If you’re planning a spring garden, you should consider composting. It’s a wonderful soil enhancer that is great for gardening, because it provides important nutrients that are released slowly over time for healthy plant growth. And it’s also good for the environment; composting lessons solid waste that would otherwise end up in landfills.
If you’ve ever been in a forest, you’ve been near and on compost. In the great outdoors, composting—a combination of digested and undigested foods left on forest floors and dry leaves—results in aromatic, rich and soft soil.
If you’d like to make your own compost choose an outdoor location that is close enough to your garden to make it convenient. You can make an open bin compost container using wood, chicken wire or recycled plastic. Open bin composts make it easy to add materials to your garden. Or you can purchase enclosed composting containers from various sources. The only garden tools you’ll need for composting are: pitch fork, for turning; shovel and/or garden cart, for transporting compost to your garden; and a compost thermometer, for checking the temperature.
Regardless of which type of compost container you choose, it’s a good idea to have two separate chambers. The reason for this is that it takes several weeks for the composting process to complete. You will not want to add new composting material to a compost pile that is already in process.
Composting materials are generally referred to as “greens” and “browns.” Green compost materials are high in nitrogen, and brown compost materials are high in carbon. In order for composting to be successful, it needs food, water and air.
Green materials include: fresh grass clippings; fresh cow, chicken, horse or rabbit manure; kitchen scraps, such as coffee grounds, fruit, tea bags or vegetables; green leaves; or leftover fruits from the garden. Brown materials include: brown, dry leaves; shredded cornstalks; dried grass; or straw. An ideal combination is 4 parts brown to 1 part green. Do NOT add items such as fish, meat, or shredded newspaper.
To start your compost pile, put a 4-inch layer of brush, hay, twigs or straw at the bottom of the compost bin. This coarse layer will allow air to be drawn up into the pile from the bottom. Then add a 4-inch layer of brown material followed by a thin layer of good garden soil. Garden soil provides necessary bacteria to get the compost to start breaking down. Then, add a 4-inch layer of green material followed by a thin layer of an activator, such as fresh manure. Continue this layering process until the compost container is full. Lightly mist each layer with a garden hose, but make sure not to get it too wet. If you can squeeze water out of the material, you have gotten it too wet. If so, add dry brown materials.
Within 7-10 days, the internal temperature should reach about 140 degrees F, ideally 160 degrees F. This is when you can turn your compost pile, moving the drier material from the outside edges to the inside of the pile. Make sure to break up any clumps that have formed. If your compost pile seems too dry, lightly moisten it. At this point, you can turn your compost pile every 14 days. Your compost is ready when it is dark brown and soil-like.