Tips For Making Your Own Compost ~ Doable and practical tips that will help get rid of kitchen and garden scraps as well add nutrients to your garden soil.
Do you have your own compost or are you thinking of starting one? I have been composting for years and through trial and error have learned what works and what doesn’t work. I am not a degreed expert but I like to think that I’m knowledgeable. I have learned that making your own compost can be a very technical scientific process which between you and I is too complicated for me. Or it can be a very simple routine that just requires a little bit of know-how. It’s the very easy simple version that I use and am sharing with you!
Before I get started I want to let you know that I live in a Zone 3 gardening area with a shorter growing season. We can still get freezing temperatures into the month of May and snow usually returns around the end of October with a pretty hot and dry summer in between. These climate conditions also impact the composting process. Since we have hot weather for a shorter period of time, it takes longer for the organic matter to turn to compost so I have to do a few things to help speed things along.
This is one on my longer article on this blog. Apparently I have a lot to say when it comes to giving tips for making your own compost!
I love to make my own compost. It is quite amazing to be able to turn this ….
into this ‘black gold’ for the soil ….
and it really isn’t that difficult to do! Let’s get started with…
Tips For Making Your Own Compost
~ HAVE a container handy in your kitchen for collecting your kitchen waste. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I just use this stainless steel mixing bowl with a plastic lid. I give more detail in My Inexpensive Handy Kitchen Compost Bowl. I think this is an essential tip to start with because if it isn’t convenient for you and is something that creates a lot more work in your busy schedule, chances are you won’t do it.
~ CHOOSE what method of composting you want to do and what type of compost bin you want to work with. I use the popular aeration method. I purchased two tall plastic compost bins with a lid that are easy to assemble. You will want to read Sharing My Easy Two Bin Garden Compost System for how this system is so easy to do and makes loads of compost.
~ MAKE emptying your compost bowl in the compost bin a daily routine. It is part of our after dinner clean-up routine along with doing the dishes and sweeping the floor. I don’t wait for the bowl to be full before I empty it because it starts to get smelly and I don’t want to encourage the fruit flies to hang around.
~ UNDERSTAND what is not acceptable to put into your compost. I won’t go into detail as to why but adding these to your compost will create issues: dairy products, meat, carnivorous animal feces, chemical cleaners, cigarette butts, whole eggs raw or cooked, wood ashes, treated leather, sugar, whole eggs, rhubarb leaves and weeds that have gone to seed.
~ KNOW what organic matter can be used to make compost. The obvious acceptable choices are vegetable peels and waste, fruit peels and waste, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, nuts, pits, seeds, breads, cereal, pasta, corn cobs, cut flowers and stems, healthy houseplants, and what I call light garden waste including flowers and stems from the Fall garden clean up. Other additions are grass clippings, leaves, newspapers and wet paper towels. Less obvious choices but also are acceptable are vacuum or vacu flo dust, dryer lint, human urine, human and pet hair, fabric made from natural materials, small herbivore animal feces and weeds that haven’t gone to seed.
~ EXPERIMENT with what acceptable options work for your routine and what decomposes easily in your area and compost bin. I only collect the following and my compost bin fills up quite nicely to make loads of rich compost. This is what I just emptied out of one of my compost bins and dug into the garden.
These are the only items I add: vegetable peels and waste, fruit peels and waste, coffee grounds, tea bags, cut flowers, crushed egg shells, houseplants, soft garden waste and wet paper towels.
I don’t add the following and the reasons why:
- Grass clippings, leaves and hard garden waste as in plant stalk and branches take up too much room in a short time and take a long time to decompose. I take these to the town eco centre instead for composting.
- Other items that take too long are large pits, peanut shells and corn cobs. These also get taken to the town eco centre for composting.
- I don’t want to add anything that might attract animals. I choose not to include bread, pasta, nuts, seeds and legumes. We don’t have racoons where I live but deer, rabbits, fox, lots of birds, mice stop by the yard and I had a snake slithering through my garden just yesterday!
- I had mice in my compost several years ago and that is why I don’t add anything that they could possibly make their visit more comfortable. That’s why I don’t add newspaper and dryer lint just in case they want to use it to make a cozy home and I only add wet paper towel so that can’t be used either. It’s also essential to stir the compost regularly which I talk about a little later on.
