Compost is one of the easiest (and cheapest!) ways to amend your soil. Simply put, compost is organic matter decayed by the sun and soil microorganisms. This material can be used to improve soil structure, add nutrients, promote healthy soil microorganisms, assist in soil temperature regulation, and improve soil pH.
- Select Your Composting Site
Choose a site that is not too close to your house – even the best kept compost piles may smell – but not too far or it will be easily forgotten. Make sure it is not too windy or sunny, or the pile may dry out. The area needs good drainage; try to use bare ground instead of concrete areas.
- Choose Your Composting Method
The simplest way is to create a pile on the ground. Alternatively, you may decide to use chicken wire, construct a bin, or buy any of the commercially available bins and tumblers. Areas should be at least three feet wide and long.
- Add Your Materials
You need to have a balance between materials with carbon and ones with nitrogen. The ratio should be approximately 25-35 parts of carbon to every part of nitrogen. Alternate your organic matter with equivalent layers of soil, until about three feet high. Keep layering as decomposition occurs. Do not pack too tightly.Common carbon-rich materials:
- Cardboard (broken into pieces)
- Dryer lint
- Leaves (except black walnut)
- Wood shavings
Common nitrogen-rich materials:
- Grass clippings
- Weeds (be careful – do not use ones that are invasive)
- Turn Your Pile Often
Many of the soil microorganisms use oxygen, so turn your pile often to ensure air circulation. This should ideally be done at least every other day, using a pitchfork or shovel.
- Water Properly
Too little or too much water can slow down decomposition. It should have the consistency of a lightly wet sponge.
- Use Your Finished Compost
Compost is ready to use when it is dark brown and crumbly, and looks at least half decomposed. To improve soil, add two to three inches to your planting area and mix with the top six inches of soil. Use as a top or side dressing.
- Do NOT use the following items:
- Human or pet waste – may carry diseases and cause odors
- Meat and fat scraps – does not decompose as fast and tends to smell
- Materials treated with pesticides – harmful to compost microorganisms
- Black walnut leaves and branches - releases compounds that inhibit plant growth
- Glossy paper – harmful to compost microorganisms
- Diseased plants – diseases may survive and affect your new plants
- Charcoal ashes – harmful to compost microorganisms
- Consider Worm Composting
Earthworms help break down organic material faster than traditional composting. Red earthworms are used in special composting bins made for this purpose.
What You Need
- Carbon-rich materials
- Nitrogen-rich materials
- Pitchfork or shovel