Compost at Home
Composting systems range from simple, unenclosed piles that produce compost slowly, to turning units that produce compost in a matter of a few months. Which works best for you will depend on the size of your yard, how much yard debris you produce and the amount of time you want to spend composting. Read on to learn how.
While bins are not technically needed for composting, they keep piles neat, organized, and out of the reach of pests and children. Bins can be made of wire mesh, old fencing, wooden pallets, or wood and wire. Numerous types of manufactured holding bins are available for purchase.
Place the bin in a convenient location. Sun or shade levels aren’t critical. Simply drop yard debris into the bin and add water as necessary to maintain proper moisture. Once or twice a year, harvest the finished compost from the bottom or inside the pile. Chopping or shredding the materials (especially woody debris), balancing high-carbon and high-nitrogen materials, and maintaining proper moisture and aeration will help speed the process.
These are used just like a holding bin, but produce compost almost as fast as turning bins. Closed-air composting uses bins, sometimes called digesters, that have solid sides and tight-fitting lids to conserve moisture and hold in any unpleasant odors. This type of bin eliminates the visible clutter of composting kitchen scraps.
Place the bin in a sunny location. Don’t turn the contents. If they dry out, add water. If they become soggy, add dry ingredients. Spread a thin layer of dry leaves or soil over every 6 to 8 inches of waste to control odors and ensure an adequate bacteria supply.
These are designed to make hot, fast compost piles. Hot piles require some effort, but the compost is typically of a higher quality, because the materials are better blended and the high temperatures kill weed seeds and many plant diseases.
Chop up the materials with clippers, a machete, or mower and they will compost more quickly.
Mix quantities of brown (high-carbon materials), such as leaves, and green materials (high-nitrogen) materials, such as grass.
Dampen materials until they feel like a wrung-out sponge.
Use Your Compost
Compost holds nutrients in the soil until plants can use them, loosens and aerates clay soils, and retains water in sandy soils.
As a soil amendment...Mix 2 to 5 inches of compost into vegetable and flower gardens each year before planting.
As a potting mixture...Add one part compost to two parts commercial potting soil, or make your own mixture by using equal parts of compost and sand or perlite.
As a mulch...Spread an inch or two of compost around annual flowers and vegetables, and up to 6 inches around trees and shrubs.
As a top dressing...Mix finely sifted compost with sand, and sprinkle evenly over lawns.
This is the simplest way to recycle organic materials at home. These methods of composting use many types of organic wastes in their original form as mulch, or buried into the soil. Mulching enriches the soil, suppresses weeds, conserves moisture, prevents soil erosion, and protects plants from cold. Use grass clippings, leaves, straw, manure, sawdust, bark and wood chips as mulch around trees, shrubs and other perennial plantings. In annual flower and vegetable gardens, use only non-woody mulches (i.e., grass clippings and leaves) that break down quickly. Soil incorporation means simply burying organic materials right into the soil. Because of the absence of air, some nutrients will be lost. Grass clippings, leaves and soft garden wastes can be tilled directly into garden beds.
To bury vegetable and fruit scraps, dig a hole, put scraps in and chop and mix with the soil, then cover with at least 8 inches of soil. Bury vegetable and fruit scraps around the drip lines of trees or shrubs or in garden trenches. These burial spaces become usable garden space the following season.
Grass recycling saves time spent bagging and can reduce annual fertilizer needs. Remove excess thatch (over 1/2 inch), then leave clippings on the lawn. Keep your mower blade sharp. Mow frequently when the grass is dry and at the recommended cutting level for your type of turf. Never cut more than 1/3 of the grass length. Avoid over-fertilizing or over-watering.