- Other items I don’t add are any type of weeds. My compost bins are only so big and I just want to make sure they are filled with what I feel is the best organic material to add back into my garden. I spend hours weeding so it doesn’t make sense to me to put the weeds back into the compost bin so they can go back into my garden. When it comes to human urine … I just don’t see myself peeing into a cup but apparently it is high in nitrogen and is great for speeding up the composting process. Who knew?
~ AMEND the organic matter in your compost bin. When you add compost to your garden you are adding an amendment and enriching the quality of the soil content. Other amendments include peat moss, manure, and bone meal. A few years ago I started to add amendments to my compost too with the thinking that it would help make it even more nourishing for the soil and help the decomposing process. About once a week I will add about ½ cup of compost accelerator and peat moss and a couple of tablespoons of bone meal. I have recently also been adding a small scoop of zeolite which apparently helps to keep the compost from getting smelly. On that note, my compost has never been smelly but I thought it wouldn’t hurt. One last thing I amend my compost with is a couple of cups of compost that I saved and stored in a bin beside the compost bins. My theory is that this adds microorganisms into the decomposing compost and helps to speed things up. If I run out of the saved compost then I will add a couple of cups of quality purchased soil instead.
~ STIR the compost regularly. I use a pitchfork or a hoe to roughly stir things around inside the bin. This allows for air to flow through and mixes in the added amendments that I mentioned previously. A negative feature about the tall compost bins that I use is the design makes it difficult to do a good job stirring. So I just stir the contents in the compost bin every time I add some organic waste or amendments. It literally takes seconds and then it is done regularly. As the compost pile builds up the bottom contents will have been stirred several times and will be well under its way into the composting process.
~ MOISTEN the contents of the compost bin regularly. Notice I didn’t use the terms ‘water’ or ‘soak’ and that’s for a reason. This is where you are learning from my trial and errors. One year I thought it would be a smart thing to really soak the waste and poured loads of water from the outdoor tap into the bin all summer but all I ended up with was really compacted mush. You want to keep the contents wet to touch, not soaking. When you dig out the compost after it’s completed it should feel moist but crumbly. So I recommend a regular sprinkling of water or on an as needed basis if your compost looks too dry.
You also don’t have to just moisten your compost with water. I also recommend adding your leftover brewed coffee and tea (without milk) and vegetable cooking water. I figure why pour this good stuff down the drain when it can go into the compost so I just add it to my kitchen compost bowl too.
~ CHOP or crush larger pieces of the organic waste into smaller pieces to help boost the decomposing process along. I cut larger rinds or peels from watermelon, cantaloupe and squash into smaller pieces. That goes the same for flower stems and I will quickly take apart the flowers. Egg shells take a really long time to decompose but they are so good for the soil too. Before I add them to my kitchen compost bowl I will give them a rinse and crush them with my hands wrapped inside a piece of paper towel. Then I will wet the paper towel with tap water and toss it loosely into the bowl.
~ BE PATIENT. Decomposing organic matter takes time. Where I live and using the tips I have explained so far it takes a full year to make that good rich black gold. I know in warmer climates the process may be only half that time.
~ LEARN more about composting from different sources. As you build your knowledge base and experiment a bit you will find out what works for you and what does not through your own trial and error process. Hopefully my tips provide a good base to get you started or help improve your composting routine.
Although Composting For Canada by Suzanne Lewis is written for Canadian climate conditions the excellent information is useful for other areas too.
~ TRAIN your family members and even guests who are staying with you and helping out in the kitchen. I have been known to pick out a tossed banana peel out of the garbage and put it into the kitchen compost bowl without someone looking.
Why do I compost? First of all, I LOVE gardening and making my own compost is part of that passion. It’s a pretty easy routine to get into if you follow these simple tips. The bonus is you have created a great amendment to add to your garden soil that will benefit your growing plants. Compost helps naturally areate and slowly releases balanced nutrients into the soil. It saves money so you don’t have to buy compost and it helps our Earth by keeping organic waste out of the landfill sites.
Here are some of the perennial flowers that grew in my garden last year!
I hope these simple tips for making your own compost are doable and helpful! Is there anything else that works for you? I’d leave to hear.