Composting for Beginners: Why You Should and How To Do It
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While preparing your meal with loads of vegetables, do you ever look down at your counter (or maybe at this point, your trash can) and think “Wow! This is such a waste.”
After peeling, dicing, and slicing you’re left with all the vegetable scraps that could do much more for you!
I know you’ve heard of it and I know that it aches your heart to want to do it because you know it would be so good for you, your garden, and the landfill.
But you don’t know where to even start.
You are not alone.
What is Compost and Why is it so Important?
The definition of compost is merely “decayed organic material used as plant fertilizer” (1).
This is the circle of life right here.
When your veggie scraps (and other things I’ll get to in just a minute) break down on their own, they essentially turn into soil.
You are rejuvenating the earth.
Not to mention, keeping unnecessary things out of the man-made landfill.
You don’t have to put compost on just a vegetable garden…you can add it to any plants…trees, succulents, etc. to give them some extra nutrients so they can grow stronger.
Here are some ways that compost is important and beneficial (2.)
- It has a complete spectrum of all plant nutrients. You can’t, or won’t, find all of that in any synthetic material.
- Compost releases those nutrients slowly. Your plants get what they need when they need them.
- It balances ph levels in the soil making it easier for plants to absorb nutrients.
- Compost helps with soil structure. It breaks up hard soils to help make room for plant growth and also helps bind sandy soil so that plants can have something to hold on to. Adding compost retains moisture which helps with excess runoff from dry soil.
- Compost helps with insects. It attracts beneficial insects like earthworms because it’s so nutrient-dense. The compost is adding to the soil’s health which therefore detracts bad insects. Just like your body; if you feed your body healthy things, you don’t get as sick.
Different Types of Compost
If you were going to go buy compost, there are tons of different types to choose from.
Here are some examples:
- Turkey compost: This is when turkey manure is added to the compost. The droppings are really high in nitrogen adding all that into your compost and soil giving a huge nutrient boost to your plants. It also helps the compost break down faster (3).
- Mushroom compost: This is interesting. Companies make a pile of compost the regular way. Then they innoculate (add mushrooms) it with the mushroom spawn. They then grow and harvest the crop of mushrooms. The compost pile is exchanged before the next planting but still has some good nutrients in it so they sell it to home gardeners. This is to be used sparingly in your garden because the mushrooms increase the salt content of your compost (4).
- Vermiculture: Worm compost. This is adding worms to the compost and letting them do all the heavy workload of decomposing the scraps.
DIY Composting for Beginners: What TO Compost and What NOT to Compost
Only certain things can be composted…or really by the backyard gardener.
There are lots to compost that exceed this list below but you would need more industrial-type settings.
For example, I’ve heard of farmers composting their dead cows or horses. They just put their bodies right under their vegetable scraps and let nature takes its course.
Or you can also compost your own poop!
Yep!! It’s called humanure!
That’s a topic for another article!
10 Things to Compost for the Beginner Composter:
- Yard clippings and leaves
- Vegetable scraps
- Unwaxed cardboard
- Coffee grounds and tea bags
- Dryer lint
- Cotton fabrics
- The hemp fiber mats from our microgreens
- Chicken poop
If you want to know more things to compost to REALLY keep things out of the landfill, check out this article on 100 Things to Compost…it’s really fascinating what all you can do with it!
What NOT to Compost
These things attract bugs and animals or just simply don’t break down well.
- Fats…like grease, lard, oils
- Fire ash
- Diseased plants
- Pet poop
- Too much citrus and onion peels
How Much Compost Will I Need?
For a garden, you’ll want to add about 2in of compost to your garden every 1-2 months.
If you want to go all-in and compost everything you can, you may end up with a ton! Maybe even more than you need.
Give it (or sell it) to your neighbors!
How to Start a Compost Pile in Your Backyard
Depending on your setup…you may want to start a keyhole garden that encompasses a compost section. This is a space-saving, efficient way to garden AND compost in the same area. Once built, it is super easy and requires little labor.
This process is a little more labor-intensive than the keyhole garden and requires a length of time to get the finished product but you can get a ton of compost from it.
- Select a spot near your garden so you can compost any garden waste but also close to your house so you don’t have to walk too far to put your compost in. You will definitely want to get a compost container for your house because you do not want to go out to the pile EVERY single time you have something to compost. I love this little bucket because (it’s cute) it has a lid and a filter keeping the smell (it can get really smelling in the house) down and little fruit flies away.
- You’ll need 3 bins…we used pallets to make 2 sides and 3rd side was the fence line. The 4th side is open to you. You will take all your compost things to bin 1 until it is full (this can take a while depending on the amount of compost and time of year…maybe around 3 months). Once it’s full, you will start adding to bin 2.
- The way to know if your compost is ready to harvest is that it will look more like soil (and not decayed veggies) and it will smell like soil.
- To harvest your compost: scoop the contents of bin 1 and sift it using a wire screen and a wheelbarrow. Take the non-sifted big chunks that have not completely composted and place them in bin 2 until full. Repeat this process using bin 3 and so forth.
We are working on testing out a new system of composting so stay tuned to the blog for an update on how to do a more efficient and less labor-intensive technique.
If you have a compost pile already, I would love to see pictures or comments on what yours looks like! Feel free to post below!