Known to many gardeners as Black Gold, composting is a natural process of recycling organic matter, such as vegetable scraps and leaves, and turn them into a rich soil amendment. Compost is a decomposed organic material that is rich in nutrients and provides soil microbes that help plants grow.
To build your compost pile, you must first find a good location with moderate sunlight. Choose the right size and style for your compost bin. Add a balance of green and brown organic material, then layer and wait for the organic matter to cook. Turn your compost weekly and water it when needed or when it’s dry.
Grass clippings, eggshells, ashes, coffee grounds, and cardboard are some of the perfect materials for your compost bin. On the other hand, large branches, fish and scraps, pet waste, and synthetic fertilizer are harmful and cannot go in the compost bin.
In this article, we will discuss why you should start composting and the benefits it brings. We will also tackle what is perfect for composting and what is not.
Through composting, you reduce the volume of trash you have while enhancing your garden’s ability in growing healthy plants. Indeed, research shows compost enhances the ability of tomatoes and other vegetables to fight common diseases and improve their nutrition and flavor.
- Compost is often bought in bags or bulk at the local gardening shop, but homemade compost is the best source. It includes fruits and vegetable trimmings, old plants, leaves, and grass clippings.
- Compost is made up of microscopic bacteria and fungi, together with crickets, earthworms, and other elements that energize the soil food web. A lot of fungi or bacteria form mutually rewarding partnerships with plant roots. They make themselves a perfect food for vegetables.
- Compost is a great fertilizer and soil amendment for the garden. Adding compost to your crops will improve the overall texture of the soil and retain moisture. It is mild and will not harm nor burn the plants, contrary to chemical fertilizers.
They are two types of organic materials you can add to or feed your compost bin:
- Green organic matter, which is high in nitrogen and often described as “wet”;
- Brown organic matter, which is high in carbon and referred to as “dry.”
Maintain 50% greens and 50% browns when feeding your compost bin. Greens are heavier than browns, so, add 2 to 3 buckets of browns for each green you add.
In the recent years, more and more people have started gardening. If you are still undecided on whether you should start gardening as well, here are 12 reasons why backyard gardening is important to give you the push that you need to start this amazing activity.
Things You Can Put in Your Backyard Composter
Before you start composting, you should know what kind of waste materials you can put in your compost bin. Here are 10 of them.
1. Grass Clippings and Weeds
If you have a natural lawn and have discarded some grass clippings during the cleaning maintenance, you can put them in your compost bin for good use. However, only include them if you didn’t use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.
It is also safe to include weeds in the compost bin, on one condition: avoid adding weeds when they have seeds for it can result in more weeds once you spread them onto your plants.
Eggshells take a long time to break down. They are one of the few animal products that are a very beneficial addition to your compost pit.
Ashes are safe to add to your compost pit if you have a wood-burning fireplace. The compost pile also needs some carbon. Just remember to keep your compost pit balanced and make plenty of room for green components.
4. Coffee Grounds
Coffee is high in nitrogen, making it a great addition to the compost pit. Although coffee grounds are acidic, when they undergo the brewing process, the acid is removed.
5. Tea Leaves and Bags
Only add tea bags made of natural fibers and avoid those made with synthetic materials or plastic. If you’re uncertain whether the tea bags contain plastic or are bleached, cut or rip the bag, compost the tea inside of it, and discard the bag. Loose tea leaves are also a good addition to a compost pile.
6. Cardboard and Newspaper
Cardboard products can be recycled and make a good addition to a compost pile. Shred the cardboards or cut or rip them into small pieces for them to break down faster. It will also break down quickly if you put them on the wet side. Cardboards also absorb excess moisture.
Here are some of the cardboard items you can find in your house:
- Paper towel tubes
- Toilet paper tubes
- Wrapping paper tubes
- Egg carton
- Shipping boxes
- Cereal boxes
Newspapers are a perfect addition for layering as well, together with green organic matter, as they are carbon-rich. It is best to cut or rip the newspapers and make sure to remove the shiny and colorful ads before putting them into your compost bin.
7. Dead Plants and Flowers
You can directly put dead plants and flowers in the compost bin. As they decompose, they become nutritious compost, thus helping living plants grow well. However, before putting them in, you should make sure that:
- They did not die from any disease.
- They do not have fungi.
