Composting for Beginners


One of the most natural ways you can make your garden grow better is by composting.

Many people worry when it comes to composting, because they think it’s too complicated, it may smell funny or it takes a long time. Now that's true if you do it the wrong way. The right way is to just take a very simple approach. This means trying to use some of the items from your refrigerator, kitchen and your garden that normally would go into the landfill. These items can take up to a quarter of the landfills mass on a yearly basis.


What to add in compost?

Composting is a great way to use the things in your refrigerator that started to turn bad and if you don’t want to feel wasteful about that.  Whenever you peel your fruit and veg, it is best to take those scraps to the compost bin and let the microbes do all the work. One thing to keep in mind is that if you are a beginner composter, onions and garlic may be difficult to work with. Some people think they repel earthworms which are vital part of the composting process so we would suggest avoiding those if you're just starting out. The thin and shiny skins also take slightly longer to decompose. Another tricky item is eggshells. You can crush them up but if you're just starting out and your compost is new, they don't break down as much, so you're going to have those little eggshell pieces in your compost when you least expect it! However, if you’re not bothered by this, they do add a lot of Calcium which is good and can break down later even after spreading or potting the compost.

One of the best things you can put is coffee grounds, particularly if you make coffee daily (coffee is also a great booster, infusing your compost with nitrogen). If you use unbleached filters those can go in as well. Herbal tea is also good, however bear in mind not all tea bags are biodegradable. It’s best to have loose leaf tea or just check the labels carefully.  

What to avoid in compost?

Any meat and dairy products should be avoided. Some cooked foods such as oatmeal may seem harmless, but it could make your compost go bad and start to smell. This could attract pests.

Where to compost?

Composting is all about the microbial action of your compost pile. You can either just make a three by three-foot compost pile on the ground but there's also all sorts of compost makers you can use that are made of black plastic. The black plastic helps it heat up which is vital for composting - it helps the microbes break down the organic matter.

As landscape contractors, we remove a lot of greens (old plants, grass clippings) and browns (dried leaves, twigs) from sites that wish to have these removed. We grind or chip everything we can and in the compost skip they go! It gets quite warm and, even during winter when it’s freezing, you can still see steam coming out of the 10-ton compost skip.


The perfect wet/dry compost ratio

You might want to combine your green items which are wet with your brown items which are dry (dry leaves, cardboard, paper). This is the only real science you need to think about with composting - having the green and the brown together in the right amounts. Start with the brown, add the green and just layer it up.  If it seems a little too wet and you smell anything at all add more browns. Similarly, if it’s too dry then you should add more green and you might even want to put some water in it to make it moist. It really should smell like good soil as it's being made.

Ultimately, you should have this beautiful compost, almost like chocolate cake crumb. It should also smell slightly sweet with a similar scent to the one just before it rains. This is the black gold that gardeners are after – it can be used in the garden, in flowerbeds and pots; it's a very gentle fertilizer and it really will help all your plants perk up.

At the end of the day composting is one of the best ways to recycle and it's also one of the best ways to have the healthiest garden you could have.

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