Don’t waste that waste, recycle it! With the advent of crispy leaf towers and mounds of garden harvest debris, fall is the perfect time to start that much-needed compost pile. This autumn’s cleanup can turn into next spring’s humus bounty with a little preparation and forethought.
You will need to determine an area for your compost pile, preferably not too close to your living structure, but close enough to where you do not have to walk a mile to deposit kitchen scraps on a blustering morning! It should be a well-drained area that receives plenty of suns to warm the pile. You will also have to choose how you will contain your pile.
You can simply layer your carbon and nitrogen waste in an open pile, but many find it more efficient to build a bin out of a variety of materials: chicken wire, blocks, wood, hay, or even a large trash can, properly ventilated. Whichever you use, be sure to remember that moisture and aeration are important for composting success.
What Goes Inside
For a healthy, successful compost, you will need a good mix of materials. First are materials that contain carbon, like dry leaves, plentiful in the fall. Second are things rich in nitrogen, generally, all things green, like grass clippings, garden waste, and weeds. Just about any organic kitchen waste can be added to the pile, like vegetable peelings, fruit peels, etc. You do NOT want to add any meat waste to your pile, as it will attract unwelcome pests and odors.
Eggshells are a good source of calcium and can be added, as well as used coffee grounds, manure (cow, horse, sheep, chicken – NOT domestic animal waste) pine needles, wood ashes, and sawdust. Be sure to shred tree bark, sticks, or large and bulky garden waste for an easier and quicker breakdown. A warning – do not use diseased plants or weeds in your compost pile, as the internal temperatures are not always sufficient to kill all diseases.
Layering your materials
You should layer your dry and wet for five inches dry material, followed by an inch or so of wet. After your pile has reached three feet in height, you want to water the pile. Don’t soak it, but dampen it. This helps to encourage the growth of the microbial bacteria which is what breaks down the materials into that beautiful, rich, final product!
Managing Your Pile
Be sure and turn your pile every three to four days to keep oxygen circulating. As your pile’s internal temperature heats up, the pile should start to break down. If the weather turns particularly cool, or it rains in excess, you can cover your pile with black or clear plastic. Depending on the temperature and the materials used to create your pile, you should have an excellent mound of brown gold by next spring’s planting time!
Using Your Compost
You can use your compost to amend your spring garden, add to planters for a nutritional boost, or to grow new seedlings. Vegetables especially thrive on compost and can be a healthy addition to any edible garden.