Learning The Basics About Home Composting

By Shana Fanelli
Updated April 9, 2015
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Learning The Basics About Home CompostingComposting is a natural way of breaking down organic materials like grass, leaves, and vegetable scraps, to form a nutrient-rich substance that you can add to your garden soil. This is the same process which occurs in nature, but you can do it yourself to make your garden more healthy and productive. It is also more environmentally friendly than putting garden waste, grass clippings, or food scraps in the garbage. Here are some of the basics you need to know.

1.) How Composting Works

A compost pile starts as a diverse mound of organic kitchen and garden materials, such as grass, leaves, weeds, and vegetable peels. It these materials were left alone in nature, they would eventually decompose. Composting accelerates this process, by providing necessary moisture, heat, and air.

As a compost pile decomposes, it creates a dark, crumbly organic matter that makes an ideal soil additive for gardens. Compost is rich in beneficial enzymes and nutrients. It reinvigorates the soil and increases its ability to hold water.

2.) Methods of Home Composting

Starting to compost can be a simple project, and there are alternatives for how to do it. The simplest version is just to pile up your organic materials somewhere, and leave the pile to decompose, occasionally turning it with a large fork and adding water if needed. You can also buy a variety of composting containers, many of which simplify turning and aerating the compost.

Another version of composting uses captive earthworms. This is called vermicomposting. With this method, you can also compost paper products. You can move the worm bins inside during the winter, to keep your compost going when the temperatures are freezing outside.

3.) Getting The Right Mix of Materials

The ideal mixture for your compost pile is two parts brown material (such as dead leaves or pine needles) with one part green material (such as vegetable peel or grass clippings). The brown matter is high in carbon, while the green matter is high in nitrogen. This proportion will help your compost decompose most rapidly.

You don't need to worry too much about these proportions, though. While they are important for large-scale composting operations, a home gardener can work with a wide range of mixtures. Whether you have more browns or greens, you can just add them to your compost pile, and eventually it will all decompose.

4.) Managing Your Compost Pile

Your compost pile will do best if you turn it over occasionally. This will allow air to reach the center of the pile, and prevent unpleasant odors. It will also spread moisture evenly throughout the mixture, and help break apart clumps, speeding the decomposition process.

The compost will progress most rapidly if it gets warm. The decomposition generates heat, which then speeds the process. Working your compost more can raise the temperature, but even cold compost piles will break down. They just take a little longer.

You also need to maintain the moisture in your compost pile. If you don't smell an earthy fragrance when you stir the pile, then you need to add water. You can add water yourself and then stir the pile to distribute it. Some gardeners use a soaker hose to keep the mound moist.

* Disclaimer:
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional.