Making your own compost offers a range of benefits…
it helps you recycle most of organic household and garden waste, reducing landfill; enriches the soil in your garden as a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers; and supports the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Best of all, it’s easy to get started.
Compost is essentially made of four elements: air, water, carbon and nitrogen. Getting the balance right will create a healthy compost that your garden will love.
Too much moisture in your compost reduces airflow, which can cause a soggy, stinking mess; too little water slows the breakdown of the ingredients. Aim for compost that stays moist, without getting soggy.
Carbon ingredients are often called ‘browns’ and include leaves, twigs, paper and straw. They break down organic matter using carbon as an energy source.
Nitrogen ingredients are generally called ‘greens’ and include moist plant matter, fruit and vegetable peelings, fresh grass clippings, green leaves or animal by-products such as manure.
It’s important to get the right ratio of carbon to nitrogen. Compost with too much nitrogen tends to smell, because the excess nitrogen converts into an ammonia gas. Carbon-rich piles break down slowly because there’s not enough nitrogen for the microbe population to expand. Adding one-part grass clippings (or other green) to two parts dead leaves (or other brown) will give you the right mix.
Make sure you choose a location for your compost that is well-drained, with some shade—too much sun will dry out your compost. Then start with a thick layer of twigs or mulch for drainage, followed by a layer of greens, a layer of browns, and water. Keep layering in this pattern, keeping the mixture moist but not wet. Then top off with food scraps and a topping of soil.
Turn your compost with a garden fork each week and make sure it gets plenty of air to reduce odors. Depending on your ingredients, you’ll have healthy compost within 2-6 months. Remember not to compost with anything containing fat, oil or grease; diseased plant materials; sawdust or treated wood; dog or cat feces; weeds that go to seed; or dairy products.
Do you have a compost heap in your garden? What tips can you share for beginners?