Tips on Composting

Right now organic gardening is a trendy subject. The very terms compost and humus are enough to gain a body entree into the right parties. Hot. Cold. Active. Passive. Let’s not get crazy. It’s all just rotting vegetable matter in one form or another.


I’m not about to go into a dissertation on the joys of composting. Just a few tips, liberally laced with (what else?) my own views on the matter.

The Advantages of Composting
REASON #1 (cost): Adding humus to your garden every year will making your vegetables bigger and your flowers fuller. Humus adds essential nutrients to the soil that green growing things use. You need humus. Composting creates humus. You can buy it, or you can make your own.

REASON #2 (convenience): Dragging those 40 lb. bags of humus to your car, loading your car, unloading your car, dragging those 40 lb. bags of humus to your garden… (am I making my point?) Wouldn’t it be easier to load up your wheelbarrow?

REASON #3 (convenience for city dwellers, or staying on the good side of the trash man)
What do you do with leaves? And old twigs? And the odds and ends that are left over after you trim the hedge? Where do you put your sod?

If you’re like me, it used to be the trash can. Those trash cans get really heavy. This puts you on the black list of your local sanitation crew. It is not a good thing to piss off your trash man. Take my word for it. If you’ve got some egg money to throw around, get a shredder. If not, build yourself a larger compost bin.

Enriching Your Soil
If you spend any time at all improving an existing garden or building a new one, you will need to amend the soil. This boils down to extra topsoil, peat, manure, humus… or all four

and a shovel. (large grin)

If you don’t already know this, let me tell you now… you need to amend your garden’s soil. Adding humus is a good way to do that. It’s richer than topsoil – better smelling than manure.

What Is Compost?
Compost results when stuff decomposes. When you’re talking wise and healthy organic gardening techniques (especially anywhere inside the city limits) the stuff will be vegetable in origin: vegetable in the largest sense;

leaves, shredded wood, old roots, grass clippings, fruit peels, coffee grinds, etc… You get the idea.

Compost Bins
If you’re really excited about composting, like plastic a whole lot, and have $100 bucks to drop, go to your nearest garden supply center and buy yourself a compost bin. There are lots out there and many have convenience features that even I have to admire; American ingenuity at its finest.

However, if you’re
A) broke (like me)
B) cheap (like me)
C) aesthetically opposed to large plastic thingies sticking out in your garden (like me)

… you can whack together a compost bin from odds & ends of lumber around the house. Really.

I personally recycled some discarded wood drawers into my present compost bin. The trick is to make sure that it’s not air tight (composting requires oxygen to make any decent progress). Oh… and don’t put a bottom on this thing. The whole idea is that the contents will rot into the soil and provide a happy hearth for your local earthworms.

What Not To Compost & Why
Unless you’re terribly fond of foul odors & vermin, not to mention the redistribution of the elements of your compost across your yard, do not add grease or animal byproducts. No old bones, old stew, cooking fat, etc…

For the sake of sanitation, don’t incorporate animal (or human) feces. Some compost piles actually decompose at high enough temperatures to sterilize these additions. Some will not. It’s not a good idea to distribute humus that includes fecal bacteria where you’re planning on working, or where you intend to grow food for the table. Don’t run the risk.

Tips on Getting Good Compost
Every now and then (every 3 months, or whenever you feel like it) pick up the compost bin (yes this will cause the compost inside to spill onto the ground) and move the bin a few feet to the right or left. Scoop the compost back into the bin.

Don’t worry about keeping your compost dry. In fact, it decays faster if it is wet. If you’ve been good about what you’re adding to the compost, it won’t smell. (remember, “vegetable matter”?)

Go ahead & keep a little pail for kitchen garbage. In the evening while you’re strolling through your yard & inspecting the latest sprouting/blooming/fruiting things, empty the contents into your compost bin.

That’s all. Happy composting. When the stuff gets all black & crumbly & looks a lot like dirt, it’s humus. You may wish to keep a couple of piles or bins of compost going so that you’re not adding your fresh garbage to the older compost that will shortly serve as humus to make your plants all perky & green.


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