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
  • 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. 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.

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

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.

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