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Composting has become big business, with tumblers, turners, starters, and more flooding the garden marketplace every day. Composting is indeed fascinating and hobby-worthy. Composting happens all the time in nature without our help. An expensive elevated and insulated tumbler is not necessary to create good compost. Composting does, however, require a few things: the organic matter of a compostable size, periodic moisture, good drainage, and a method to keep critters out (if that is a problem for you).
If you have space, place two or more three-sided slatted bins next to one another; that way, you can scoop debris back and forth from bin to bin. If you live in an apartment or condo and the only place you have for a composter is a patio or terrace, then there is obviously a need for a covered bin. But here’s the catch: Small composters such as rolling bins, tumblers, and stationary bins fill quickly and have to be turned frequently. Of course, the biggest advantage of an enclosed compost pile is that it excludes unwanted wildlife. But if your intention is simply to reduce degradable waste, who cares if a possum carries off some potato peels? If varmints are a concern, be sure your compost pile is enclosed.
Try counting compost’s numerous benefits:
Compost improves the structure of any soil, be it sand, loam or clay. Soils amended with compost will retain more water and drain better.
Compost containing macronutrients as well as trace nutrients in a slow-release form.
Compost helps balance soil pH, fosters good soil structure, and improves tilth and fertility.
Compost loosens clay soils and prevents nutrient leaching by loosely binding nutrients into the soil.
Compost supports and promotes a diversity of soil life, be it bacteria, fungi, worms or beetles. These soil crawlers help process nutrients and create healthier, more disease- and pest-resistant crops.
Compost ingredients are easy to come by. What goes into the creation of compost is often the result of your farm’s production—be it garden scraps or kitchen scraps.
Composting is economical. You will reuse waste instead of sending it to a landfill and reduce the need for other fertilizers and pesticides. The nutrients present on your farm stay on your farm, and they continue to nourish and benefit its future.
When building your compost pile, think in brown and green.
Browns: These are your carbon suppliers. They are added to the compost pile in a non-living state and have low moisture. Carbon suppliers often take longer to decompose and breakdown into available nutrients.
Greens: These are your nitrogen suppliers. These are fresh materials added to your compost pile and have a high moisture content. Because they contain many sugars and starches, they quickly decompose.
Aim for a 30:1 carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N) in your compost pile. You can achieve this by building a compost pile with three parts browns to one part greens. So for every five-gallon bucket of fresh, green grass clippings, add three 5-gallon buckets of straw or leaves.
Pay close attention to your initial blend of greens and browns. The ideal C:N ratio will allow for quicker decomposition. It will also lead to an ideal final compost. If you spread compost with a high C:N ratio on your garden, it will actually rob nitrogen from the soil. On the other hand, if the C:N ratio is too low, the microbes working through the soil will use all the available carbon and release the extra, unused nitrogen into the atmosphere, depleting the finished compost of this essential nutrient.
What you can compost:
Plant-based food scraps like potato skins, apple cores, and pepper seeds
Eggshells that have been washed
The stuff I collect from sweeping my room (mostly hair tbh)
The many paper products that find their way into our houses such as grocery bags, shipping boxes, toilet paper rolls, and egg cartons
Forgotten and neglected fruits and vegetables, like these tomatoes
Animal manures are possible nitrogen providers, including manures from your goats, chickens or rabbits. Avoid manure from meat-eaters like cats and dogs. It’s important to note, however, that manure can be a source of E. coli and other human pathogens, and should be handled with care. Well-composted manures are generally safer than raw manure, but all require special consideration.
Avoid these materials when building your compost pile.
Meat, bones and fish
Dog, cat, pig or reptile faeces
Diseased plant material
Vacuum bag contents
Glossy, coloured newspaper inserts
Treated grass clippings
The essentials of composting
Chop it up: It’s best to chop the larger waste into leaf-size chunks. Big sticks and whole pumpkins will eventually compost, but they will take a while.
Keep it moist: A compost pile is a living thing that needs water to survive. For most of the country, normal rainfall will provide sufficient moisture. Turn a hose on the pile periodically if gardening in an area with reduced rainfall or prolonged drought. The interior of the pile should feel slightly moist.
Be sure it drains: Place the pile on a bit of a slope so that water does not pool at the base. Stagnant, or anaerobic, water encourages bacteria that create odours. Good air circulation around the compost pile will also help avoid a soggy bottom and, therefore, reduce odours.