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Composting guide for beginners, Composting tips for everyone

Let nature do its thing beneath the soil, then plant a garden over it. This should be done at least two months before you wish to use the particular area as a fruit, vegetable or flower garden. One of the easiest and most affordable bins is an inexpensive garbage can that you make into a compost bin. This is great for small gardens. Purchase a large plastic or rubber trashcan with a secure-fitting lid.

Use a drill to bore holes each in the lid, the sides, and bottom of the can to provide airflow that will be essential to breaking down the organic materials placed inside it. You can use a small, medium or large size can, depending on your needs and space available. DIY wire compost bin: A wire compost bin provides structure to an otherwise open compost pile while maximizing oxygen circulation.

If you're handy, you can make your own wire compost bin, which is ideal for small gardens and households that produce a small amount of food scraps and yard waste. To construct the bin, find an open spot for your compost. Place stakes into the ground in a circular or rectangular shape. Purchase about 10 feet of inch wide wire or plastic mesh. Stretch the mesh fence around the stakes and tie it in place to each stake with zip ties or staples.

Pick an accessible, level site in your yard before constructing this type of structure. In essence, you are building a three-sided box secured with heavy-duty wire to a pallet on the bottom. The open top and front allows for easy aerating and turning of the pile and can provide ample compost for a medium to large garden.

You could easily build additional adjacent bins that can house multiple piles of compost in various stages of completion more info below. Alternative materials for this method include bales of hay, cinder blocks or untreated wood. If you're not a do-it-yourselfer, or you are looking for other features in a compost bin, many commercially made bins are available at nurseries, home improvement stores and online retailers. Compared to the DIY method above, store-bought bins can be very expensive, costing up to several hundred dollars.

Some commercially made bins are tumblers, which can dramatically speed up the decomposition of your organic waste. Be on the lookout for bins made of recycled plastic, which are more eco-friendly. This method, known as vermicomposting, is ideal for urban gardeners or people who don't have the outdoor space for the compost bins mentioned above. However, it is not for the faint of heart! You can create a worm bin from a gallon plastic tub a long, rectangular shape works best, but any size or shape that fits your space, such as under a kitchen sink will do. You'll need a steady supply of shredded newspaper, food scraps, and dozen worms to eat your food garbage.

Be sure to use only red worms Lumbricus rubellus or manure worms Eisenia foetida , as night crawlers or earthworms need large amounts of soil and will not survive in a worm-composting bin. Worm castings feces contain more nutrients than traditional compost and thus are the perfect fertilizer for any soil. When a worm digests food scraps, it breaks down minerals and other substances into a more soluble form for plants. The book Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof provides more detailed instructions and troubleshooting tips for worm bins.

As you can see, bins can be simple or complex, homemade or store-bought.

There is a composting method for every budget, space and garden. Gather your gear All you really need to successfully compost is a place to put your yard and kitchen waste. Depending on your garden size and its proximity to your compost pile, you might also need the following tools, all of which you can purchase at a garden center or home improvement store: Gloves - A good pair is thick and tear-resistant. These will protect your hands while handling debris and working in the garden. Aerator - An aerator is a long handled tool that you can force into the compost heap. When you pull it back out, it helps mix the heap around, aiding in decomposition.

You can also use a pitchfork to help aerate and turn your heap, but an aerator makes the job much easier. Pitchfork - While no substitute for an actual aerating tool, the pitchfork is essential in that it can poke holes deep down into the pile to improve air circulation or turn a heap. It's also helpful for transporting materials to the compost bin.

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Screens - Think of these as you would a flour sifter in the kitchen. It separates the larger chunks of compost that are still decomposing from the loamy, dark soil that is ready to be added to your garden.

A Beginner's Guide to Composting

Whatever makes it through the screen is garden-ready; whatever sits on top needs more time in the compost bin. Shovels - The ideal shovels for this project are flat headed shovels or tapered spades. With these, you can transfer compost from the compost pile to the garden or onto screens, or add organic materials to the heap itself.

Wheelbarrow - For larger gardens, these are ideal for transporting large amounts of organic materials to and from the compost heap.


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Add to your heap Now that you have your bin and your tools, it's time to compost! The most important thing is to add the right materials and avoid the wrong ones. Even if all you do is throw your kitchen scraps into your compost bin, you're still doing OK—your scraps will break down eventually, even if you never turn it, water it, aerate it, or "balance" its contents. As a general guide, if it came from a plant, you can compost it. Compost, while easy enough, is an exercise in balance.

To best "balance" your compost pile, include 1 part nitrogen-rich "greens" for every parts of a carbon-rich "browns" in your compost heap. Food waste, vegetable peels, hay, grass clippings, garden waste, alfalfa, oats Think of a compost pile like a sandwich with alternating layers. The first step is to build a foundation with a 4 inch layer of bulky twigs and small branches. This allows for air to flow upward through it and also keep it off the ground. Water this layer liberally before doing alternating 2 inch layers of greens and browns, watering every so often.

Do this until your heap is feet tall, making sure that no layer is packed too firmly. You want air to be able to reach the inner parts of the pile as much as possible. Finally, sprinkle the top of the heap with a few handfuls of soil from your garden.

Composting For Dummies

This soil, while not totally necessary, speeds up the process by using the hundreds of millions of bacteria found in it to your advantage. There's simply nothing better you can do for your soil than to add compost. There are many types of bins used to hold the composting materials. There are commercially made square or cone shaped plastic bins, homemade square bins often made of wood, and rotating tumbler style bins just to name a few.

Home Composting Basics

Each type of bin has its' own advantages and disadvantages but all types of bins can be used for composting. Choose a site that is level and well drained that is easily accessible year round. Place the bin over bare soil rather than concrete or paving to ensure that worms and other beneficial organisms can make their way into the pile. It's a good idea to remove any grass or plants and turn the soil to a depth of about 6 - 8 inches. Generally, composting ingredients can be divided into two categories: Brown Materials such as leaves, hay, straw and paper and Green materials such as grass clippings, fresh manure, vegetable trimmings and most green plant cuttings.

Adding some items, like vegetable fats and dairy products will simply slow down the composting process by excluding the oxygen that helpful organisms need to do their job.

Composting Step One: Choose A Compost Bin

If you add these materials you will still have usable compost, it will just take much longer. Adding other materials to your pile is simply dangerous because of the chance of poisoning or disease.


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Human and pet feces, chemically or pressure treated wood or sawdust, and meat and animal fats fall into this category and should never be added to your compost pile. Making great compost is like making a giant layer cake! Well, not exactly but you will soon see what we mean. Start with a 4 inch layer of brush, twigs, hay or straw at the bottom of the bin. Then add a 4 inch layer of brown material, then a thin layer of finished compost or good garden soil.