investment up front.
We found a great summary on composting in the Grow Our Way blog produced by Safer Brand, a provider of organic gardening products. In addition to the summary in the blog post, you can download Grow Our Way’s 10-page ebook, “How to Compost,” for a more thorough guide.
These are some organic composting basics summarized from Grow Our Way and other sources:
The Best Organic Composting Materials
For backyard composting:
Mix carbon-rich “browns” with nitrogen-rich “greens” that you probably already have in your yard, garden, and kitchen. Brown refers to mostly dry material and green refers to moist materials like fresh grass clippings.
These are some of the most popular composting materials:
* Dead leaves and flowers
* Spoiled straw or hay
* crushed egg shells
* Wood ash or wood chips
* Shredded newspaper
* Grass clippings
* Uncooked fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps
* Manure from non-meat-eating animals like chickens or geese
* Coffee grounds
* Tea leaves
* Shrub prunings
In general, when deciding what to put into an organic compost pile or bin, look for materials that are:
* Free of harmful chemicals or toxins
* Cultivated from a lawn that doesn’t contain synthetic pesticides or herbicides
For worm composting:
If you grow food indoors year-round, such as with an indoor greenhouse or grow tent, this might be a great option for you. You can produce compost with worms during all seasons, and you can do it indoors.
Worms are perfectly engineered to make compost, and you can purchase them specifically for this purpose.
The basic method involves buying or building a bin and stocking it with worms and shredded bits of newspaper. Then place raw fruit and vegetable scraps in the bin, and let the squirmy critters eat their fill and send it out the other end as compost.
Here’s one way to build a worm composting system, from Mother Earth News.
Using a Compost Bin
You can create a compost pile if you have available yard space that rodents won’t have access to, or you can build your own compost bin. But inexpensive bins are available in various sizes, and they can make the process more convenient and safe.
The two main types of compost bins are:
1. Stationary compost bin
A cage made from wire fencing, wood or other sturdy material that provides sufficient ventilation. The bin is enclosed on the sides and top, and open on the bottom to allow the compost pile to maintain contact with the ground.
2. Rotating compost bin
These make it easy to turn the composting material — an important step in the process. A variation of the rotating bin is the tumbler, which is enclosed on all sides. The bin is suspended above the ground on a frame, so you can turn it manually.
Regularly turning your compost every week to 10 days with garden tools or with a rotating bin infuses the mix with oxygen and generates heat. This can significantly decrease composting times.
Layering the Compost Materials
This guide recommends a mix of roughly three parts brown material to one part green. Alternate layers of each as you build your compost. It’s a good idea to top off a layer of green material such as kitchen scraps with brown material, to attract fewer flies and other pests.
Don’t pile materials higher than about three feet. You don’t want it to pack down too tightly — it should be loose enough to breathe. The compost will shrink as it “cooks,” and you can add more grass clippings or fruit and vegetable scraps to it then, with another layer of brown material on top.
Water the pile if necessary so it feels about as moist as a damp sponge.
Using Your Organic Compost
Compost is usually considered ready to use when all of the ingredients are no longer identifiable. It should be dark brown and feel crumbly to the touch.
Key uses for organic compost include:
1. Seed booster
A mixture of two parts soilless seed mix with one part compost supplies your seeds with a steady stream of nutrients, without having to apply a synthetic fertilizing product.
2. Organic liquid fertilizer (a.k.a. “compost tea”)
Steep compost in a bucket of water for several days, and use the concoction as a mild organic fertilizer.
3. Potting mix
Fully decomposed compost in the potting mix for container plants helps provide a healthy balance between moisture retention and drainage. For best results, combine the compost with sand, perlite or vermiculite.
The e-book includes some good troubleshooting techniques and other tips for maintaining a healthy organic composting process.
If you’re committed to growing your own organic food at home, using organic seed varieties or plantings is only the start. To get all the benefits of organic food, you should also provide organic nutrients, starting with compost you know is clean and potent — because you made it that way.
Are you ready to grow your garden year-round?