Get down and dirty in the garden
Compost is a vital part of any garden, but it can also be a considerable expense if you buy it at the store. For this reason, many home gardeners are opting to go the DIY route, because it is both efficient and easy to do.
When I first started composting, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. Growing up, my town had a community compost heap where residents could drop off their leaves and yard trimmings and then pick up the resulting compost made from last year’s heap. It was a wonderful practice that, unfortunately, hadn’t been picked up in the next town I’d settled in. My first trip to the garden center left me goggling at the expense of, well, dirt.
I decided then and there I would never pay for the stuff again. Then a farmer friend of mine turned me on to home composting.
Why should I use compost?
There are a number of reasons to start composting, and not many why you shouldn’t. If you’re a home gardener, you need quality soil, and chances are, you already have all the ingredients you need. DIY composting allows you to use elements at your disposal to give your garden the chance it needs to thrive under your loving care.
Here’s a host of reasons DIY composting can benefit you and your garden:
• Make richer soil, providing essential nutrients to your plants. This means hardier, healthier plants with higher yields for you and your friends and family to enjoy.
• Curb your carbon footprint by reducing your waste. Composting your organic matter will cut down on the trash you leave out at the curb, which is especially useful if your town charges for garbage pickup by the bag as mine does.
• Save money. You’ll reduce or even eliminate the money you spend on soil and fertilizer.
Striking the right balance
So how do you go about making your own compost pile? First decide where you’ll do it. You can purchase a compost tumbler from garden retailers that will contain your compost while ensuring a good amount of airflow and, consequently, cutting down the smell. If you have enough space, however, a standard compost heap on the ground will allow you to make a greater amount in a shorter amount of time.
A healthy heap relies on the balance of moisture and organic matter, and its composition should be acidic in nature, as acid helps break the components down into quality soil. Generally speaking, you’ll want the pH balance to fall between 5.5 and 8. You can buy pH testing kits from your local garden supplier or hardware store.
What should I compost? Start your compost heap with yard waste you’d naturally dispose of anyway, such as leaves, weeds and trimmings. After you’ve established a good base, you can begin to include organic waste from your kitchen. The best rule of the green thumb: if it grows, it goes. Fruit and vegetable leavings that are easily decomposable will enrich the balance of your soil. Organic matter such as tea leaves and coffee grinds are also good additions, as are ashes and eggshells.
What shouldn't I compost? Food waste that doesn’t grow from the ground up generally does not make good additions to your compost. Meat products, which will go rancid, should never be added to a compost bin. Dairy products should be treated in the same manner, with the exception of eggshells.
What about water? Water aids the decomposition process and is essential to a healthy compost heap, but be careful not to overdo it. You want your compost to be just slightly moist to the touch, however it should not resemble mud—aim for the moisture consistency of a well-tended potted plant.
Turning your compost. To aid the decomposition process, you’ll need to “turn” your compost heap regularly. Once or twice a week should be sufficient.
If you have a standing composter (or “tumbler”), this might mean just a few quick cranks of the handle. If you have a pile, you’ll need to turn it manually with a shovel or pitchfork. Use these tools to bring the soil from the bottom of the heap to the top, allowing the freshly turned soil to be exposed while the rest quietly breaks down away from the sunlight. This also promotes healthy oxygen distribution, which aids in the decomposition process.
Making your own compost isn’t without its toils, but it can be an economical and invigorating decision. Try it for yourself and watch as your garden thrives!
Rebecca Lynn Crockett is an avid gardener, herbalist and writer. She inherited a love of the earth from her father at a young age, and has been cultivating it ever since. In her spare time, Rebecca pursues her passion for literature and folklore as a fiction writer for all ages.