Have a Successful Garden by Making Your Own Compost

Written by Jonathan Dick

Mother Nature has been rotating through the composting process of decomposing organic material into rich soil that will foster new life for longer than any of us can imagine.

You can use that same process at an accelerated pace to save you money and help you become self-reliant with a nutrient-rich garden.

Composting significantly reduces pest problems while creating healthy plants that use less pesticides. You’re adding organic material to your soil to help improve moisture retention and composting saves money while providing a healthy balance to your soil.

How to Compost
compostWhile composting is a natural process, there are ways that you can make it go faster. Here’s how:

1. Pick a dry, shady spot to locate your compost pile. You’ll want to make sure that there is a water source nearby and that the pile is close to the area you plan to use the compost.

2. Collect organic material like grass clippings, old fruit peels, etc. (we’ll talk more about this below) that you can use in your compost pile. You’ll want to chop these items up as much as possible – the smaller the pieces, the faster they will break down.

3. Lay down a layer of 6-inches of paper shreds or dried leaves. These are rich in carbon and should work well as a first layer. Wet down the material until they are moist – but not too wet. They should have the moisture of a wrung out sponge.

4. Next, you’ll add a 3-inch layer of nitrogen-rich materials like kitchen scraps, grass clippings, etc.

NOTE: The optimal compost heap should maintain about a 3-to-1 ratio of organic carbon material to nitrogen material. Your pile will also need to be at least 1 yard wide to maintain the heat it needs.

5. Add another 3-inch layer of leaves or paper strips followed by a 3-inch layer of nitrogen-rich material. Repeat this a few times until your pile is sufficiently tall.

6. Once you’ve built up your pile, sprinkle a handful of healthy garden soil or a previous compost pile on top. This will boost the level of microbes in the soil that are needed to break down the materials.

7. Turn your compost pile with a pitchfork every few week or two. Mix the layers making sure that moisture is evenly distributed and the outer layers are moved to the inside to redistribute heat.

8. After a few weeks you may notice that the pile stinks or might even be steaming – this is fine – it’s working.

What Can I Use to Compost?
Composting focuses on locating good materials that are rich in nitrogen or rich in carbon. Here are a few ideas:

Nitrogen-Rich Materials
Table Scraps Use with dry carbon items
Fruit & Vegetables Use with dry carbon items
Grass Clippings Add in thin layers so they don’t clump
Lawn & Garden Weeds Only weeds that haven’t gone to seed
Green Comfrey Leaves Excellent activator
Flowers
Seaweed or Kelp Apply in thin layers
Chicken Manure Excellent activator
Coffee Grounds You can also include the filter
Tea Leaves Bags or loose
   
Carbon-Rich Materials
Leaves Shred them
Shrub Prunings
Straw or Hay
Pine Needles Use moderately since pine is slightly acidic
Wood Ash Sprinkle lightly
Newspaper Avoid colored or glossy paper
Shredded Paper Avoid colored or glossy paper
Cardboard Shred the cardboard to breakdown
Corn Cobs Chop up
Dryer Lint Best if from natural fibers
Sawdust Pellets Spread thin to avoid clumping
Wood Chips Use sparingly

It’s not recommended that you use meat, bones or dairy products to create compost. The grease and oils break down slower and draw animals to the compost pile.

Do You Compost?
Have you tried composting? Did it work well for you? What advice do you have for the new gardeners out there? Comment below to let us know!

Updated March 27, 2013

9 Comments

  1. Marc wrote:

    I’d be very interested in an article that covers composting for those living in apartments, with no yard available.

    March 28th, 2013 at 6:51 am
  2. Scott wrote:

    If your compost stinks it has gone bad! It should smell earthy, like fresh dug soil, but should not stink! If it does you have not made an oxygen rich environment, necessary for the aerobic bacteria to do their work. Anaerobic bacteria thrive in low/no oxygen environments, and their byproducts stink like putrefication.
    Apartment dwellers can look into vermicomposting, or composting with worms. The kits can be small enough for an apartment, shouldn’t smell when used properly, and create a wonderful soil amendment for a garden.
    Happy composting!

    March 28th, 2013 at 7:10 am
  3. YourPreps wrote:

    We agree with Scott compost should never smell bad enough to be noticeable, especially at a distance.

    Vermicomposting is a spectacular form of composting. The worm housing takes up very little space, they take in waste just the same as a compost heap or pile and their waste can be used as a very nutrient dense soil amendment.

    March 28th, 2013 at 9:07 am
  4. Cheryl O. wrote:

    When I was a kid, we gardened extensively, having 9 kids plus the folks to feed. We went outside on a daily basis (through the warm months) and buried our days’ coffee grounds, peelings the animals wouldn’t eat, etc in the aisles. We didn’t compost them first. We always had excellent soil, and never had an issue with critters digging any of it up. Never had “garbage” other than the occasional metal can on garbage pick-up day. Garbageman even commented once that our trash was the only on his route that wasn’t offensive i the summer.

    March 28th, 2013 at 11:40 am
  5. Calgary Snow Removal wrote:

    Steaming compost… gross I must say, but I must also admit this post is dead on accurate. Thanks for it!

    March 28th, 2013 at 1:08 pm
  6. Kathleen O. wrote:

    I watched a few videos on u-tube and got an idea. I got two small totes from my local big box store that would nest one inside the other, but with different heights. I put the smaller one inside the larger and marked were the bottom of the smaller was on the larger one. I took my drill and made three rows of air holes between the mark and the design on the larger. I made one row of air holes around the side of the smaller tote between the top of the smaller tote and the top of the larger tote. I then put my shredded bills, a bag of old salad mix and a tad bit of buffalo manure. Mixed it all up,dampened it, and added a cup of red fishing worms obtained at the local big box store. Then put the top of the smaller tote at an angle to get air into the tote. The lid for the larger tote I put under the whole thing for asthetics. By the way, the videos say to use colored totes. I used clear totes so I can see what is going on. I keep it on my kitchen counter so as I am cooking I can dispose of my scraps. My large tote is 13.5″X11.5″X11″. Also there is no foul odor.

    March 28th, 2013 at 2:00 pm
  7. J wrote:

    Do you have to worry about certain veggies having an adverse conditions on other veggies and stuff. Like how you never plant eggplant near potatoes bc it causes a bacteria in potatoes. Just wondering? Was going to take plants that are annuals n veggies not fully riped. Will frost burnt plants cause a problem. For that matter will snow ruin the pile

    October 27th, 2013 at 8:14 pm
  8. Jim Clark wrote:

    Also consider composting using black soldier fly larva – a bit different but works great for my aquaponics setup where i suspend it directly over the fish pond – the liquid compost and adult larva drop directly in – the fish eat the larva and the nutrients are pumped through my grow beds – no mess

    February 13th, 2014 at 12:02 pm
  9. Jason wrote:

    I wrote back in October. First time really composting. It is a major plus. One I love the idea of getting the most use out of anything. Garbage rarely smells and the use of bags has dropped drastically. It adds so much nutrients to the garden. Plus you use less bought soil so you get more there. I increased my gardens due to the drought out West and the long winter here in Northeast. The compost soil is so nutrient rich that cucumbers starting growing out of the pit. Which those seeds were from store bought cucumbers. There are so many pros to having a pit.

    May 25th, 2014 at 10:35 am

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