Compost is nothing new; Mother Nature has been making it for thousands of years. Compost is organic material that has been broken down until it looks like soil. Many gardeners make compost make or buy compost to help their gardens grow better. The nutrients in the compost are used by the plants, which will produce crops more abundantly when well-fed. Although Mother Nature does a great job making enough compost to feed the grass and the trees, vegetable and flower gardens are often more demanding. That is why many gardeners choose to speed up the process by making their own organic compost.
The easiest way to make your own compost is to start a compost pile. The pile should be about 3-4 feet across. Whenever you have organic material available, you add it to the pile. Examples of materials that can be put on your compost pile include grass clippings, plants thinned from your garden, leaves and twigs. You can even throw in the potato peels and other vegetable scraps from your kitchen. Other items that can be composted include coffee grounds, eggshells, hair clippings and manure from pasture-fed animals.
Not everything can be composted. Some things you should avoid putting in your compost pile include manure from carnivorous animals, meat and dairy products. Do not throw diseased plants from your garden onto the compost pile. Doing so could spread the disease to the rest of your garden. Also, weeds with seed pods or heads should not be composted. The weed seeds could survive the composting process and your garden will be overgrown with weeds.
You should try to choose a location for your compost pile that is warm but not in direct sunlight all day long. Try to find a spot that won’t aggravate your neighbors. A compost pile is not the prettiest thing to look at.
Your compost pile should end up being at least 3 feet wide each way by 3 feet tall. Smaller piles will not get warm enough in the center to compost. You can speed up the composting process by shredding, mashing or chopping the organic materials before adding them to the pile. Smaller pieces compost more quickly. Materials that are high in nitrogen, such as grass clippings and manure, compost more quickly than items such as pine needles and fruit waste. It is important to have a variety of compostable materials in your pile, but try to keep it balanced by making sure that at least half the pile is made up of nitrogen-rich organic materials.
Now that you have built your pile, you need to maintain it. In order to help the composting process along, the pile needs to be kept moist but not wet. The materials in the pile should be about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. The pile also needs to be turned. Use a pitchfork to mix up the contents of the pile about every 3 to 4 days. The easiest way to do this is to move the entire pile a few feet to one side. Keep moving the pile back and forth every few days until the material is fully composted.
When the compost is done it will look like rich soil: dark brown and crumbly. If you tend to your compost pile regularly, you should have compost within two weeks to four months. However, if you just build the pile and let it sit, it could take over a year for the pile to decompose into compost.