I highly recommend incorporating composting into your gardening. Don’t use too little time or too little space as an excuse. Whether you live in the city with a balcony garden and a tight schedule or out in the wide-open spaces with a gigantic garden, there is a composting technique right for you.
I have found that the ways to compost are about as varied as ways to garden. Following are five basic composting techniques.
Table of Contents
- Five Basic Composting Methods
- Factors to Consider When Choosing a Composting Method
- How to Choose Most Suitable Bin for Composting
- Build a DIY Composting Bin
Five Basic Composting Methods
1. Leaf and Greens Pile
You can make a compost pile without building any sort of structure if you only use mulched leaves and greens. Use last year’s leaves and pruning and clippings from your garden for this technique. Go by the ratio of 3 parts brown leaves to 1 part green plant waste.
Even if the spot you use doesn’t get full sun, it will still receive enough heat in the warm months to break things down. Mix and turn the pile periodically to get quicker results. Water the pile at the same time you water your garden.
2. Hot Composting
Hot composting takes a little more effort and know-how, but it generates a very rich compost. This technique creates conditions where microorganisms can thrive generating enough heat to warm a shower or even cook.
You will need to mix more carbon-rich brown materials with a lesser amount of nitrogen-rich greens such as lawn clippings or kitchen scraps. A good ratio to use is about 25 parts of brown materials to green materials. Turn your compost pile every few weeks.
3. Cold Composting
The cold composting method is easier than hot composting, but it is slower. Simply fill bins or piles as composting materials become available. It is a good method to use if you have little time or interest to spend with other more involved methods. Dig from the bottom of the pile and use the compost as it gradually becomes ready to harvest.
You can also build one compost pile to let sit for a season while you begin filling up the next. I have found that it takes about a year to get good compost with this method. You will want to be careful what you put in your pile or bin as cold composting is not likely to kill plant diseases or weed seeds.
Tip: because cold composting doesn’t involve turning, materials get little oxygen, Add some shreds of newspaper to avoid the slime and smell of anaerobic decomposition.
Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, is easy and a favorite way for many. This method turns fruit and vegetable scraps into very rich fertilizer. There are worm bins available for purchasing or you can build your own. I have even ordered worms online.
All you have to do is add your food scraps and cover them with moistened paper. Then let the worms do the job of breaking down the scraps. You do virtually nothing else.
Worm composting is a great method for indoor composting and those with little space. As a bonus, research suggests that worm composting may help prevent plant disease.
5. Pit Composting
Pit composting involves digging holes or trenches to bury materials to decompose. You can sit back and wait as the organic materials gradually break down. This will take about six months to a year. It is a good method for those who want the decomposing matter out of sight. You can also toss in weeds you pull up and they won’t re-sprout if they are buried deeply enough.
Tip: Dig your trench or hole at a sight you intend to use for future planting.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Composting Method
There are a variety of systems, containers, or enclosures to use for backyard composting. These can be bought commercially or built as a DIY project. An enclosed space will protect your compost from rodents if you include vegetable food wastes in your pile.
All organic material eventually decomposes, but the speed at which it does so depends on the following factors.
1. Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio
It is important to know that carbon and nitrogen are the two elements needed for composting. The bacteria and fungi in the materials digest and oxidize carbon for energy and use nitrogen for protein synthesis.
Most of the organic matter should be carbon with only enough nitrogen to stimulate the decomposition process. Use a ratio of roughly 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. If you don’t use enough nitrogen, the decomposing process slows. Using too much nitrogen can cause the formation of ammonia gas. Use leaves as a good source of carbon. Fresh grass and manures are good sources of nitrogen.
2. Surface Area
Since decomposition of microorganisms occurs when air reaches the particles, increasing surface area when composting speeds up the process. This can be done by mowing, shredding, chopping, or breaking up the material. If you have an increased surface area, microorganisms can grow more rapidly by digesting more material, multiplying, and generating more heat.
The decomposition process uses up all available oxygen. Use composting systems that can provide adequate ventilation. Turn your compost pile to add oxygen and introduce newly added materials to microbes. Use a shovel, pitchfork, or an aerator – a special tool designed for that purpose.
Microorganisms must be dissolved in water to use organic molecules. Make sure your compost pile has a moisture content of 40-60 percent. Use the “squeeze test” to determine if your compost has enough moisture. If you squeeze a handful, it should feel like a well wrung-out sponge. Correct a too-wet pile by turning or adding more dry material.
As organic material decomposes, it generates heat. For best results, your compost pile should have a temperature between 90 and 140F or 30 and 60C. A higher temperature will inhibit the activity of important organisms. Of course, the process will slow down during cold months. It is not unusual for compost piles to produce steam in cold weather. At cooler temperatures, some microorganisms will continue decomposing at a slower rate.
How to Choose Most Suitable Bin for Composting
I have found that a suitable bin can make composting easier and more efficient. There are three types of composting bins: continuous composters, batch composters, and indoor composters.
Continuous composters are enclosed bins meant to handle yard waste and kitchen scraps. They are called continuous because materials can be tossed in at any time. As the compost is slowly generated, it can be harvested a few times a year as it filters to the bottom. A lid keeps rodents and other critters out. Continuous bins are best for those who want to toss in garden waste and kitchen scraps and then be done with it.
A batch composter uses a tumbling action for efficient, compost accelerating. Start each batch with a balanced mix of ingredients and “cook” it until it’s done, usually in 4 to 8 weeks. It must be turned each day and checked for sufficient moisture. You can stockpile materials for the next batch while waiting. Batch composting is best for those willing to put forth more effort to get more compost faster.
To make compost indoors on a smaller scale, you can use a specially designed composter or worm bin to turn kitchen scraps into compost to use for house plants and small gardens like container gardens. Indoor composters are best for those who only want to compost kitchen waste. They are also great to use in classrooms.
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Build a DIY Composting Bin
Wooden pallets are easy to find and can be used to make a great composting bin. Here are the 5 easy steps to build this continuous composting bin.
- Obtain 4-6 wooden pallets similar in size. Remove any nails that may be sticking out.
- Gather tools. You will need a power drill, hammer, screwdriver, 2 heavy-duty strap hinges, 4-6 L brackets, wood screws, a gate hook and latch, a cupboard handle, or utility pull, gloves, and safety glasses.
- Choose a location that is level and well-drained in a sunny spot. To take advantage of worms, build it over the soil. For convenience, place it near a water source if possible.
- Assemble the frame. Saving the sturdiest piece for the front to use a fence gate, fit the sides together. Hold two corners together and pre-drill holes for the screws. Then position your corner L brackets and drill your holes. Put one bracket at the top and one at the bottom on the bin’s two back corners.
- After you have the three sides together, hold the front against the side and use the two strap hinges to install the front. Pre-drill the holes first. Install a door handle and hook and latch if desired. As an option, staple chicken wire around the outside.
Composting is a very earth-friendly habit. I think once you find the best composting system to fit your needs, you will find it so rewarding you will continue composting for your garden needs for a long time.