Monday, April 18, 2011

Backyard Composting

I know you've seen it... that rich, dark, soft soil- easy to weed and will grow the most beautiful plants in the universe? Now that can be yours with a few easy steps to building your own compost pile.

Spring is a great time to start a compost pile that will help you naturally amend your soil into something magnificent! Your soil is a living organism that constantly needs to be fed and amended to get best results from your gardening experience. From my many college soils classes I have taken I always heard that the MOST important and beneficial thing you can do for your soil is to add organic matter. Organic matter is simply decomposed materials such as kitchen scraps (fruits and veggies), grass clippings, leaves and weeds, manures, coffee grounds, wood chips, bark etc. I can't tell you enough the benefit it adds to your garden and the results you get from it! It is SO worth it!

What is composting?
Composting according to Utah State University Extension is the aerobic, or oxygen-requiring, decomposition of organic materials by microorganisms under controlled conditions.

I had read about it for years and finally had the space to make my own compost bin in my back yard. Little did I know you can also do the same in a small space if you are willing. Here are some steps to get you started and know how to make some successful compost GOLD!

Step 1- Find a container! If you have space for a larger compost bin it can be made inexpensively with poles and chicken wire, wooden bins, or open sided cinder blocks. I made mine out of wood pallets that I got for free from a local store. You only need three sides so you can build the pile inside of it. (keep in mind you need something you can get wet, and will circulate air through easily) If you have a small space you can but a compost turner, or simply start with a bucket under your kitchen sink of scraps that can be put directly into your garden soil. (kitchen scraps decompose very quickly)

Step 2- Select the site! For the perfect composting location you need at least 6 hours of sunlight, a convenient location for adding and removing compost, and available to water. You might also think of a place that is inconspicuous in your landscape for aesthetic purposes.

Step 3- Gather suitable materials- any of the above mentioned organic materials CAN be added to your pile- things that are not acceptable are as follows: meats, bones, large branches, dairy products, synthetic products and plastics.

Step 4- Making the pile work- Structure the compost pile with layers that will help the pile decompose correctly. Mine went something like this- Plant waste, fertilizer, soil, plant waste, fertilizer, soil. You must add nitrogen fertilizer every 1-2 feet to decrease the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio. A 1" layer of soil from your yard will increase microbial activity in your pile. Build the pile 3-5 feet tall with an equal circumference so it will heat enough for good composting. Turn the pile every 2-4 weeks (or more often for quicker composting) and keep the pile moist to speed composting.

Remember- if your pile starts to stink- you need to turn it. Adequate oxygen and moisture will eliminate unpleasant odors.

Another good thing to do if you live in the country is to make sure your pile is secure from roaming animals- I think last year we fed quite a few neighborhood dogs, a snake, and a skunk with our delicious compost before I was smart enough to keep it covered! At least my kids got to see a real live skunk right? (they named him stinky face)

The compost is ready when it starts to look like real soil and has no more recognizable materials. It usually takes a few months to get to this point.

Give it a try! Compost added to any flower bed or garden space will be SO beneficial!

Happy Gardening!


Click here to learn more about composting and see my reference for this post.

1 comment:

  1. Hurray for compost! We really see a difference in our garden's tomato output when we use compost. But, living in a townhouse, it's hard to commit and entire corner of our tiny garden to the pile. So, we found a compost wheel that works pretty well. And, you're right, so long as we remember to turn it, no stink :).