Compost—the dark, crumbly humus left when organic matter has completely decayed—is the best thing you can give your plants. Compost feeds soil and plants, prevents disease, retains moisture, and buffers pH. And, it’s free. All you need is yard waste and a little muscle. Here’s what to do.
1. Gather browns and greens. Gather high-carbon “brown” materials (such as dry leaves, hay, straw and nutshells) and high-nitrogen “green” materials (such as fresh grass clippings, weeds, coffee grounds, vegetable and fruit scraps, hair, and seaweed). Aim for about two to three times as much brown material as green, by bulk.
2. Build the pile. Create a freestanding pile or use a compost bin, alternating layers of brown and green materials. A 3-by-3-by-3-foot pile is a good size.
Work in a shovelful or two of garden soil to introduce beneficial bacteria. Moisten each layer as you build the pile. The finished pile should feel wet but not soggy. Cover loosely with a tarp.
3. Turn, turn, turn. To ensure that the materials decay quickly, turn the pile about once a week, working from the inside out and from bottom to top. If the materials feel dry, add a little water. After one to two months, you should have finished compost, which will be dark, crumbly and odor-free. Screen out any large clumps before use.