- They haven’t been sprayed with chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
8. Manure and Animal Bedding
Manure is a good add-on to your compost, but not all manure is appropriate. For instance, animal manure that eats plant-based diets, like rabbits, chickens, cattle, or horses, is a fantastic addition to your compost.
To avoid health risks, only compost manure from domesticated animals and never compost manure from dogs, cats, or meat-eating animals.
Natural bedding materials, such as shavings and straws, are a great addition to your compost bin. Bedding used for guinea pigs, rabbits, and chickens is best to compost.
9. Garden Waste and Trimmings
For healthy compost, you can add pruned flower plants, thin carrots, and other garden waste and trimmings. Make sure to include plant trimmings that haven’t been sprayed with chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
Corn cob and corn husks are also fine to put in your compost pile. Although they seem bulky and unlikely to decompose, they are a great addition to the pile. Seaweed and kelp are also helpful in the compost bin, but make sure to responsibly forage the seaweed.
10. Wine Corks
Wine cork is made from natural corks and is not easy to break down. Break it up into smaller pieces before you add wine corks to your compost pile.
Things You Shouldn’t Put in Your Backyard Composter
There are many things in your home that you want to put in your compost pile as doing so may reduce the trash you discard to the landfill. However, not everything can be added in the compost pit.
Here are eight materials you should never put in your compost pit.
1. Dog and Cat Poop
It is not advisable to add the poop of your dog, cat, or even other carnivores to the compost pile. Their poop carries microorganisms and parasites that cannot be eaten by your crops. You should have a separate compost pile aside from your regular compost pile that composts your pet’s poop.
2. Tea and Coffee Bags
As previously mentioned, tea leaves and coffee grounds are a great addition to your compost pile as they provide nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are essential for plants.
However, tea and coffee bags contain nylon and synthetic fibers that do not break down when put in the compost pile. They also contain plastics and chemicals that are harmful to plants.
Thus, make sure, before you compost tea and coffee bags, that they are made from natural materials, like hemp and cotton.
3. Citrus Peels and Onion
The natural chemicals and acidity in onions and citrus can kill the worms and other microorganisms in the compost pile. They also slow down the decomposition process. Citrus peels and onion do not belong in your compost pile, even if you cut them into pieces.
4. Fish and Meat Scraps
Fish and meat scraps are organic, will provide nutrients to your plants, and will decompose well in your compost pile. Unfortunately, their rotting smell will attract rats, foxes, mice, raccoons, or other cat species in the neighborhood. Their stinking smell might also annoy you and your neighbors.
5. Glossy or Coated Paper
Soy-ink newspapers, paper towels, tissues, and cardboard are great compost fodder. However, glossy and coated paper, such as magazines, will not decompose properly as they contain toxins. These materials have been treated with plastic coating to make them bright and colorful.
Even price tags on fruit and vegetables are made of “food-grade” plastic or vinyl and aren’t biodegradable. Thus, try to remove price tags and stickers from fruit and vegetables before putting the scraps in your compost pile.
6. Coal Fire Ash and Sawdust from Treated Wood
Coal fires or charcoal briquet are treated with chemicals, making them inappropriate for your compost pile. They also contain sulfur, which will make your soil acidic and harm your plants.
Sawdust from the wood that has been treated with varnish, stain, or paint should never be added to the compost pile either. While sawdust from untreated wood is a great addition to compost, it should be added in moderation.
The toxic compound of the treated wood will not break down quickly during the composting process. Instead, it will negatively affect the activity of the microorganism and plants’ health. Sawdust from treated wood contains arsenic and cadmium, which are harmful to your garden.
7. Synthetic Fertilizer
Synthetic fertilizers have lower levels of inorganic elements, like the Blue Miracle stuff. It provides food and nutrients to the soil but can kill the microorganisms in your compost. It can also affect your plants’ growth.
Heavy metals are some of the compounds found in synthetic fertilizers. They will leach through the soil right through the water table, increase salinity, and upset the balance of nutrients in the soil.
8. Large Branches
Large branches take a long time to break down and will delay the ability to use compost in your garden. Besides, it would be extra work to chop or cut down the large branches into smaller pieces before you can add them to your compost.
On the other hand, you can start a branch pile in your yard. Simply pile up the large branches and let them rot over the years. Branches that pile up in your yard may attract snakes and other small creatures to be their habitat.
