Have you gotten into gardening recently and want to learn how to make your own compost? Compost is a great resource for home gardens because it puts minerals back in the soil for peak production of flowers and veggies, plus you can make it out of things you already have around. Here is how to make your own clean compost, with a few tips on avoiding common problems.
What is clean compost?
Clean compost is a natural fertilizer made of natural ingredients including the following:
- – Yard waste and leaves
- – Garden waste such as leftover plant stems
- – Kitchen vegetable scraps and eggshells
Clean compost is compost that avoids a lot of the following problems you don’t want in your garden:
- – Pesticides
- – Chemical fertilizers
- – The wrong mineral balance in your soil
- – Pests
- – Non-beneficial molds
Why you need compost to keep your garden productive
When you first plant your garden, maybe you didn’t know your soil needed to have a certain balance of nutrients, or maybe you did test that and amend it. But soil needs to be constantly renewed and rebalanced to avoid your soil becoming less productive. This is because when you grow vegetables and flowers in your garden, they pull the nutrients they need out of the soil.
Got a lot of weed pressure? Even weeds will pull nitrogen and other nutrients out of the soil, along with your yearly planted crops. The problem with these soil nutrient imbalances is that it can cause your garden to grow less quickly over time. Some plants might even fail entirely, and it will be hard to pinpoint why. Here is how to avoid soil nutrient deficiencies making your garden less productive over time:
- – Check your soil nutrient balance using a home soil nutrient test kit or mail your soil sample to your local agriculture department for testing (this is what some farmers do every year as their crop depends on healthy soil every year).
- – Order compost from a local landscaper or organic farm to get started if you need a lot (or buy compost in a bag if you only need a little).
- – Amend your soil with sand and extra lime (not the same as the fruit, this is made of limestone) if you are growing berries or acid-loving fruits.
- – Buy an organic fertilizer that replaces the deficient nutrients in your soil, or make your own compost to keep the soil replenished every year.
Obviously, if you don’t want to go to all this trouble, the easiest option is to make your own compost. Great news! This is super easy and can become a natural part of gardening that uses garden waste you already have on hand.
How to make composting a natural part of gardening
If you’re gardening, even if you’re still at the stage of ripping up a field or lawn to plant a garden, you probably have some garden and yard waste lying around. Throw this in a pile in a convenient location such as just outside your garden. Here is the balance you want and what you can throw on that pile:
- – Garden waste like plant stems, grass, and weeds (but don’t include weed seeds or they will end up back in your garden)
- – Yard waste such as dry leaves from raking
- – Kitchen scraps: this can include vegetables, fruits, eggshells, and coffee grounds but no animal fats please or your compost will turn rancid and rot
- – A bit of water if it is dry
Turn your pile every couple of weeks, and plan on a pile that is several feet deep and wide at a minimum to give it enough heat and mass to start turning to dirt. Smaller piles will just sit. Larger piles could even catch on fire, so it’s best to have several piles at various stages of composting rather than your own mini landfill.
If you get bugs or your pile is wet and stinks, add more dry leaves. This will keep your compost balanced. To start, you might even want one-third green garden and kitchen waste and two-thirds dry leaves. Don’t have enough from your yard? I’m sure a neighbor or your local city composting department can help you out.
I know people in the city who take leaves from nearby curbs before leaf pickup. Out in the country where we live there are always dry leaves somewhere lying around the woods or yard. It’s a lot easier than you think once you learn how to keep your compost dry enough.
Once you have a compost pile going, you can throw wheelbarrows of garden waste and tins of kitchen waste on the pile until it’s a few feet high and wide, then move on to the next pile in a row. The oldest pile will be ready to use as compost in a couple of months, sooner if you live in a hot environment or turn it often. Even a passive compost pile will still compact down into useable dirt at the bottom, which you can fork over your plant beds in the spring.
Troubleshooting problems in your compost pile
So you followed this advice and your pile still looks like steaming animal poo? Well, there are a variety of methods for composting. I have given you the easiest one here, but you could also try the following if your climate or ingredients aren’t making very good compost for you, or it’s just not moving fast enough:
- – Buy a compost bin with a lid to avoid looking at or smelling the compost until it’s ready (most rotate on a spit-like barrel spinner so you don’t have to fork the pile or have a door at the bottom to shovel out useable dirt without opening the top to turn the pile.
- – Try other methods of composting called “hot composting,” in which you have larger piles or closed containers that sit longer but make better compost more reliably. The only caveat here is that if you hot compost, you need to be careful to follow instructions to the letter to avoid bacteria ending up in your garden.
- – Give up and buy compost. It’s not the end of the world. Landscapers and farmers are happy to truck you an entire 100-yard load of compost for a fee, and your plants will be back in business.
Happy composting! Just remember that whatever you put into your compost comes out the other end. Avoid putting in anything that has pesticides, fertilizers, plastic or metal waste, glass (it’s not toxic, but it’s sharp!) or other trash in your compost input. Then what you get out will be black gold. The perfect soil for the most productive garden.
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