When I was little my grandparents had a huge garden in their backyard. On their back stoop was a bucket and my grandma would say “take this to the bucket for me,” and I’d transfer apple peels from her counter to the bucket. When the bucket was full, it went to the back of the yard to a rather large compost heap. All the lawn clippings went in there too as well as egg shells, coffee grounds and more. My grandfather would take a pitch fork and turn it over every once in a while and I’ll never forget the smell. It wasn’t gross and rotten smelling – it smelled like earth. And it was HOT inside! As he turned it over it would release steam into the air and I could see worms crawling through it all. This is how I learned about composting in a pretty simple way. I didn’t know the science behind it then and I didn’t know how good this material was for the garden but I do now! We are going to start composting for our own garden this year and I’m actually sort of excited about it.
To get started you’ll need:
A large container to use as your composter. While you can use anything from a wooden box to a garbage can, or even just have a heap in your yard, most hardware stores sell bins specifically designed for composing. You’ll want to choose one that can allow air to circulate through and also one that has a tight fitting lid to discourage animals and pests from raiding the contents. We bought one that makes it easy for ‘turning’ your compost with the crank of a handle. But you may need a shovel or garden ‘fork’ for your style of bin.
As my grandma used a bucket, you’ll want some sort of container for your counter-top waste to make collecting kitchen scraps easy and convenient.
Green Material. Green material has high nitrogen content. This includes vegetable peels, fruit, fresh grass clippings, green yard waste, coffee grounds and manure.
Brown Material. Brown material is rich in carbon. This includes shredded paper, cardboard, egg cartons (not the styrofoam ones) dry leaves and sticks, coffee filters and wood chips or sawdust.
Worms are optional but they really do help!
Layer your green and brown materials in your composting container in a 1:3, green to brown ratio. Then let it hang out for a while, adding new materials as you collect them.
Keep the compost moist but not soaked. It should be damp like a freshly squeezed kitchen sponge. When you first set up your compost, give it a soak with your hose.
Let it heat up before you turn it. Once it starts going you can turn it once a week or so. Make sure you add your brown and green materials in quantities that maintain the ratio. You’ll know when your compost needs attention if things start to smell ‘wrong.’ If you notice it smelling bad, give it a turn and add in some more brown materials. If nothing seems to be happening at all, add more green materials and make sure it’s damp enough.
Do not try to compost: meat, oils, plastics, dairy products, items that are heavy in pesticides or any synthetic materials.
Well that’s the basics! I hope you give composting a try. Even small composts are worthwhile and the reward for your efforts will be happy, healthy garden and house plants.