A Brief Guide To Composting For Beginners

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compost sign by kirsty hall

image: Kirsty Hall

Composting is an easy, inexpensive, and natural way to add vitamins and minerals back to the soil. If you’ve put off composting because you thought it would be difficult, put that worry behind you. Follow this guide to become the composting master.

Why compost?

If all compost ingredients are biodegradable, then you may be asking yourself why you shouldn’t place the materials directly on your yard without composting. Not only will your neighbors stop inviting you to block parties, you’ll rob your soil of nitrogen during the decomposition process as well.

A compost pile or container means creating a place in your yard where decomposition can happen quickly, and with a bit more control for you. The top layer of newly discarded organic material helps to trap the warmth and moisture that speeds up the decomposition process for the layers underneath. As the materials you add to the top of the pile accumulate, the decomposed material at the bottom can be  removed to be added to your garden beds, under hedges, or around trees. That`s what plants use as food. And really, that`s the whole point of having a compost pile, or compost container; to feed your garden, reduce the amount of biomass in landfill sites, and to put fruits and vegetables back on your table

More benefits of composting

Compost is a “soil conditioner,”. It improves the texture and structure of the soil allowing it to absorb more nutrients and moisture. Soil with good structure drains well and retains moisture better than unaided soil.

In addition to conditioner, adding compost is like feeding your plants a multi-vitamin. Compost contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium as well as iron, zinc, and copper. You can pay for these minerals in expensive chemical fertilizing treatments, or you can keep your money and create compost out of things you already have/use everyday.

Compost cycle

illustration: exploringsciencewiki.wikidot.com

Composting also minimizes your carbon footprint. Whatever goes in your pile, avoids the dump, which lowers methane emissions in the long-run and lessens the waste going to the landfill.

Compost is earthworm fodder. Those creepy crawlers (along with red worms, sow bugs, and centipedes), love this stuff and their tunnels improve the drainage in your soil. When these insects make a home in your soil, they become part of a balanced soil system. If you’d like more plants and fewer pests, composting is the way to go.

The ingredients

So you know to use bio-degradable materials, of course, but you’re probably wondering what kind. Variety is the spice of life and it’s the key to good composting. You need to balance your carbon to nitrogen ratio, but don’t let this frighten you – it’s not as hard as it sounds.

Fresh, juicy materials are generally high in nitrogen, as are materials from animals (manure, feathers, etc.). Drier, woody materials, like hay, are higher in carbon. For this reason, most composters use the terminology “green” for items high in nitrogen and “brown” for carbon.

Find a dry shady place and begin your pile by adding your green and brown ingredients. Next, moisten your dry materials. You can chop up or shred larger pieces for quicker decomposition as well. Be sure to regularly mix and turn your pile, adding water. There are a few items you’ll want to avoid, so check out this list.

What you’ll need to get composting

The tools for composting are easy. In addition to your biodegradable materials, you’ll need a pitchfork, shovel, and a hose with a spray head.

Composting is a natural way to help quicken the decomposition process and produce materials that benefits and improve your soil.


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Cate Morgan-Harlow

Cate Morgan-Harlow is an all arounder, writing about how-to, DIY, and design with gusto. She is a shadowy figure with a mysterious past.