“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. ” May Sarton
As spring draws nearer, a gardener’s mind races thinking of all that will need to be done to prepare for the garden. Whether you are flower or vegetable gardening or both, composting has so many benefits.
While we were on the farm we always had several compost piles going. Any damaged produce we couldn’t use for market either went to our pigs and chickens or into the compost piles. Also, any produce left from either the farmers markets and what I couldn’t put up for my family went into our compost piles. Later I used this in all of my raised beds for the added environmental, & nutritional value.
What is composting?
Composting is simply the natural process of breaking down organic matter including food scraps and yard waste. What you get in return is a nutrient-rich soil amendment called compost. This process greatly improves the health and fertility of your garden soil.
PRO TIP: When using kitchen scraps it is important to only use items such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grains, and eggshells. Do not add any animal fats or meats as these will indeed draw unwanted pests. See my chart below for do’s and don’ts.
How do I start composting?
In order to begin composting, you’ll need an area designated for either a compost pile or a bin. The bin can be purchased or hand made, and the pile can be as simple as a corner of your yard. You may want to consider an enclosed bin in order to keep those nasty critters out, especially if you are in the city or a subdivision. Enclosed bins also help to keep in heat and moisture making the process quicker.
The key to successful composting is simple. You will need to keep a balance of carbon-rich materials, such as dried leaves and twigs, along with nitrogen-rich materials, such as grass clippings and kitchen scraps. A good ratio to aim for is about 30:1 carbon to nitrogen.
What do I do once I have my bin or pile area chosen?
Once you have your bin or pile set up, you’ll begin adding materials to it. Start with a layer of dried leaves, small twigs or branches you’ve collected from your yard, and/or straw. A mixture of all three is a great way to start adding carbon rich materials. If you have a fireplace where you only burn wood, you can also use your wood ash here
Next you’ll add some nitrogen-rich materials, such as grass clippings or kitchen scraps. Keep adding layers, alternating between carbon and nitrogen materials, until the bin or pile is full. As you add materials, be sure to keep the compost damp but not waterlogged, and turn the pile every few weeks to help aerate it and speed up the decomposition process. You can use a pitch fork to turn your pile, unless you have a bin that you can turn with a built-in handle.
PRO TIP: You can add your kitchen scraps to the pile or bin all winter long as well.
When can I start to use my compost?
You must be patient, composting is not for the faint of heart or one (like myself) that enjoys instant gratification. Composting, like gardening, has definitely helped me learn the art of patience. Well, at least outside 😉
It will take several months for the materials in your compost bin or pile to break down into a dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling soil amendment ready for use. This is your finished product, the fruits of your labor. Now, it is ready to be used in your garden.
What are the benefits to composting?
Where do I begin as there are so many! First, compost improves your soil structure, fertility while increasing water retention in soil which allows plants to grow stronger and healthier. In addition, composting helps reduce the need for chemical fertilizers due to the organic nutrients naturally created by the process of composting.
Compost also contains beneficial microorganisms which aid in suppressing plant diseases and pests.
How do I use my compost in my gardens?
It’s so easy! Simply spread a 2 inch layer of your fresh compost over the surface of the soil and work it in with a rake or trowel. You can also mix it into the soil when planting new beds or adding new plants to existing beds.
PRO TIP: Compost also makes an incredible fertilizer by making it into a compost tea! All you have to do is take your finished compost and steep it in water for about 24 hours. Strain the compost using a colander and then water your plants. You can use the strained compost and put it back into your pile or bin, or simply toss it in your garden! Easy peasy!
I certainly hope you are encouraged & excited to start your own compost pile or bin. Even if you start with just a compost bucket, only that’s a great start!
Don’t be dismayed if you don’t have a yard to garden in, container gardening is a great alternative.
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