Fall and winter are excellent seasons for starting the exciting process of making compost. Making your own garden soil is the best way to take responsibility for providing the highest-quality organic growing medium.
In the simplest terms, composting is an easy and affordable way to turn trash into treasure. By composting yard waste, unused parts or pieces of fruits and vegetables and other organic matter that otherwise would go into your garbage can and then into our overstuffed landfills, you can improve your soil and plants health at little or no cost. Compost can provide valuable nutrients while also bettering the structure of garden soil.
Whether you are composting at home or on the farm, the composting process is simple and straightforward. Try it and it will soon become a daily habit. Read on to learn all about the composting basics you need to help your plants and the environment thrive.
Basics of Composting
Composting can be an exciting process of turning your yard waste into a benefit that will produce a large crop of especially nutritious vegetables. If you eat and grow your garden organically, using your finished compost will eliminate any thought of using synthetic fertilizers.
If you've ever walked in the woods, you've surely noticed the sponginess of the leaf- or needle-covered ground. In the fall or early winter, you may notice these same or similar raw materials on your property. That means you can start a compost pile quickly, easily and cheaply.
Having a thick layer of leaves on the bottom of the pile will give you a good start, because these leaves break down and turn to humus quickly. If covered by a small tarp or stored in a trash can, they can also be used later to layer in fresh amendments (other yard waste, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, etc.) through the months ahead.
If you prefer a neater look, you can also purchase attractive composting bins online or at farm and garden supply stores. In addition to basic compost bins, a big variety of more advanced models are available on the market. Their special features can make composting even easier and faster.
Before beginning to add to your pile, be aware that rodents or neighboring cats might want to sort through the pile foraging for food. Raccoons, possums and other critters can also be a problem. Building a sturdily fenced-in space where you can make your pile is a must. Here are a few simple, quick and inexpensive ideas:
If you have access to wooden pallets, it's easy to build compost bins by wiring the pallets on edge together. You'll always want at least two bins or piles so the older one can age or compost over time. You can be filling one square chamber while the second pile can get turned every few weeks as it matures.
Since rodents can be a problem, lining the square or rectangular bins with 1" chicken wire is a good idea. It's best to use a tarp to cover the entire pile and control the moisture content during the rainy or snowy seasons. That will allow the heat to build up and break down the contents of the pile. On colder days, you may even see a bit of steam emanating from your compost pile. Don't worry, that just means it is working correctly and breaking down into the essential nutrients that will nourish your garden come spring and summer.
T-Post and Wire Fencing
The steel T-posts normally used for fencing an area are perfect for building a quick composting spot. You can find these posts at your local hardware store. Pound in four T-posts and run 4'-wide chicken wire around the post perimeter (a 4-foot diameter is good) to form a circle. Attach the chicken wire to the posts with short pieces of galvanized wire. You will be able to open the chicken wire enclosure at one end to turn the pile regularly.
Two- or Three-Stall Wooden Compost Bin
This type of compost bin usually works best for those with large gardens or yards. It can be made from 4x4 wooden posts and 2"-thick lumber (2x6, 2x8, 2x10 or 2x12) as horizontal sides bolted or nailed to the upright posts. Each bin should be about 4 feet high and 4 feet square. Usually, you'll need two or three bins side-by-side. That way, you'll be able to turn each pile. Then you can rotate them as the oldest pile matures and becomes ready to add to your garden.
Built in Sweden, this easy-to-fill-and-empty compost tumbler is attractive and rodent-proof. It has two chambers, each with its own lid. The unique insulation allows the heat inside to rise above 160 degrees. This composter was designed for easy rotation to allow air into a wide range of materials, thus enabling quick decomposition. The galvanized composter reduces offensive odors and comes in three sizes: 33 gallons for a small family, 70 gallons for a family of 4 or more people and 106 gallons for large households or large amounts of garden waste.
The Worm Factory
American-made, this worm-based composter is an easy and organized way to turn your kitchen waste into nutrient-rich compost. Just fill the trays with food scraps and rotate them as they fill up. No turning required. Managed correctly, the process is virtually odorless. The Worm Factory has a large capacity but a small (16"x16") footprint.
The future of composting is here. Cold composting retains the nutrients normally lost to heat and evaporation during traditional composting. This composter offers the most efficient and greenest method of composting, produces no greenhouse gases and can be kept in the garage or under your kitchen sink. No turning required and the anerobic bacteria additive provided doesnâ€™t need oxygen to create compost. Ingredients normally banned from other methods like dairy, meats and oils are welcome in a Bokashi bin.
A complete setup for large gardens or farms to make your own compost tea or extract. It can also be used as a fertilizer mix tank. These brewing systems are designed to grow beneficial microorganisms exponentially. Vital Brewers are equipped with all the needed fittings, an aerator selected for maximum effectiveness and an extractor bag. Another plus is the food-grade tank comes in sizes from 75 gallons to 1,000 gallons, giving you great flexibility to suit your situation.
Important Points to Consider
- Mix compost regularly with a shovel or spading fork to aid the oxygen-loving bacteria and microorganisms that will speed up the breakdown of your ingredients.
- Lightly water the pile regularly to keep the bacterial action alive enough to stay active. Adding mycorrhizae will speed up the decomposition and attach to the roots of the plants in your garden and increase their ability to assimilate nutrients.
- Animal waste like manure and bone meal helps heat up the pile and adds nutrients that green matter doesn't.
- Adding worms will speed up the decomposition. Red wigglers are the best. They thrive on all vegetable scraps, but banana peels, apple cores and coffee grounds are some of their favorites.
- Kitchen waste (no animal products) such as vegetables and coffee grounds are common additions to a compost pile.
- If you buy organic food to cook with, the scraps from your table and stove will ensure you are adding only organic compost to your garden.
Six Tips for Winterizing Your Yard and Drip System
- Disconnect your battery timer, filter assembly, etc., from the faucet, drain any water and store them in a place with no frost. Use a hose plug fitting (HPLUG) to plug the beginning of the mainline tubing.
- After the main water supply (faucet or valve) is shut off, open all manual valves and set all automated valves to manual open. Remove all end-of-the-line fittings, drain any water and then replace the ends. Some people open the end of all the lines and use an air compressor to blow all the water out of the lines.
- Mulch, straw or leaves to dress your garden beds will help protect any overwintering vegetables like kale, chard or garlic as well as carrots, beets, spinach and onions or cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.
- The use of a medium weight Row Cover over the crops mentioned above will help them survive in zones 8, 9 and 10 and provide you food all year.
- Planting a hardy cover crop such as buckwheat will provide food for our pollinators, like the bees.
- If you have a small hothouse, greenhouse or high tunnel, setting up heat mats that have a thermostat will give you a place to start your seed for next spring.