Would you like to have your own compost working for you in a few months? Here is how it works.
Here’s what you need:
1. Carbon — rich “brown” materials, such as fall leaves, straw, dead flowers from your garden and shredded newspaper.
2. Nitrogen — rich “green” materials, such as grass clippings, plant-based kitchen waste (vegetable peeling and fruit rinds, but not meat scraps), or barnyard animal manure (even though its color is usually brown, manure is full of nitrogen like the other green stuff). Do not use manure from carnivores, such as dogs and cats.
3. A shovelful or two of garden soil.
4. A site that is at least 3 feet long by 3 feet wide.
Here’s what to do:
1. Start by spreading a layer that is several inches thick of coarse, dry brown stuff, like straw or cornstalks or leaves, where you want to build the pile.
2. Top that with several inches of green stuff.
3. Add a thin layer of soil.
4. Add a layer of brown stuff.
5. Moisten the layers.
Continue layering green stuff and brown stuff with a little soil mixed in until the pile is 3 feet high. Try to add stuff in a ratio of three parts brown to one part green. If it takes awhile before you have enough material to build the pile that high, don’t worry. Just keep adding to the pile until it gets to at least 3 feet high.
Every couple of weeks, use a garden fork or shovel to turn the pile, moving the stuff at the center of the pile to the outside and working the stuff on the outside to the center of the pile. Keep the pile moist but not soggy. When you first turn the pile, you may see steam rising from it. This is a sign that the pile is heating up as a result of the materials in it decomposing. If you turn the pile every couple of weeks and keep it moist, you will begin to see earthworms throughout the pile and the center of the pile will turn into black, crumbly, sweet-smelling “black gold.” When you have enough finished compost in the pile and start to use in your garden, shovel out the finished compost and start your next pile, with any material that hasn’t fully decomposed in the previous one.
I have seen people simply build their pile where they want the compost to end up, usually on their garden site itself. Then just remove the netting or fencing that was used to form the pile and dig the finished compost back into the soil.
And of course you can use bins that you’ve purchased to begin making compost.
There is a lot of information and many videos online of how to do this all. Good luck and keep turning that pile.
Susan Woody has been a home and garden writer for more than 20 years and is a master gardener.