Simple Guide to Composting for Beginners

Composting can seem daunting to a newbie.  That’s why we’ve created this comprehensive, yet simple guide to composting for beginners.

What exactly is composting?

In simple terms, composting is a process that results in having nutrient-rich humus to apply to soils wherever you like. This nutrient-rich mix restores vitality and fuels vigorous growth in plants when applied.

You think of compost in terms of a conditioner for soils. It provides nutrients for the lawn or garden and also helps the soil to retain more moisture.

Composting also introduces beneficial microscopic organisms to the soil. This process of breaking down the organic material helps to aerate the soil.

Compost is an environmentally friendly alternative to using toxic chemical fertilizers. Importantly composting at home also frees up larger municipal landfills.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A), composting can put more than 30% of household waste to good use.

How To Start Composting

Before you start composting, you have to know what materials to compost and what not to compost. Generally, materials that make good composite are rich in nitrogen and carbon.

They include:

Compostable Materials 2018
SRC: denvergov.org
  • Eggshells
  • Table scraps
  • Leaves
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Grass clippings
  • Garden plants
  • Flower cuttings
  • Seaweed and kelp
  • Wood ash
  • Chicken manure
  • Dryer lint
  • Cardboard
  • Shredded paper

You also use your existing garden soil because the microorganisms contained help to accelerate the entire process.

Small Kitchen Compost Bin

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Materials to avoid throwing into the compost pit include diseased plants ( you may encourage the disease), perennial weeds ( the seeds will propagate), meat, bones and fish scraps( make the compost very smelly).

Others include black walnut leaves (contain toxins), all citrus rinds, peach peels, and banana peels.

Make sure to reduce larger pieces of the compost pit material to fast track the composting process, it’s even quite good to have a few scattered around.

Compost Bin

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Composting Process

The process of composting consists of seven simple steps. These are:

  • Start by laying the compost pile on bare earth. This is critical if worms and other helpful organism are to aerate the pile.
  • Lay straw or twigs first. The layer should be no more than a few inches thick. This helps in compost pile aeration and drainage.
  • Add the material in small layers making sure to alternate between dry (leaves, wood ash, and straw) and moist layers (seaweed, food scraps and tea bags).
  • Add some chicken manure or any other livestock manure. This is rich in nitrogen and helps speed the composting process.
  • Water the compost regularly to keep it moist.
  • Cover with carpet scraps, plastic sheeting or wood. This helps retain heat and moisture- two essentials of composting. This also keeps excess rainwater out.
  • Turn the pile every few weeks using a shovel or pitchfork. This helps in aeration. In order for the process to be effective, there has to be a steady supply of oxygen.

Worm Composting Bin

Worm composting makes use of worms to recycle organic materials such as food scraps into worm compost or vermicompost, which is a helpful soil amendment.

Composting with Worms
SRC: commoncompost.org/city-landscapers-1/

Basically, worms consume nutrient-rich vegetable scraps and fruit and convert it into nutrient-rich compost. The best materials for worm composting are vegetable scraps and raw fruit, not citrus. A worm bin is easy to set up. All you need is a box (glass, wooden or plastic), worms (red wrigglers or red worms) and newspaper strips.

Compost making is ideal for making nutrient-rich humus, for garden or lawn use. With good maintenance, a compost pile can be ready in a few months to spread across your garden as fertilizer.

Composting and Mulch Creation Basic Mixing Techniques

If you have a look at a well-tended garden around a home patio, you can assume a lot of mulch has made the garden that healthy.

Any experienced gardener will tell you that compost and mulch are the keys to good gardens.

This isn’t “gardening mythology”.

It’s quite right.

The reason is that composting breaks down materials into a chemical state which is easily accessible to the plants.

Topsoil is basically a mix of sand and chemically broken down plant materials. In nature, fungi, bacteria heat and water are the main agents of the initial breakdown of materials.

All of these agents are naturally present, and the process of composting is based on them. Earthworms, if present, further refine the broken down materials, which is also a good way of spreading the nutrients for the plants efficiently.

Many formulas exist for compost, including various levels of added nutrients. These are often excellent mixes, but in practice, good compost is a balanced mix of natural materials which is good enough for any gardening purpose. The basic requirements for most plants are nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous, which are common to all plants and released by composting.

There are levels of composting which determine the nutrient values of compost. The rule is that the more composting, the stronger the mix becomes as the nutrient value in the garden.

The extra composting does reduce the volume of the materials, however, so if you’re intending to mulch a large area, the basic composting approach is usually the simplest and most effective approach.

Basic composting

Basic garden compost is comprised of green material, mixed with finely chopped fiber. The fibers act to help bind the soil and also release nutrients as they decay.  You can also use vegetable scraps, weeds (remove any seeds) and prunings.

Lawn clippings are OK, provided they’re well mixed in with bulk materials. They produce very little actual compost but add valuable water to the mix.

Do not use any animal waste materials, particularly meats. Manure may be used, but only in small ratios, well mixed in.

Home gardeners usually use containers like turning bins, which are efficient for aerating the mix and promoting the growth of biological agents like fungi and bacteria.

This is a chemical, rather than a heat-based process, although you’ll notice the compost does get warm, which is a result of the chemical activities.

The greenery also provides moisture, which further promotes dissolution of the materials and encourages fungi and bacteria.

The basic compost is a soft, fibrous brown or blackish humus-like mulch.

This material, when added to the soil, is further broken down by soil bacteria and fungi, and acts as a sort of slow release fertilizer, providing nutrients steadily. This type of compost also acts as a good top dressing and general soil and environment improver.

The compost effectively provides a layer of extra soil as it’s assimilated into the garden. It even acts as a temporary weed mat, preventing weeds from sprouting.

Your plants will appreciate the pampering.

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