Curious about composting and not sure where to begin? Read this simple step-by-step guide to nurturing vibrant soil for your veggies and cultivating a greener footprint for you and your family.
First, the why.
Composting can seem messy. Is it worth getting my hands dirty?
The answer? Absolutely!
Not only does composting kitchen scraps, paper products, and yard waste reduce the load on our already bursting landfills, it is also a super economical way to provide your garden with the nutrients and beneficial micro-organisms needed to grow AMAZING whole foods to nourish your family. If you are a flower gardener, or even a houseplant parent, compost will help your thumb turn all kinds of green!
Ready to garden in nutrient- rich humus for your best-ever harvests? Do you dream of abundant yields of cukes, tomatoes, greens, and peppers for canning and sharing? Do you smile when you know you are taking steps to keep Mama Earth a bit healthier every day? If your heart screams, “YES!”, then getting your hands dirty with composing is a great next skill set for your mindful lifestyle tool kit.
Step One: Choose your container.
This choice will depend on the nature of your home and the amount of compost you wish to create.
Worm composter bin: If your home has little or no outdoor space, a worm composter is perfect for you! These amazing contraptions can be kept indoors or in a garage, and if managed properly, don’t even get stinky! Harness the power of the amazing earthworm to convert your kitchen scraps and discarded paper into rich loamy fertilizer for your houseplants, with an added bonus, the elixir of life, worm tea! This liquid gold is an amazing natural plant booster which will make your garden go ZZIIIINNNGGG! While our home is on an acre of land and we have plenty of room for larger composters, I still love my worm composter for creating this magic juice for my plants. Please be sure to read my upcoming article on worm composting for more details on this neat method.
Rotating composter bin: These beauties are great for mid-sized gardens, and for communities where critters like raccoons and opossums are either already plentiful, or are unwelcome. This is my personal choice for composting both at home and at the Nourish Wellness garden because we are located in a populated area, and time is a factor for us too ( we’d rather be creating new adventures and recipes than manually turning a big, open compost bin. ) Convenient and easy to manage, rotating composters help to prevent masked bandit mammals from raiding the kitchen scraps. They also make aerating the compost a snap, which speeds up the decomposition needed to create a gorgeous loamy final product. Please be sure to read my upcoming article demonstrating two rotating composters we have test driven for you!
Open compost pile or bin: If your garden is massive and you wish to create big piles of soil amendment and if you live on acreage or have a compost location far from human and animal lodging places, an open compost pile or bin may be for you. This method is simple, low cost & can provide an awesome upper body + core workout too, as turning your pile every two weeks with a shovel or pitch fork provides best results. Unprotected from rodents and scavengers, it is best to use this method only if it won’t create potential nuisance visitors for you or your neighbors.
Step Two: What can I compost?
When composting, divide materials into “green” and “brown”. These categories comprise substrates which are rich in nitrogen (“green”) and those which are good sources of carbon (“brown”). Green, nitrogen rich materials include fruit and veggie kitchen scraps, chemical free lawn clippings, used tea bags, flower cuttings, coffee grounds (and paper filters), and chicken manure ( for you backyard homesteaders). Brown, carbon rich materials include shredded cardboard, wood chips, wood ash, straw, shubbery clippings, dry leaves, and shredded newspaper. Remember to maintain garden health & avoid contamination of your hard-won organic soil, do not use any yard waste which may have been treated with pesticide or herbicides. Also avoid adding weeds, as you may inadvertently seed your garden with unwanted visitors and create more work for yourself later in the season. Compost creates the healthiest mix when we adhere to the one-third green and two-thirds brown rule for adding to the compost pile.
Step three: What should I not compost?
Avoid composting weeds which may sprout later in your garden.
No lawn trimmings which may be contaminated pesticide or herbicide residue.
No meat, fish, or dairy products. These will rot and create odor and negatively affect the microbiome of the humus.
Non-organically raised fruit and veggie peels could contribute pesticide residue to contaminate your compost. Try to stick with organic produce for your own AND your garden’s health!
Pet manure should not be composted as it may introduce harmful bacteria or parasites into the garden.
Step four: Spread the magic to nourish your plants
Compost is ready when it becomes a dark brown-black color and a loose, loamy consistency, & all of the components have been fully broken down into a mix which will resemble potting soil. Adequate hydration and aeration, intermittent turning, and adding the appropriate ratio of brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) components will provide the best results! Have fun experimenting with your new compost project! Get your hands dirty and see what you can grow!
Written by Ann Collins, MD, RYT