Growing your own plants is a very rewarding activity. But if you live in the city, the lack of outdoor space may be one of the biggest challenges that you will face if you want to take up gardening as a hobby. The solution to this problem is backyard urban gardening. If you are not familiar with this term, check out our article where we explained what backyard urban gardening is.
Steps in Composting in your Backyard
Composting means controlling and speeding nature’s decomposition process by recycling your kitchen scraps and waste. These organic matters turn into a nutrient-rich soil amendment.
Here are few steps to consider when building your new compost pile.
Step 1. Location
Choose a location with nearby access to a water source and an area with moderate sunlight. The added heat from the sun can make your composting material dry. Sunlight also speeds up the composting process.
Step 2. Size and Style
When starting your compost project, consider the area you live in. If you live in a small apartment, vermicomposting is the best option for you. You can also try a tabletop composter or a small bin that fits on your balcony. Small-scale composting or a tumbler-style bin is perfect.
If you have a wide yard and garden to work it, a two or three-bin system is recommended. One of its benefits is that you always have an actively composting bin, and another one for curing and ready to use.
Step 3. Choose The Type of Compost Bin You Want
Bins have the advantages of being neat, safe from animal ransacks, and preserve heat. You can either have an open pile or compost bin. Compost bins can be purchased in a garden or home store. The size and type of compost bins depend on how much compostable materials you’ll pile up.
Many homeowners are also using the freestyle approach in composting. Find a space in your yard, employ a “no-bin” style, and just make a pile. Layer the green and brown organic matter and provide good watering and till.
In the fall, cover the pile with a tarp and let the compost develop over the winter. You can add your garden and kitchen scraps directly to the soil.
Step 4. Basic Composting Method
Now that you have a good location and have bought or made a compost bin, it’s time for the next step, namely:
To build your compost bin, find an area where the soil is well-drained. Lay a layer of flagstone and gravel into the bin. Make sure to have good drainage. Then, fill the compost bin with a 6-inch layer of brown organic matter and a 2-to-3-inch layer of green organic matter.
Wait until the organic matters are moist yet not soggy. Repeat the layering process and turn the materials. The more frequently you turn them, the faster they will break down.
Step 5. Maintain Your Compost Bin
Always check your compost bins to get the compost finished quickly. Make sure, when adding fresh materials, that you mix them in with the lower layers. Organic materials should be wet. Thus, water the compost when needed or dry it until you reach the moisture level. Turn and mix the compost weekly to eliminate odors and for faster breakdown.
You’ll know when the compost is ready when it resembles the color of the soil. It will then have a loamy consistency and a pleasant earthy aroma. It usually takes about two months to a year for compost to be ready. The duration of the process depends on what’s in your compost, its ratio, and how often you turn the compost around.
Step 6. Use Your Compost
Here are some beneficial usages of compost once it is ready:
- Use a top dressing for flower beds and the base of the tree and shrubs.
- Mix the compost with your garden and flower bed soil.
- Use it as a soil conditioner when transplanting or planting plants and trees by filling the bed soil with half compost and half soil.
- Use it as a “compost tea.” To do so, fill the cheesecloth or an old pillowcase with 1 liter of compost. Tie and steep the bag overnight in a garbage can filled with water. This can be used to water the plants and gardens.
Compost Problems and How to Fix Them
Here are some common problems you might encounter with your compost:
- It is smelly – To fix this, simply add dry “brown” organic matter and turn your compost to allow proper air circulation. You might not be tilling it enough or have watered it too much.
- It has stalled – Add more “green” organic matter, water, and turn your compost. Dryness is the reason why your compost is being stalled.
- It is slimy – Add more “brown” organic material, do not water it, and turn your compost. There might be too much moisture, thus making your compost slimy.
Composting is a great activity that allows you to repurpose the waste that you produce as well as make something useful for your garden. As you begin your composting journey, make sure that you follow the guide provided in this article. Composting experts advised that you should maintain the balance layering of green and brown organic matters.
Take time to break or cut larger pieces into smaller pieces to speed the decomposition process. To introduce a beneficial microorganism, activate a new compost bin using a shovelful of soil. Compost is easy to make and environmentally friendly, thus making it a great treat for your garden.
But, you also have to keep in mind that there are items that you cannot add to your compost bin, even if they are organic materials. These items will ruin the effectiveness of your compost and may even harm your plants. To make sure that your compost is the best that it can be, remember and implement what we have shared and discussed in this article.