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compostFrancesca Clarke

The word 'compost' may not conjure up the most pleasant image in your mind -- but to your garden, it's the best thing since sliced bread.

Composting naturally converts organic material -- like dead leaves, fresh greens, and food scraps -- into nutrient-rich soil. The carbon from your brown material (dead leaves), and the nitrogen from your green material (fresh grass clipping and food scraps) sit together at an increased temperature in the bin, and with frequent exposure to oxygen, the whole mix decomposes into soil.

So, why should you compost? There are two great reasons:

- To minimize waste: We are constantly searching for ways to minimize our own carbon footprint and produce less garbage. Composting is one of the simplest ways to do this, and its product is something useful: soil.
- To produce your own nutrient-rich soil: This isn't just any ordinary soil -- it's packed full of the nutrients. All those organic food scraps and healthy yard clippings feed the soil, making it your perfect plant food.
Your plants will thank you by growing beautifully!

What's in Compost?
The brown materials -- or 'browns' - are pretty straightforward, and they include dead leaves and twigs, but the green materials -- or 'greens' -- can include all sorts of materials. Depending on how wide you want to cast your composting net, you can add any of these 163 approved composting items. For myself, and considering the small size of my bin, I'm going to keep it simple and start out with food scraps, adding in coffee grounds and loose tea, skipping the human hair and toenail clippings for now. As a general rule, if it came from the earth, it can be returned to the earth. Here is a condensed list of items that would suit your urban style bin:
- Fresh fruit and vegetable scraps
- Freezer-burned fruit and vegetables
- Coffee grounds (the filter too!)
- Tea bags
- Old herbs and spices
- Grass clippings
- Old flowers
- Brown paper bags (tear into pieces for quicker decomposition in a small bin)
- Paper napkins
- Newspaper (Some people express concern about the petroleum-based chemicals and metals in the ink, but it is not an issue in these quantities. Avoid glossy paper products.)

Do not add any meats or fats, diseased plant matter or treated wood to your compost bin.

Composting Bins
Some people swear by the store-bought composting bins, which are specifically designed for easy mixing. They keep odor contained and rodents out. Bins for small yards or patios cost anywhere between $40-$300+ depending on the features you want. If you really get into composting, invest in a bin, but if you're just starting out, an old plastic container will do just fine.

To store your food scraps before taking them outside, I would recommend a plastic bin with a tight fitting lid. I once read about using an old crock-pot ceramic insert. I planned on doing this, because I love how attractive it can be on the kitchen counter, but after talking to somebody who has tried this, and hearing how awful it smelled and all the flies it attracted, I decided to go with the less visually appealing plastic container. I toss my kitchen scraps in there and take it out to the main bin every few days. You could skip this part all together and just toss the scraps into your outdoor bin right away.

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How to Make Compost

Plastic storage container with lid (I used a Rubbermaid bin)
Marker
Drill
Newspaper
Brown compost material (dead leaves and twigs)
Green compost material (grass clippings and food scraps)

How to Make Compost

Clean the container, removing any stickers. Using a pen, mark out drill spots around the lid of your bin, each one about 2 cm. apart. Add a cluster in the middle of the lid. These ventilation holes allow air and moisture to circulate.

How to Make Compost

With the lid securely on the bin, drill the holes. You could also use a knife, but drilling is much quicker (and safer).

How to Make Compost

Turn the bin over, then mark out and drill some drainage holes. A few in each corner and some in the center should be enough. If the bottom of your bin has multilevel grooves, like the one pictured here, you'll want to make sure you have holes on he highest point or else the water will pool there. We had two days of straight rain immediately after I made this bin, so I'm happy to say it survived the weather test and these holes provided enough drainage.

As a result of the drilling, some of the holes may be sightly clogged. Look at the underside of the holes and pick away any excess plastic.

How to Make Compost

Tear newspaper into thin narrow strips, wet it, and loosely layer it at the bottom of your bin about 4 inches high.

How to Make Compost

Collect dead leaves and twigs and add it to your newspaper.

How to Make Compost

Add greens from the yard. Don't have grass clippings? Ask a neighbor, or gather naturally fallen greens from a local park.

How to Make Compost

Add food scraps, coffee grinds, and other organic matter. To speed their decomposition, chop food scraps into very fine pieces before adding them to the bin.

Place the bin on dirt if it's available to you, otherwise it will do fine on a deck or concrete patio. Keep the drainage holes in mind when choosing a spot for the bin.

How to Make Compost

Keep the bin materials moist, but not floating. In some climates this means purposefully adding water and in others you can just let nature do her job.

You'll have new soil in about 5 months. Sift through and keep the soil portion, adding back anything that hasn't fully decomposed to start your new cycle.

The soil should be fine in texture. If necessary, take the finished product and crush it with a rolling pin, grinding down any little chunks. Mix the finished product half-and-half with regular soil.

How to Make Compost

Your compost isn't going to produce an abundance of soil, but it should be enough to give your garden a boost. If you're applying it to a ground garden, spread the soil about one month before you plan on using it. If you're container gardening, fill your planters with soil as needed. If your compost is ready before you need it, store it in a separate bin with a tight fitting lid.

How to Make Compost




  • carolyn

    I used to do this, now that it's summer Ican start again so it is possible to get out there to take care of the stuff befor it gets smelly. In the past I have even dumped my vavuum bag into a hole and covered it with dirt right away Did the same with an OLD feather pillow. Have puppies this year so I don't want to tempt them into mischief, they do their own style of fertlizing.

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  • Primrose

    There's certainly an art to making good compost - some good tips here! Whether you make your own, or buy a compost bin, there's a multiude of designs and things to consider. One of the issues that often gets forgotten is what your bin looks like. Lets face it, if you have a lot of pride in your garden, you don't want to ruin the effect with an ugly great monster composting in the corner! That's why I prefer wooden composters - with a little time and a little grubbyness they can blend right into your garden. However if you have a really dark corner, or have some garden screening to hide things, a dark plastic bin would also do the job.

    One of the main design faults I've noticed with shop bought compost bins is accessibility. Plastic compost bins often have an unloading access point at their base, but this is often too small and awkward to get a decent amount out at a time. Thats why my favourites are the Chamberlain style compost bins, with removable slats so you can load and unload at will! http://www.primrose-london.co.uk/compost-bins-c-38.html

    http://www.primrose-london.co.uk/compost-bins-c-38.html

    Reply
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