5 Quick and Easy Steps to Starting a Backyard Compost
Have you thought about starting a compost bin but have maybe been a little reluctant to? Maybe you think that it will require a lot of work and time? Or maybe you think it isn’t worth the effort? I can assure you that it doesn’t require much work or time to start a compost pile. Think about the money you will save on soil for your garden, lawn, and container gardens. It’s time to start composting today!
Another great thing about starting a compost pile is it doesn’t cost you any money. Trust me, it doesn’t cost you any money and it can save you money! How cool is that? The cost of topsoil or loam typically costs about $25 to $30 per yard. If you purchase 3 or 4 yards of topsoil or loam the cost will be about $75 to $120 for the soil. Plus a delivery fee for the soil order which can be $45 or more. That is at least $120 (about $75 for three yards of soil at $25 per yard and $45 delivery fee) for soil!
You can start saving money by simply starting with a small compost pile in a tidy heap where you have access to water. You can add food waste from your kitchen such as apple peels, egg shells, coffee grinds which you normally throw in your trash can. Add yard waste such as grass clippings, leaves, or old flowers to the compost pile. Again, the yard waste is normally thrown in your trash can. Food waste and yard waste are unwanted leftovers and perfect for the compost pile!
By composting your food waste and yard waste you can create some great compost soil. Saving money on soil is just an extra! The best thing about your compost pile is that you control what you add to your compost pile. You know exactly what organic contents were used to create your compost soil.
- Choose the Right Materials
A compost pile requires 4 components to decompose. It needs kitchen scraps (nitrogen), yard waste (carbon), oxygen (air) and water.
Gather any of these items for your compost pile: fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, peanut shells, nut shells, stalks, stems, vines, coffee grinds, tea bags with staple removed, bark, wood ashes in limited amounts, manure from horse – cow – chicken – rabbit, garden clippings, leaves, grass clippings, apple cores, citrus rinds, or shredded newspapers.
Do not add these items to your compost pile: meats or fats, fish, poultry, bones, dairy products, plastics or synthetic fibers, diseased plants, vegetable oils, dog feces, cat feces, weeds that have gone to seed, or invasive weeds.
(2) Select and Prepare a Site
The ideal site would be exposed to both sun and shade during the day with access nearby to water. The compost can either be non-enclosed or an enclosed compost pile. A non-enclosed compost is informal where the material is piled up in a fairly dense heap.
An enclosed compost structure can be built by the gardener using salvaged lumber, chicken wire, cinder blocks, or old pallets to create an enclosed area for the pile. Likewise, the gardener can purchased a compost bin from a garden store or home improvement store that can be easily assembled.
(3) Prepare compost materials and start the compost pile
Although not necessary, organic materials can be cut or shredded into smaller pieces to facilitate and speed decomposition of the materials. At the base of the bin or compost site, place a layer of coarse material such as wood chips or small twigs to elevate the organic materials. This will enable excess water to drain and oxygen to penetrate the pile. Next, add alternating layers of “green” and “brown” organic materials to the pile (see chart below) so that you are alternating and balancing portions of carbon and nitrogen. Water your compost pile and mix well after every 2 layers.
When you add fruit or vegetable scraps (a source of nitrogen) be sure to bury them in the center of the pile. And remember to occasionally add a shovel full of garden soil to the compost pile.
Brown materials that are high in carbon are cardboard, cardboard egg cartons, dry wood materials, dried grass, dead autumn leaves, newspaper, packing paper, paper, paper towels, sawdust, straw or untreated wood chips.
Green materials that are high in nitrogen are fresh and moist materials, apple cores, citrus rinds, coffee grinds & filters, egg or peanut shells, fruit scraps, garden waste, grass clippings, manure from cows, horses, chicken, or rabbits, tea bags without the staples, and vegetable scraps.
The ideal size of the compost pile should be 3’ high by 3’ wide by 3’ long.
After you start your compost pile, maintaining the pile means:
Keeping the pile moist but not wet. Giving the pile air by turning it with a pitchfork or hoe. Observing the pile which may generate heat during the decomposition process.
Generally, the use of smaller organic material added to the compost pile and the more frequent rotation of the moist pile facilities and speeds the decomposition process. This will also prevent any odors being emitted from the pile as well as deter pests from entering the compost pile.
Heat is a by-product of composting and indicator that microorganisms are working to break down materials. As decomposition occurs, the pile material volume shrinks.
(4) Test if compost is ready
Decomposition can occur anytime between 2 weeks to 2 years based on the materials used, size of the pile and the frequency of aerating the pile. Compost pile is ready for use when the material is cooled, turns a rich brown color, and decomposed into small soil-like particles.
(5) Use compost
For garden beds, a month before planting apply 1 – 3” of compost and work into top 4” of soil.
For potting soil, mix equal parts of compost, sand, and loam.
For lawns, apply about ¼” of compost to the surface.
For compost tea, soak compost in a pail of water for 3 to 4 days then use to water plants, shrubs, or trees for an immediate boost.
When troubleshooting compost pile issues keep the following in mind:
A compost with a foul odor could meant that the pile has too little air or the pile is too wet. Turn the pile thoroughly to aerate and to eliminate the odor. If the center of the compost pile is dry then the compost pile does not have enough water. Add water to the compost pile and turn the compost pile thoroughly to aerate. If the compost pile is damp and warm in the middle but the rest of the compost pile is dry then the compost pile is too small. Add more organic material to the existing compost pile and mix new organic material with the compost pile thoroughly.
By composting your food waste and yard waste you can save quite a bit of money on top soil, potting soil, and even soil amendments. Trust me, composting doesn’t cost you anything because you are simply reusing waste that you would normally toss out with the trash. How great is that? You are saving money and helping the environment by recycling food waste and yard waste products in your backyard. Let us know what you think!
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us in the comments below. We always are ready to help you out.